Rick Hodgdon of Upper Marlboro has volunteered with Christmas in April for years, and serves on the nonprofit’s executive board.
“I’ve been just about everything. What I like the best is just doing the work, as a carpenter and builder, but duty calls so I was a House Captain for a few years and have been an Area Coordinator. Since I have a construction background I am good at inspecting houses (to see what work needs to be done and can be completed in a short amount of time, using a volunteer labor force),” said Hodgdon. “If there’s a problem house and the House Captain is not sure what can be done, I go to take a look at it.”
Since the program started in 1989, 74,700 Christmas in April Prince George’s County volunteers have worked together to repair 2,253 homes, donating an estimated $38.6 million in work, performed using supplies donated by local and national corporate sponsors and individuals.
Much of the work is done in a coordinated, county-wide rush on the fourth Saturday in April, by crews united by the determination to make a difference in their neighbors’ lives and the community atmosphere of an old-fashioned barn raising.
Homeowners can apply to be considered for each year’s Nov. 1 application deadline. Often, neighbors, family members, elected officials or church leadership contact Christmas in April on a homeowner’s behalf. Once it is determined that the resident owns their home and there is no police activity associated with the property, volunteer inspectors visit to see what the needs are. Almost 200 homeowners applied to have work completed as part of this year’s effort.
In February, House Captains re-inspect the property to see what they can reasonably accomplish in one day’s hard work. They then put in an official request for supplies, skilled tradesmen and volunteers. Skilled tradespeople are always welcome to volunteer, but churches, military squadrons, sororities and fraternities and businesses often lend a hand even if their backgrounds are not in construction or home repair.
Supplies donated by national and local businesses and by individuals who have spare supplies from a home improvement project, as well as materials purchased by Christmas in April Prince George’s County, collect in a donated warehouse in Upper Marlboro, where they are sorted and inventoried by volunteers from Joint Base Andrews and then distributed to House Captains the week before the big day.
Some work is started before the official event day, if it is too big a job to be completed in one day or if the work is too important to wait.
“Last year there was a man in his 80s---in his attic you could see the constellations through the holes in hthe roof. We got him a roofer. That really made a big difference in that gentleman’s house. We did that before the event,” said Hodgdon. “Some things just can’t wait.”
Projects range from the dramatic to the mundane--for some elderly and disabled residents, having volunteers come to change light bulbs, repair toilets or install a smoke detector can make a great difference in daily quality of life.
“That’s why I stay involved with it. There’s no politicking; it’s just people helping each other, and the generosity of contractors,” said Hodgdon. “It’s keeping people from having to go to an institution.”
Though many volunteers come with just the willingness to help, the projects are led by experienced carpenters, electricians, roofers, brick layers, tree surgeons and other skilled tradesmen, including a crew from the plumbing shop oat Joint Base Andrews.
“For what we do and who we help, it’s an amazing thing, and they really need it,” said Christmas in April Prince George’s County Executive Director Mary Kucharski, who has run the organization from it’s Clinton, Md. offices for 23 years. “We’re here to help them stay in their home comfortably and safer. They often have to choose between food, medicines and home repairs, and home repair is very low on the priority list.”
Joint Base Andrews Area Coordinator Master Sgt. Matt Cagle said that each year crews from JBA work on several houses.
“Last year we worked on about six to eight houses, this year there are more than that,” said Cagle. “There are needs that are in the community that a lot of people don’t even know about.”
Often, homeowners don’t realize the program exists until carloads of workers arrive in their neighborhood.
“We’ll do two or three houses on the same block. People see what we did, and apply for the next year,” said Cagle.
“We always get a lot of support from people at Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Pentagon, and this year is no different,” Kucharski said.
Though JBA volunteers often come from the civil engineering side of the house, Cagle said that the willingness to work is what counts.
“You don’t have to be Mike Rowe (of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs). We use what we’ve got. It’s a community project for great self-efficacy,” said Cagle, who said that squadrons often donate money to purchase landscaping and other supplies if their jobs do not allow them to work directly on home repairs.
To volunteer, donate funds or building supplies, or to be considered for the 2014 Christmas in April program, contact Executive Director Mary Kucharski at email@example.com or 301-868-0937.