More than two dozen homeowners in the county will be celebrating Christmas in April, with presents to include porch and window repairs, new kitchen floors and new painted walls.

It's all part of "Christmas in April," a national organization that helps the low-income, the elderly and the disabled renovate and repair their homes. Call it a modern day barn-raising: folks rolling up their sleeves to install doors and repair gutters and downspouts, along with a dozen other home repairs and improvements for the poor.

It's a project that Neil Gaffney, who heads the local campaign, takes to heart. If you've seen some of the conditions these folks livein, you'll understand, he said, and "I was interested in doing something to give back to the community."

Christmas falls on April 25 for him and more than 20 volunteers who will go around the county helping with modest repairs and


"Money is tight," Gaffney said. "But what we have found is that the spirit of volunteerism is still there. In fact, it's probably here more than any other year."

They'll be working on the homes of people who've been referred to them by county agencies and churches. Gaffney figures that it'll take from $1,500 to $2,000 to fix and repair each house, and he says heneeds donations of paint, rollers, brushes, lumber and caulk, among other items.

He and other volunteers kicked off the county's firsthome renovation campaign in October at a breakfast to thank all the sponsors who've contributed money to buy supplies and building materials. Some of the sponsors include the Ryland Group, Potts Construction, the Howard County Council and a number of banks and churches.

In many cases, it'll be a stranger's house where they'll be patching ceiling holes, painting walls and fixing garage doors -- all to make the house "a little safer, drier and warmer than before," Gaffney said.

"People have been living in these houses for 40, 50 years," he said. "Many of these people are elderly widows. Many of them can't repair these houses themselves. That's where Christmas in April comes in."

The national Christmas in April program began with Bobby Trimble, a Texas oil scout who saw that low-income and disabled people -- the elderly in particular -- were having a hard time maintaining theirhouses. So he gathered a group of volunteers in 1973. Now thousands of Texas volunteers spend one Saturday each April to renovate and rehabilitate houses.

Since 1983, more than 8,000 homes in the Christmas in April program have been repaired with the help of more than 140,000 volunteers across the nation. This year, the organization hopes to fix 2,400 houses in more than 200 cities and towns across America.

Nothing can surpass the joy and gratitude of the people whose houses have been renovated, said Howard Hunt, president of the Baltimorechapter, which started three years ago. "It's hard to describe the gratitude of the recipients," he said. "Gratitude comes in many different forms, from 'I want to kiss all of you' all the way down to tearsof joy."

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