JED DUVALL 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The call to work is for nine in the morning, but the crew arrives early. They roll out of their pickup trucks ready to work, pulling on gloves, hefting hammers and wrecking bars, reaching for masks and respirators. They know the job. They are Lions in Rappahannock County, Virginia, out in the countryside 90 minutes west of the nation’s capital. Their job is to pull out the moldy drywall and ceiling of a tiny house owned by a woman of limited means. They set to it so earnestly that very soon Lion Matt Barrett lifts his dust mask for a moment and exclaims, “It’s only 9:30 and we’re about halfway done!” Indeed, the dozen men and one woman on the job raised a clatter as they yanked the old walls off, the old nails screeching as they were pulled out of the joists. Sections of drywall came out of the house, several each minute, as the walls and ceiling were stripped bare. It was all over by lunchtime, with the debris of the job tossed into a waiting dumpster. The four-room house belongs to Jennifer Gray, who spent most of her childhood here. On school days she was bused to a blacks-only school more than 15 miles away in another county. By the time she was finished with the 10th grade, however, Virginia was done with school segregation and Jennifer Gray spent the final two years of high school at the newly integrated Rappahannock County High School. Today, she reports to the same building, where she is an aide helping disadvantaged youngsters in special education. Some of her charges are elementary schoolers, others are toddlers. She is a favorite of the students, who call her simply “Momma G.” Her job is one that does not offer a great deal of money; this rural school system does not have much to spend and a significant portion of those who live in the county argue vehemently against taxes and school spending every year. Gray planned to fix up the house without help. “My brother in Pennsylvania–when he had some free time–we were going to try to do it ourselves,” she says. It would have been daunting. AAfter the Lions pull out the drywall, a church group in the county will install new wiring and plumbing, bathroom fixtures and a new kitchen. The whole house, small though it is, will be made over. When the church group finishes, the Lions will return to paint the interior–walls and ceilings–and provide for some sort of heat, probably electric baseboard. Bill Welch, who grew up in Rappahannock County, is the man heading the group from a Baptist church doing the wiring and plumbing. Welch has known Gray for years. “She’s always helping [people], asking for nothing. She didn’t ask for this [rehab].” The work on the house is hard, but straightforward. What had been complicated was making the arrangements. Club President Jim Blubaugh reported that three months were spent in late 2008 just trying to find a house to work on, to match up the club’s resources with a suitable homeowner. Rappahannock County is not without needy folks, but the club leaders had to approach the project with tact and care; the dignity of the recipient remains foremost. What Blubaugh calls “the power of organized good” required delicate planning and balance. Other groups in the county were approached. Various churches and the county’s senior citizen agency were asked to nominate candidates for assistance. Says Blubaugh, “We are trying to get as many community organizations as we can to work on these things.” One of those hard at work in the house on the first day of the Lions project was veteran club member Larry Sherertz, a former county sheriff. He observed, “This is a hand up, not a handout.” Once the connection with Gray was made and the needs of the project were clear, an environmental group, whose vice president is a Lion, supplied special insulating paint. The Lions led the way. As Blubaugh says, “The Lions are the only multi-purpose organizations of any size in the county.” For several years now, Gray has been living with another brother in the house next door. The home being rehabbed by the Lions and the others has been empty for years. Gray is not even sure how old it is. But she is looking forward to making this childhood home her own place once again. “I’m thinking of moving in soon,” she says with a smile.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/REHABBING+A+HOME%2C+RESTORING+DIGNITY/244111/24409/article.html.