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Patuxent Habitat for Humanity helps Huntingtown woman

By AMANDA HARRISON

Staff writer

Two Saturdays’ worth of work was completed on local resident Cindy Whitehurst’s home on Saturday.

Only about 10 volunteers were expected, but about 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 are being made to Whitehurst’s home to make it safe again.

“I always made barely enough to make house payments and there was never any left for upkeep,” Whitehurst said.

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

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

On Monday, Whitehurst said she was very humbled by the experience.

She explained that after serving, there was no welcoming home and she witnessed many “hateful acts” toward service men and women, and it created a sense of bitterness.

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

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

PHH 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.”

So far this year, Malebranche said, PHH 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, adding that there are 10 more veteran homes to be completed by May 31, 2013.

In 2011, 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, the foundation’s website states. This year, the foundation committed an additional $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 explained that Whitehurst will pay back a portion of the grant on a sliding scale, which is based on her income, with no interest.

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

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

Whitehurst went on to say that her daughter had to remain downstairs after the flood water was drained and they were all washing dishes in the bathtub upstairs.

But mold began to grow and her insurance 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 explained, 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. The deck, which provided a safe exit out to the backyard at one point, was rotting and a tree had fallen on it, damaging it further, she said.

When her daughter, Faith, came home from college in May, Whitehurst explained, 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 sort of depression, and, during a Financial Freedom class at her church, a friend told her she should apply for help with PHH.

At first, Whitehurst had her reservations about applying.

“Every time I apply for something I always make too much money,” she said of applying for help in the past.

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

“[PHH] 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 PHH. “... I was just looking for a roof and a water repair, but they gave me so much more.”

aharrison@somdnews.com