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Volunteers for ‘Christmas in April’ in St. Mary’s County help repair families’ homes

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As Mary Holley watched more than 50 people descend on her home early Saturday morning — replacing windows, painting the walls, installing new gutters and cleaning out the flooded basement — she simply shook her head and thanked God.

“This is an army of angels sent by the Lord,” Holley said.

The repairs to her Hollywood, Md., home would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, she said, money the 82-year-old retired licensed practical nurse doesn’t have. But thanks to a program that works to renovate and rehabilitate the homes of low-income, elderly and disabled residents, Holley and her husband, Louis, were among 22 families in St. Mary’s County to get a home makeover.

“Christmas in April” in St. Mary’s, now in its 22nd year, is part of Rebuilding Together, a national volunteer organization that works to provide free home repairs, mostly to the elderly in need. More than 1,000 people turned out to work on homes throughout the county.

Volunteers brought in a new washer and dryer for the Holleys, as well as air conditioners and other items.

Holley said she was grateful for their efforts. For several years, she has been a caretaker for her husband of 59 years. He has several health problems and is bedridden.

“For years, I have taken care of others, and now, as I take care of my husband, people are blessing me over and over,” she said.

Mary Ann Chasen, executive director of St. Mary’s Christmas in April, said the best thing about the program is that “it opens friendships.”

“It is more than fixing a home,” Chasen said. “For a lot of us we wouldn’t have time to meet each other.”

Jini Beavers, a professional construction company manager, was the house captain for the Holley home, aided by a platoon of volunteers. “My husband and I started the planning for this renovation in February, and today it is all coming together,” she said.

Those working on the Holley home were working on history. The couple lives in a home that in the early 1900s served as a school for the children of former slaves from nearby Sotterley Plantation.

As she looked at the workers in her home, Holley said, “We as a people have come a long ways.”

Lisa Lonely, alongside her 14-year-old son, Joey, helped to paint the Holleys’ home. Last April, they were the ones getting help.

“We needed a new roof and had a lot of painting, electrical and plumbing problems,” Lonely, 44, said. “This group turned my life around and helped me when I was down and out.”

More on this story: A restoration of home and artist

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