Virginia Run's Steve Shaiko painted walls and some of the deck; then he climbed a ladder and replaced light bulbs in an entryway fan. He was one of nearly 80 volunteers who gathered recently to repair the home of an elderly couple in Herndon.
"IT'S MY sixth year doing it," he said. "It's an excuse to buy and play with power tools, and I enjoy meeting the families [whose houses are fixed]."
The event to which Shaiko was referring was the annual National Rebuilding Day, formerly called Christmas in April, because it's always held the last Saturday of that month. And he and the others worked on the home of Sharif Ahmad, 77, and his wife Salma, 74, of the Dulles Park community.
Some 59 volunteers came from Centreville United Methodist Church (CUMC), with 13 participating from IBM in Fair Lakes. The work was done under the auspices of Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization that renovates houses belonging to low-income homeowners — especially the elderly, the disabled and those with children.
Rebuilding Together is organized by RPJ Housing of Arlington, which uses volunteer labor and community donations to preserve existing, affordable, owner-occupied housing. In 2006 alone, Rebuilding Together expects to rehabilitate 8,900 houses and nonprofit facilities, using 267,000 volunteers in almost 2,000 towns and cities across the U.S.
On April 29, a local contingent came to the Ahmads' house, working from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. alongside their grown son Naiem. He recently moved back with his parents, from Centreville, into their two-story, four-bedroom home, but the needed repairs were more than they could handle, on their own.
"I helped as much as I could," he said. "But they couldn't keep up with what needed to be done."
Roger Healy, RPJ's home repair-project coordinator, said the Ahmads were selected because "they needed help, are low-income, have some health issues and couldn't do the work, themselves." However, their son was able to provide some valuable help to the volunteers.
"Before we got here, Naiem pulled out the shower and the shower walls on the lower level because they had molded," said CUMC's Lee Caslavka, who was co-captain of this project with Shaiko's wife Barbara. "So we put it all back together with a new, Fiberglas shower and walls."
THE VOLUNTEERS also painted the entire inside of the 33-year-old home, repaired and painted drywall in the basement and fixed a broken railing on the stairs inside the house. "Outside, we removed all the gutters and downspouts," said Caslavka. "And we painted the foundation, all the fascia wood behind the gutters and the rake boards that go up the sides of the house."
They also painted an old, weathered shed and transformed the deck outside the kitchen from a bright pink to a more-subdued gray. And they repaired the picket fence in the back yard and gave it a fresh coat of white paint.
The workers also spruced up the yard by trimming trees and bushes and mulching. And the family couldn't have been more delighted. "I'm very happy with what they did, and they got everything done so fast," said Sharif Ahmad, a retired civil engineer. "I'm 77 and, with my age and health, it would have been hard to do, myself."
"I'm so grateful they came along," said Naiem. "This is phenomenal — it's the power of volunteers."
Chris Van Sant, on CUMC's Board of Trustees, sturdied the wobbly railing leading from the foyer to the living room and also ran valuable errands. "I went to the hardware store to get various items, such as cement for the downstairs bathroom, she said. "And I went to the paint store for more trim paint for the front door."
She's volunteered for this project, four or five times, and looks forward to it each year. Explained Van Sant: "I like to fix things and make them work and I like helping people who don't have the skills, time or money to do it."
Westfield High senior Chris McMahon, 18, did it as part of his confirmation group's community-service work. It was his third time volunteering for the Rebuilding Together effort, and he was busy moving back furniture after the rooms were painted.
"It's always fun to see how things change from when you get started to when you end," he said. "It makes you feel good."
Emmanuel Ravichandar, 15, is in the same, 10-member confirmation group at CUMC, and he painted walls and trim and also helped move furniture. Participating for the first time, he pronounced the whole experience "excellent."
"I like helping people," he said. "And it makes you realize how well off you are."
Katie Canatsey, 23, of Centreville's Rocky Run community, is helping lead the confirmation group, and she was part of the volunteer effort for the second time.
"WE CLEANED up the dad's room and painted it and did some trimming and raking in the yard," she said. "It's really great because we've gotten to work with the adults in the church. And it's nice for the youth to see adults continue to work like this, their whole lives, and not just for a service project."
Canatsey also enjoyed seeing families working together and meeting people she didn't know. "And it was nice speaking with the dad," she added. "He was very thankful."
Lisa Dudek of IBM in Fair Lakes contacted Caslavka to see if this project was large enough to support a volunteer group from her company, and he said yes. Then IBM employees Shannon Emerson and Adam Staley put together a group from two, different parts of the company.
"I'd done this a couple times in New England," said Staley. "And our company has a women's network group which organizes community-service projects and social events for employees who want to participate."
"It's a good opportunity to get together outside of the office and be involved in the community," added Emerson. "I'm glad to be able to help out."
She and Staley painted a shed and a fence and also helped hammer the fence in place. Said Staley: "It's nice to see a bunch of people come together for a solid cause and to meet friendly people who want to help."
Participating for his 12th time, Caslavka always organizes the church's volunteers and the project details. And this year, he even had his own company, Cas and Sons Contracting Co. of Chantilly, put up new gutters and downspouts free of charge. Altogether, he estimated the value of all the volunteer work everyone performed as between $7,000-$10,000.
"The reason I do this is because I've been blessed, and it gives me a chance to give back to the community," he explained. But his family and work demands have now grown so much that, next year, he's turning over the reins to someone else.
"This project means a lot to me, and my hope is that it will continue to grow under new, energetic leadership," said Caslavka. "As I look back, I think we had a good run, and I will never forget the love, fun and fellowship we have all been part of." As for the efforts that went into this year's house, he said, "All in all, it was a beautiful day, and the fellowship and work was once again rewarding to all."