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Volunteers work to revitalize historic Turner Station community

Volunteers worked to revitalize Turner Station on Saturday.

The smell of fresh paint wafted through the air, while the roar of a table saw and hammers tapping could be heard across Turner Station on Saturday.

Along the normally quiet neighborhood streets, nearly 300 volunteers worked on projects in the southeastern Baltimore County community as part of an annual "Rebuilding Day." Volunteer teams also worked on projects around the Woodbourne-McCabe community in Baltimore, and in cities across the country as part of a national effort by Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit group.

Rebuilding Together's Baltimore chapter has been working to revitalize the Turner Station community and to help low-income residents in the historic African-American community in Dundalk — once home to workers at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point. The area has struggled since the plant's closure, and the loss of other blue collar jobs.

"It's a nice community but there are some homes where there are low-income folks who need some help," said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who toured the community and stopped to speak with volunteers and homeowners. "It's really the little things … they can detract from a neighborhood.

"The more attention we give it, the better it will become once again," Kamenetz said.

Twenty-two homes in the community underwent various renovations, including new roofs and replacement windows. Some volunteers also worked on smaller-scale beautification projects.

On Soellers Points Road, Dave Patro, 23, and employees with P. Flanigan & Sons Inc. and Honeywell, painted the front stoop of a brick rowhome a sleek gray color.

Patro said he volunteered because he wanted to give back to a community near his home in Sparrows Point and his job. The heavy equipment operator is part of team that is working to contain toxic chemicals in the soil at Dundalk Marine Terminal. On Saturday, he planted new trees and built new chain link fences finished with a layer of glossy black paint.

"It's good to help out," he said.

Patro's group worked on 12 homes that were built in 1944, and were part of the first black-owned housing development in the area. Dr. Joseph Thomas, a physician who also opened a theater in Turner Station, spearheaded the development.

Edie Brooks, vice president of the Turner Station Conservation Teams, said she is not only concerned about the loss of blue collar jobs but also the number of aging residents. The neighborhood must attract younger families, she said.

"It really needs to be revitalized," Brooks said of the community.

Several blocks away, workers tackled projects to improve 65-year-old Shyrone Ridley's home. Ridley, a retired US Airways service agent, said she was mostly raised in Catonsville but inherited the home on Chestnut Court in 1989 from her father, who had worked for Bethlehem Steel.

Rebuilding Together Baltimore had provided a new shingle roof after a leak cause severe damage. On Saturday, volunteers planned to give her kitchen a fresh coat of paint, along with the trim around her front door.

"This is such a blessing to have all of this work done," she said.

The total cost of improvements to her home reached $80,000. Ridley, like the other homeowners, had to meet income requirements when they applied for the assistance.

Bonnie Bessor, executive director of Rebuilding Together Baltimore, said the organization works to match residents with volunteers and companies to get the work done.

Around Ridley's court, she pointed to six homes that families have owned for generations. She pointed to a handful of others that have been vacant because buyers aren't interested.

Still, she said she's thankful that her neighborhood has not experienced blight like parts of Baltimore, where entire blocks have deteriorated after years of abandonment.

"That's the beauty of Turner Station, generation after generation lives here," she said.

She said she plans to bequeath the brick rowhome to her grandson, and hopes that he will keep it in the family.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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