150 volunteers help raise funds for group during 4th 'Raising the Roof' workathon Group repairs rundown houses with help of prospective home owners.


Computer consultant Joe Halloran spent the weekend hanging sheet rock, patching plaster, and hauling debris to raise money for a group that helps low-income people buy houses with their sweat.

Halloran joined more than 150 other volunteers in a "Raising the Roof," workathon sponsored by the People's Homesteading Group, a non-profit organization that has provided 36 city families with homes since 1982.

"I want a city that's offering a decent life to everybody," said Halloran, a first-time volunteer. "I want a city with safe streets and good community. PHG is about community. It's not just about people getting homes."

The fourth annual workathon took place along the 1100 block of McDonogh St., near John Hopkins Hospital.

With its littered and cracked sidewalks, the area is one that people usually try to get out of -- not into. But Lularene "Miss T" Wilson said that moving into one of the homes is a dream for people like her, who month after month pay rent in housing projects.

"When you're in the projects, you can't do but so much," said Wilson, who lives in the city's Westport Homes. "It's a whole lot different in a house. It'll be mine. I can do what I want."

Within a year, Wilson will join about 20 other moving into homes of their own in areas like McDonogh Street.

The cycle begins when the city sells or gives PHG cheap, abandoned buildings, often heavily damaged termites or fire. PHG members repair the old homes, collecting "sweat equity" from participants that will be used as credit for work done on homes that they will move into.

Saturday and Sunday's volunteers came from Chase Bank, Black & Decker, local churches and neighboring communities to work with the members of PHG. Besides doing construction work, the volunteers have solicited pledges for this weekend's work since May.

The goal this year was $40,000, an ambitious one considering that the three previous workathons netted a total of $60,000. Organizers said they won't know for some time how much they raised. The bulk of PGH's budget comes from donations from private firms, workathon coordinator Lori Shollenberger said.

Wilson said she has earned 900 hours in sweat time, and owes 200 more before she qualifies for a house. "But I won't stop there," she said.

Along with realizing a special sense of accomplishment in creating her own home, Wilson said, she's developed a sense of obligation to other people who need homes.

"The more people you get in homes, the better the community will be," Wilson said. "Who knows what changes these homes will bring about?"

PHG officials said most of the group's members could be classified as the working poor. Shollenberger said none of the 83 families in the program is homeless or was referred by the Department of Social Services.

"We have to help people who can give something back," she said. "The kind of people who are at DSS [the Department of Social Services] would not make it in our program."

Construction coordinator Tony Huggins said most of the work planned for the weekend was finished. Only some brick work was delayed because of rain. Now, he said, all the homes will basically require are plumbing and electrical fixtures.

PHG will soon tell Wilson how much she will have to pay for the completion of her home, but, under the organization's rules, it won't exceed $22,000. With a 30-year mortgage, she said, her monthly cost will actually be less than her current rent at the housing project.

As for other changes, Wilson said that working with PHG has made her a bit of a handy-woman.

"When I first came here, all I could do was hammer a nail into a painting on the wall," she said. "Now, if the walls in my house fell down, I'd know how to put them back up."

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