- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Next month, some 1,500 volunteers are planning to climb ladders, bang hammers and dip paint brushes to serve St. Mary’s residents in need of home repair.
Christmas in April St. Mary’s County has been organizing the efforts to take on anything from roofing to flower planting for about 20 homeowners Saturday, April 27.
“I’m blessed. Anything I need, I have somebody I can call,” said Darene Kleinsorgen, new executive director of Christmas in April St. Mary’s.
Kleinsorgen started with Christmas in April 23 years ago, and started off serving breakfasts and lunches at homes being renovated. She’s also served on the board of directors, as a secretary and as a director’s assistant. Over the years, she’s seen the number of volunteers increase from 500 to about 1,500, she said. They used to provide danishes and sandwiches to workers. Now, church groups and businesses get together to provide meals that, sometimes, look like Thanksgiving.
Part of what Kleinsorgen is grateful now for is new, donated office space at 28231 Three Notch Road in Mechanicsville. It makes it easier for the group to hold meetings with the board and with volunteers, and begin organizing fund-raising and repair efforts for the year.
The group used to meet after hours at Burch Oil. “They were good to us,” said Howard Thompson, board president. “But it’s nice to have office and meeting space of our own.”
He’s been busy, working with Kleinsorgen, to make sense of the homeowners’ needs, the volunteers’ skills and giving the house captains the laundry lists of what they need to accomplish that one day in April. It’s a hit or miss relationship, Thompson said. “If I miss it, Darene hits it,” he said, laughing.
“This program is about neighbors helping neighbors,” Thompson said. “There’s people right next door to you who sometimes you don’t know are in need.”
Thompson, who also has worked 23 years with Christmas in April, said the group has repaired more than 600 houses in the county, and he estimates they’ve received more than $5 million in donated materials.
Thompson, an electrician by trade, now works in hospitality. His background and his passion keep him going.
“I’m a big piece o’ puddin’,” Thompson said. “I can cry.” He recalled times when he went to homes and saw older residents come out and say, “‘My God, I don’t know what I would have done without y’all,’” Thompson said. “You don’t forget these people after you leave projects.”
The work the volunteers do makes it easier for the homeowners, many of whom are elderly, to do basic upkeep. “For a lot of these people, it didn’t used to be hard for them to keep it up while they were working,” he said. “When you can help them to have a house that shines, it really changes their outlook on life.”
Mary Holley of Hollywood lives in what used to be an old schoolhouse. “They’ve been here to help me twice now,” she said. Volunteers installed new windows, painted the house, provided a washer and dryer “so I don’t have to go up and down the stairs,” she said, and they cleaned up her back yard. “They do an excellent job,” she said.
Thompson remembers that project. Holley lives in his area. The team also helped repair water damage and replace flooring. “Mr. and Mrs. Holley are some of the hardest-working people you’d ever meet,” Thompson said. Mr. Holley had a trash collection business in Hollywood, Thompson said.
“We did a lot of work that really made it more healthy for them and better for them to get around,” Thompson said.
After years of stocking the warehouse, studying census data about residents in need, reaching out to homeowners and volunteers, Christmas in April has become like family. It’s a labor of love, Thompson said. “It’s helping people keep their homes.”