Christmas doesn’t just fall in December but in April too – join us for this week’s Friday Focus, Christmas in April! We caught up with Darene Kleinsorgen, Executive Director of Christmas in April, St. Mary’s County, to learn all about the impact this organization has on the community and individual lives. Christmas in April gives low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners, the chance at a better home life by providing the materials, labor and money that they need to repair or add to their home. In doing so, they bring happiness and comfort to hundreds of people each year. Christmas in April is all about “neighbors helping neighbors,” next time you’re looking for something to do, check out Christmas in April and see how you can lend a neighborly hand.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
A: Christmas in April St. Mary’s County, Inc. is a volunteer organization that, in partnership with the community, rehabilitates the houses of low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly and disabled, so that they may live in warmth, safety and independence. We also provide help through work on community projects. Our mission is to bring volunteers and our community together to improve the homes and lives of our homeowners. We have served the community since 1991 and 2015 was our 25th year. In that time we have repaired 542 homes and 14 nonprofit facilities. More than 36,900 volunteers have shared their talents and expertise to do over $5 million worth of free repairs! The success of this program is dependent upon the monetary contributions, materials, equipment and labor donated by local companies, organizations, churches and individuals. Our repairs include but are not limited to handicap renovations, plumbing, electrical, heating, roofing, walls, doors, floors, windows, weatherization and painting.
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: My favorite moments are when you see how you have changed the quality of life of a homeowner in one day. The reward is the smile a homeowner has when she can roll her wheelchair outside and sit in the sunshine on her new porch. Our homeowners are unable to do the simple upkeep on their home due to age, finances or health and are so grateful for hand up. I just talked to a homeowner who had no heat in her home and we had an entire heating system donated and installed, she was almost crying she was so overwhelmed at having heat. We install a lot of ramps to enable the homeowner to get in and out of their homes easily. It is amazing how much difference a few volunteers and some materials can make in a person’s life. It is a very rewarding experience.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Our biggest challenge is getting the funding to be able to help our homeowners year after year. We had 72 applications last year, so there is definitely a need in the county. We will be doing 15 homes and one community project this year on April 30. The cost of materials goes up every year so it is a challenge to get them at the best price possible. We also always in need of skilled trades to help us: roofers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, carpet installers, etc.
Q: Are there any upcoming events?
A: St. Mary’s College is having a “Du the Point” duathlon on April 9 to benefit CIA. We are having our 3rd annual 5Krun/3K walk on October 1 in Charlotte Hall. On October 5 CMI General Contractors will be hosting their 20th Annual Golf Tournament to benefit CIA. On October 9 Southern MD Antique Power Association will host their 7th Annual Tractor Parade in Leonardtown to benefit CIA.
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
A: We have about 1,200 volunteers on “Neighbors helping Neighbors” day who work on our projects. Our meetings are the third Wednesday of the month at 6PM at Tolerance Hall on St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds. (we do not meet in July or August). The meetings are open to the public, so come out and see what we are doing and join a committee!