Matt O'Reilly

Matt O'Reilly, 41, of White Hall, was recently diagnosed with ALS. To help Matt and wife, Michelle, dozens of volunteers showed up at their home to scrape and paint the 134-year-old house. (File photo, Patuxent Publishing / April 7, 2011)

Michelle and Matt O'Reilly knew their 134-year-old house in White Hall needed painting, but they have been concerned about the cost.

They've had astronomical medical expenses for the past 18 months after Matt, 41, became debilitated by Lyme disease. He had to quit his job as a wine specialist with Bacchus Importers in January 2011.

But then his symptoms — weakness, difficulty talking and swallowing — increased in the past year and O'Reilly learned he had ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Friends decided Matt and Michelle shouldn't have to worry about paying for the house to be painted.


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So on Friday, July 20, despite threatening gray skies, a volunteer crew of dozens of people showed up at the O'Reilly's house to do the job. They began to scrape peeling paint from the gray three-story Victorian house. Other volunteers painted primer on some wooden siding. Others painted the shutters green.

"This whole thing just exploded," said Michelle O'Reilly, as she watched the activity outside. "It all happened so fast. It's amazing."

One good deed, then another

The day of good deeds got its start a few weeks ago when Michelle asked friend Mark Miller, a general contractor who owns Big Deal Contracting in Parkton, to give her an estimate for the house painting.

Miller talked with his wife, Lovena, about doing the job at a reduced price. Lovena had a better idea: Why not organize a volunteer paint brigade? She immediately began organizing.

She recruited fellow employees at Northwestern Mutual in Hunt Valley. Mark Miller called a friend, Donnie Del Gavio, who owns Del Gavio Painting in Cockeysville, and who knew Matt O'Reilly from their days together at Sparks Elementary School.

Del Gavio, of Cockeysville, agreed to help and got Budeke's Paints in Timonium to donate paint. He also got Michael's Pizza in Hereford to donate pizzas for the crew and Cranbrook Liquors in Cockeysville to supply beer for the end of the paint day.

Dax Spriggs, who owns ESP Painting in White Hall, said he'd join in, too and volunteer his time and supplies.

As word spread, friends and strangers took the day off to volunteer to scrape and paint the O'Reillys' house.

"I've known Matt since he was 10. He's such a stand-up guy that we're all happy to be helping," said Matt Thomas of Loganville, Pa., who came to White Hall for the day with his brother Adam Thomas, of Glen Rock, Pa.

The rain came on and off in the afternoon, but the crew stayed and painted a portion of the house that's covered by a porch. The volunteers didn't have enough time or the right weather to finish the house, but Miller, Del Gavio and Spriggs said they will make sure the job gets done next week.

Matt O'Reilly couldn't come outside to watch the "painting makeover" because he has difficulty walking, so Miller and Del Gavio went inside to visit the family, including the couple's two elementary-aged children.

"It probably would have cost them at least $6,000 to have the house painted," Mark Miller said.

"This was our chance to do something nice for them. And it's a chance for a bunch of us who have known each other for a long time to get together and do some good."