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Christmas in April looks to 1994 Planning for work is year-round job


Christmas in April, the volunteer fix-up program for people who are physically or financially unable make needed repairs to their homes, is becoming an all-year venture.

A week ago, 1,000 Howard County volunteers worked on 38 homes, doing everything from repairing loose shingles on a roof to replacing rotted beams in the foundation of a 140-year-old house.

Next month, Neil Gaffney, president and founding board member of the Howard County Christmas in April chapter, will begin soliciting applications for the April 1994 projects.

"Now is the time to get started on 1994 -- while it is still fresh in people's minds," Mr. Gaffney said.

Christmas in April is a national program that invites volunteers to provide needed repairs on the last Saturday in April for low-income elderly, and disabled people.

When the project was begun here two years ago, Mr. Gaffney worried that there would too many volunteers and too few houses. That turned out not to be the case. More than 750 volunteers worked on 26 houses.

"That first year was a tremendous education," Mr. Gaffney said. "Like most people, I had no idea that there were homes in Howard County with no indoor bathrooms," he said. "Well, at least a couple more have them now thanks to Christmas in April."

One house posed a unique problem because it could not receive public water and sewer service and the terrain would not support a septic system. "We came up with a holding tank," he said. "1992 was a long time to wait for your first indoor bathroom."

Leaders of the program made a lot of mistakes the first year that were corrected this year, Mr. Gaffney said. One of the most important things, he said, was getting to houses earlier and working out logistics to deliver supplies that will be needed to repair them.

The selection process for next year's homes will begin in October and November, Mr. Gaffney said, with pre-inspections to determine eligibility. The list of projects will be closed in December and assigned to sponsors by February, he said.

Meanwhile, some Christmas in April volunteers will be working on a companion program called "Neighbor to Neighbor" that provides emergency repairs throughout the year to poor, elderly and disabled residents, Mr. Gaffney said.

"Not only will they handle emergencies," he said, "but they will see the larger problems and identify candidates for Christmas in April [projects]. It's a good merger."

Volunteer support for Christmas in April has been "absolutely tremendous," Mr. Gaffney said. "It could not have been done without a public-private partnership" of government workers, churches, schools, civic groups, stores, restaurants, and gas stations.

Mr. Gaffney said he was particularly pleased with the number of students aged 14 and up participating in the program. The first year, about 100 showed up and were assigned to various projects, he said. This year, a similar number arrived and were given their own project. He plans to give them their own project again in 1994.

The strong local support that the project has received the past two years is partly responsible for the parent organization's plans to hold its national convention here in late September, Mr. Gaffney said.

Six jurisdictions between Baltimore and Washington vied for the honor, he said, with the final choice coming down to Baltimore and Howard County.

A Columbia hotel will house the convention and serve as the convention center, he said, and a Baltimore hotel will cater the convention banquet.

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