Volunteers repair veteran’s house in Calvert County


Ron Bailey, left, Rich Clayburn and Charlie Russell work on removing the deck at Cindy Whitehurst’s house. Whitehurst was chosen as a Patuxent Habitat for Humanity Veteran Repair Corps recipient. The goal was to complete the repairs in three volunteer days. (Patuxent Habitat for Humanity)
November 20, 2012

Two Saturdays’ worth of work was completed on Huntingtown resident Cindy Whitehurst’s home Nov. 10.

Only about 10 volunteers were expected, but 17 showed up to help the veteran make her house a home again.

Through Patuxent Habitat for Humanity’s Gary Senese Memorial Veterans Repair Corps program, in conjunction with the Home Depot Foundation, critical repairs to Whitehurst’s home will make it safe again.

“I always made barely enough to make house payments, and there was never any left for upkeep,” Whitehurst said of the day-care center she was running in the house and her job as a home help aide for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The repairs to Whitehurst’s home include replacing the roof, mitigating a serious mold problem, demolishing an unsafe deck and replacing it, and adding required insulation, said Colleen Malebranche, Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative coordinator with Patuxent Habitat for Humanity.

Malebranche said the organization was trying to get all repairs completed in three volunteer days.

On Nov. 12, Whitehurst said she was humbled by the experience.

She recalled that after serving in the military, there was no welcome home, and she witnessed many “hateful acts” toward men and women who had served, and that it created a sense of bitterness.

“It just melted away on Saturday,” she said of seeing other veterans and active-duty military personnel work on fixing her house and thank her for her service.

“It was very humbling, very overwhelming,” she said.

Patuxent Habitat for Humanity is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International and works to create “decent, affordable housing in partnership with those in need in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties,” according to the organization.

So far this year, Malebranche said, Patuxent Habitat for Humanity and the Veterans Repair Corps have completed repairs to three other veterans’ homes, all in St. Mary’s County.

“This will be the first in Calvert,” Malebranche said. There are 10 more veteran homes to be completed by May 31.

Last year, the Home Depot Foundation committed $30 million over three years to nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the homes of economically disadvantaged veterans — a pledge that was surpassed nearly a year ahead of schedule, according to the foundation’s Web site. This year, the foundation committed $50 million over the next three years to the cause.

From that pledged money, Whitehurst, an Army veteran who served from 1972 to 1975, was given a grant for the needed repairs.

Malebranche said that Whitehurst will pay back a portion of the grant on a sliding scale based on her income, with no interest charges.

Whitehurst said many of the home’s problems began on Christmas about three years ago, when accumulated snowfall began melting and the home was flooded.

At the time, the upstairs kitchen was being renovated, so Whitehurst, her daughter and her four foster children were staying downstairs and using that kitchen — until everything flooded. When she called Servepro, a cleanup and restoration company, to drain the water, she said, the water was coming in as fast as they could drain it.

Whitehurst said her daughter had to remain downstairs after the flood water was drained, and they were all washing dishes in the bathtub upstairs.

Mold began to grow, and her insurance company wouldn’t cover the damages.

“We had to cut the drywall out of the basement up to waist high,” she said.

Over the course of a year, Whitehurst said, most of the drywall was replaced.

“But it all happened at one time,” she said. “The foster kids were gone; my hours were reduced at my previous job; the child support stopped. . . . I was underemployed and low-income. I couldn’t make my house payments.”

Whitehurst said she moved to the basement and rented out the upstairs so she could continue to make payments on the house.

But that generated another problem, she said. The deck, which provided a safe exit to the back yard at one point, was rotting and a tree had fallen on it, damaging it further.

When her daughter, Faith, came home from college in May, Whitehurst said, there was nowhere for her to go.

To make a room for her daughter at the house, Whitehurst hung comforters and sheets up “so it looked like an orange room.”

Whitehurst said she went into a kind of depression. During a Financial Freedom class at her church, a friend told her she should apply for help with Patuxent Habitat for Humanity.

At first, Whitehurst had her reservations about applying.

“Every time I apply for something, I always make too much money,” she said.

Other organizations, she said, had made her feel like she was “trying to work the system,” because they would tell her there were people worse off than her.

Patuxent Habitat for Humanity “didn’t do that,” she said.

In January, Whitehurst applied and, shortly after, was approved.

“There’s a lot to do, and I can’t do it all,” Whitehurst said. “This is really about bringing things up to be safe and up to code.

“They were wonderful,” she said of Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. “I was just looking for a roof and a water repair, but they gave me so much more.”

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