For its ninth year, Centreville United Methodist Church participated in the annual Christmas in April program.
This time, on April 26, more than 80 members renovated the home of Fairfax resident Deborah Kenney, who was diagnosed with MS in 1990 and needed to have the home made safer for her to get around.
The plucky volunteers also included the church's confirmation class, composed mainly of ninth-graders who chose this as their service project. Once again, Lee Caslavka was project coordinator, and Laura Stapleton led the confirmation class' participation.
"As captain, I look forward to this event annually," said Caslavka of Fair Lakes Chase. "My faith and love for our congregation grows every year. When I think of all the people giving up their time for our mission, it brings tears to my eyes."
The newly renamed Rebuilding Together with Christmas in April program preserves and revitalizes houses and communities, assuring that low-income homeowners — particularly those who are elderly, disabled or are families with children — live in warmth, safety and independence. It's the largest volunteer, home-rehabilitation organization in the U.S. and does work in 865 cities and towns in all 50 states.
At Kenney's home, the CUMC crew installed handrails throughout the house, removed wallpaper, painted the entire inside of the house with two coats of paint, performed drywall repairs and replaced carpeting. The workers also painted shutters, made minor carpentry and electrical repairs, mowed the yard and trimmed the shrubs.
In addition, nearly 20 people worked at Camp Highroads, a United Methodist camp near Middleburg, to prepare it for use this summer. Work included painting the dining hall's kitchen floor and cleaning out cabins.
Caslavka said Kenney was extremely pleased with all the home improvements, and he said having the youth work with the adults was especially good for everyone. Said Caslavka: "As always, the faith and fellowship that this event brings out in people does my heart good. And our youth showed us that the future is bright."
Stapleton, of South Riding, helped remove wallpaper and oversaw the confirmation class' work. Because the class is so large, half of the teens worked at the Fairfax house and the other half did the handiwork at Camp Highroads. That way, she said, everyone got to participate in some great projects and help many people.
She said what she enjoyed most was "watching the youth and adults help with each assignment they were given. Seeing the excitement in their faces after they completed something was worth a million dollars because they felt empowered, simply from helping someone else out."
Because the project wasn't about them, said Stapleton, it was important that the volunteers participated because "it grounds us back to the reality that — no matter how bad we may think our lives are — there is always someone else in more need."
Virginia Run's Steve Shaiko spackled holes in walls, installed handicap handrails and did whatever else was needed. "God has blessed me with talents that He calls me [to use] to help others, as others have helped me," said Shaiko. "I believe Jesus calls us to serve, share and respect others."
And like many of the workers that day, he especially liked "meeting new friends and seeing old friends in a spirit of camaraderie and fellowship."
Caslavka's son Phil, part of the confirmation class, was busy unclogging gutters, removing and replacing shutters, mowing the lawn and painting. He, too, enjoyed "interacting with friends and family," and it sounds as if he had lots of fun.
"I like using hammers — my nickname is 'Papa Smurf,'" he said. "And I nailed [classmate] Kristen Jackson all over the face with paint."
Kathie and Erica Hurley of Little Rocky Run painted the living and dining rooms. Besides knowing the person they were helping, they wanted to give back to the community and were eager to see the completed project. Both also do work on a regular basis with Habitat for Humanity.
Paul Karstetter of Centreville's Sequoia Farms community stripped old wallpaper and said he feels good about helping those less fortunate. The best part, he said, was "working with the confirmation class kids and talking with the property owner about how much she appreciated our assistance."