Group rallies to paint, landscape house of man with ALS

The North County community just came up with its own version of the popular television show "Extreme Makeover."

Friends of Michelle and Matt O'Reilly, of White Hall, spent several weekends transforming the outside of their 134-year-old house from cracked and peeling paint to a smooth new finish.

They also converted several empty patches of ground into mulched flower gardens and cleared away overgrown bushes and weeds that crowded the driveway.

Both projects were done free of charge for the O'Reillys, who are struggling with medical expenses.

Matt O'Reilly, 41, a 1989 Hereford High School graduate, was diagnosed with Lyme disease and had to quit his job as a wine specialist with Bacchus Importers in January 2011. Then his symptoms — weakness, difficulty walking, talking and swallowing — increased in the past year, and O'Reilly learned he has ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressively dibilitating disease for which there is no cure.

That's when friends of the couple decided the last thing the O'Reillys needed to worry about was their house or yard.

"This has been amazing to see," said Michelle as a crew of a dozen men and women put the finishing touches on her flower garden on Aug. 11. "Both the painting and the landscaping just kind of exploded. All of a sudden, people show up here and they're organized and they're getting things done."

The idea for the first makeover — scraping the three-story Victorian and painting it — came after Michelle asked friend Mark Miller, a general contractor who owns Big Deal Contracting in Parkton, to give her an estimate to have the house painted.

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?

So, on July 20, the exterior of the O'Reilly house was under siege.

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, a Cockeysville resident, 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.

Although most volunteers knew the O'Reilleys, several people who work with Lovena Miller at Northwestern Mutual in Hunt Valley spent the day scraping, slapping paint on the walls or spray-painting shutters.

"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," Mark Miller said, noting it would have cost the O'Reillys at least $6,000 to have the job done.

The volunteers didn't finish that day because of rain, but they returned on Aug. 11 to complete the house while another crew worked on the yard.

"We called this the O'Reilly Landscape Project, and I created an event page on Facebook for it," said Chris Garcelon, of White Hall, who went to Hereford High with Matt O'Reilly. He works for Natural Concerns, a landscape company in Sparks.

Garcelon said he knew people who volunteered to paint, so he used his expertise to help in a different area. His company donated six yards of mulch and Kingsdene Nursery and Garden Center in Monkton donated flats of black-eyed Susans, hostas and goldenrod.

Matt O'Reilly didn't come outside to watch either makeover because he has difficulty walking, Michelle said, but she kept him informed about each activity.

"As soon as I heard about this I knew I wanted to come," said Jennifer Andrews Brezovic, of Gaithersburg, a 1992 Hereford graduate who stays in touch with Hereford friends. She loaded her car with a rake, a weed-whacker, gardening gloves and some plants and headed to White Hall.

Jay McKain, of Reisterstown, didn't let an amputated toe stop him from helping out. He lost his toe in April because of an infection, but he said he had to be there to help his high school buddy.

"This is such a tight-knit group," he said. "I moved away for years and now I'm back. We've all stayed in touch pretty much. When you hear about something like this, you just have to help. Everybody here feels the same way."

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