Moments before Mildred Bogier walked into the East Baltimore rowhouse, she stretched her arms toward the sky in thanks.
At 71, Bogier is a homeowner for the first time, through a program called Compassion Commission run by the Rock City Church in Towson.
Yesterday afternoon, amid boarded-up rowhouses and the tall grass of nearby vacant lots, community residents celebrated at a block party and then streamed into what will be Bogier's renovated home in about a month when workers complete the final touches. She is paying only the closing costs, estimated to be about $2,000. She now lives in an apartment on Collington Avenue.
Bogier was chosen by her church, Israel Baptist, to receive the house in the 1600 block of E. Oliver St., said her pastor, the Rev. Harlie Wilson.
Rock City approached Israel Baptist with the offer. The person had to be 55 or older, someone who had shown dedication to the 3,000-member church, and a veteran of outreach efforts.
At the top of the list was Bogier, a 50-year member of Israel Baptist who is the head of the senior citizens' ministry.
"This woman has been faithful for many, many years but just never, never was able to own a home," said Wilson. "It says being faithful, you will be rewarded, not just in heaven but here on Earth."
Adopt-A-Block, a nonprofit group formed by Rock City Church, bought the vacant rowhouse from the city for $3,000. Compassion Commission recruited youths from across the nation to help contractors renovate the 94-year-old, two-story structure.
"To me, there is no greater privilege than to give; the time, the energy, the resources," said Mike Herzog, who owns a painting company and is director of Compassion Commission.
Several companies contributed time and supplies to the project. It is the sixth home in inner-city Baltimore that has been donated since 2002 to someone who never has owned a home, said the Rev. Bart Pierce, pastor of Rock City Church.
Rock City provided funding to the Compassion Commission. The church, through Adopt-A-Block, receives private grants and gifts, and raises money through its thrift store, Pierce said.
Except for selling the rowhouse for a below-market price, City Hall didn't provide financial assistance, he said.
"We want to say to the city, 'Give us a break. Give us the best deal you can on this house.' But we stay away from the city putting any money into it. That helps our story because that means churches, community people, business people are helping the city. Everyone is crying about budget, budget, budget. So this is our way to jump in and help," he said.
City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, whose district includes the Oliver community, attended yesterday's block party celebrating Bogier's new home, with Rawlings-Blake citing the Rock City's "spirit of gratitude and blessing."
Pierce said Rock City has worked for several years with Israel Baptist on projects to help Baltimore residents.
Israel Baptist's outreach focuses on those who are addicted to drugs, former prison inmates, and homeless women and children through its soup kitchen, food pantry, early learning center, street evangelism and other programs, Wilson said.
"We are trying to turn our community into what it used to be, to rid the community of drugs and crime and violence. We see so many lost souls and we try to get them back to the church," he said.
Wilson said Bogier has had "tough times across the years."
Bogier told those who gathered in front of her new rowhouse that she "raised seven children with an alcoholic husband, and I got all of them through high school and four of them through college." She said her husband, who died in 2006, only harmed himself with his drinking. But she said he supported his children getting an education, saying: "We will not raise any dummies in this family."
She retired in 1999 after working for 28 years as a unit secretary at Maryland General Hospital. She now works part time at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.
In an interview, Bogier referred to her new home as a "blessing."
"It has lots of room, lots of closets, and I have my own private bathroom," she said, laughing.
She plans to live in her new home with a daughter, Rita, who has a 15-year-old son, Eric.
"I hope I will be a light and spiritually be able to let somebody know about the goodness of God," Bogier said.
Pierce, pastor of Rock City, said Bogier will do so.
"We have a lady who in all of her hard-working years, she has never owned a home. Now at the end of her life, she has something to leave to her children. She is a good Christian woman. She'll bring a little positive to the neighborhood, a little laughter, a little kindness," he said.