Homeowner Repair Stories
Compassion is a thing Melida feels is most needed in our society, and something she gives without reservation. She’s used to being an activist trying to help those who are less fortunate, so it was frustrating for her to be in a situation where she needed someone else’s help.
Melida captivated the audience at Habitat Susquehanna’s most recent fundraiser, the BBQ Bash when she was its guest speaker. As she told her story to the attendees, the emotion of her plight was palpable.
A long-time volunteer in her church and community, she takes part in her Women’s Ministry; she helps homeless people in need of support; she’s volunteered for the Johns Hopkins program Call to Care giving respite to caregivers; and, she’s assisted with American Red Cross efforts to get soldiers home on bereavement leave.
“I’ve opened my house to soldiers that were unable to get home for the holidays and provided them with food and a place to call home during those times,” she said. “You see, I am very dedicated to ensuring I do good deeds in the world and serve others in my community.”
There’s a reason why Melida values the idea of home so much. It’s because she knows what it’s like to be struggling. In 1979, this mother of three moved her family from California to Harford County after her divorce, and lived in a Section 8 apartment. Through sheer persistence and strong will, she obtained a job at Aberdeen Proving Ground and worked there for 27 years. She bought her Edgewood house in 1999.
During a cold February winter, the heating system in her house stopped working.
“I spent many cold nights using a space heater (which I find most dangerous as they can cause fires) to heat my room to stay relatively warm at night,” Melida said.
A repairman came over and gave her an estimate but she simply couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars’ replacement cost. As a retired government employee living on a fixed income, this was simply not in her budget.
Melida was persistent, though. She knew help had to be out there, somewhere. She contacted various organizations but didn’t get results until she paid a visit to the local library. She found handouts about the Repair Program at one of the library display tables, and decided to apply.
“I cried when I learned that I was approved for the program. I was so happy,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d get a call back!”
Melida received a new roof, insulation for her attic, a new heat pump and new air conditioner under the Repair Program’s critical home repair and weatherization programs. (Homeowners are required to contribute 15 percent of the total cost of the project, as well as give back at least 10 hours of community service in the spirit of partnership with Habitat.)
“They also replaced my lights with LED light bulbs, and replaced my shower head with a more efficient one that uses less water,” she said. “I’ve already seen a difference in my water and electric bills.”
Melida’s relationship with Habitat hasn’t ended here. She actively volunteers at its Aberdeen ReStore, a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center. She has also agreed to be a Repair Program “ambassador” and pass the word about how she received assistance in order to encourage others to do the same.
“I was praying for a long time for help,” she said. “I would recommend this to anybody – give this program a try.” She pauses for a second as she reflects on her next thought. “I would recommend them to volunteer, too.”
Barbara Edwards has lived in Harford County since she was 12 years old and has owned her Edgewood townhouse for the past 17 years. Her grandchildren range in age from nine years old to twenty-nine, and she’s also a great-grandmother whose youngest great-grandchild is two months old. Barbara keeps an immaculately neat and orderly house, and tries to stay on top of any problems she may notice in it. Since she lives alone, she counts on relatives to come and help her with small repair jobs. However, she’s also an extremely enthusiastic learner and worker, and takes great pride in doing things by herself, such as the time she replaced her entire kitchen floor.
Barbara knew about Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna through her church’s ministry projects but didn’t realize it had a Repair Program to fix existing homes until one of her church members mentioned it. Since she had a problem with her deck, Barbara decided to fill out an application and see what Habitat could do to help.
However, when Habitat’s Construction Manager Jeremy Bopst came to do a site visit, he noticed shingles scattered across the deck and in her backyard. Barbara thought they had blown off a neighbor’s roof after a recent storm, but upon further examination, it turned out the shingles came from her own house. In that moment, a deck problem turned into the need for a new roof.
“It took me a couple of months to budget my part of the funding,” said Barbara, referring to the homeowner’s required 15 percent contribution towards the total cost of the project. “I only have one income – that’s my Social Security – so I’m always budgeting for things that need to be repaired.”
In addition to the roof, an outside pipe was leaking – something Barbara was aware of – so Habitat arranged for a plumber to repair it as well. “It was a big load off my mind. I had not turned on any water outside to do any lawn watering or anything because of it,” she said.
As part of her ten hours of community service (done in the spirit of partnership with Habitat), Barbara plans to spread the word about the Repair Program within her contacts in the community and her church. “I know some seniors who could really use the help,” she said.
She’s also considering volunteering some hours at the Aberdeen ReStore. (Habitat’s ReStore is a discount home improvement store and donation center. Its proceeds are used to help build and repair homes in Harford and Cecil counties.)
“I’m very, very grateful and relieved about Habitat’s help. They do a wonderful job from the time of the application to when the process is done. I might not always have the monetary funds to go with it but I can certainly throw a hand in to help,” said Barbara. “Although I do most of my home improvements, this has been a blessing.”
James and Melinda Knox
The Knoxes have been married for eight years. Melinda is an inclusion helper for Harford County Public Schools and James once worked in administration on a college campus until he went on disability due to his autism. They have been living in their 21-year-old mobile home in Edgewood since 2011. Although the house is completely paid off, it’s not without its problems. One major issue has been the roof.
“When we first moved in, we had a bunch of storms come through which caused problems for our roof, then subsequent storms caused other problems,” said James. “Last year, it became a cat-and-mouse game where we were constantly trying to handle all the situations caused by the weather.”
Rain would come into the house through the ceiling fan in the bathroom, and through a back door. The floor in that area had to be replaced from water damage and three years later, it became water-damaged again. James would try to patch up the problems as they came along, but the couple knew they needed to find a more permanent solution.
They heard about Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna from several neighbors who received help from its Repair Program. Unlike the Construction Program, which builds new houses, the Repair Program performs critical repairs on existing homes to make them safe and livable for the residents.
“The lady across the street was getting a beautiful ramp,” said Melinda. “I walked over there and met Jeremy Bopst [the Repair Program Construction Manager]. I started asking him questions and he told me about the application process and what we would need in order to ask for help.”
They filled out the paperwork, went through an eligibility screening process, and were approved. Habitat gathered bids from roofing contractors and a contract was drafted. Like the Construction Program, the Repair Program is not free; families partner with Habitat and contribute fifteen percent of the project cost, as well as pledge ten hours of time helping neighbors, the local community, a church, or other organizations.
Receiving a new roof has allowed the Knoxes to relax a little from the recent spate of bad winter weather.
“I feel secure,” said James.
“I feel blessed and grateful,” said Melinda. “A new roof is not an inexpensive thing and it would’ve taken us a long time to get the money to pay for it all on our own. Habitat is incredible.”
Harford County residents had been enjoying unusually mild winter weather until a storm in January passed through, dumping 30 inches of snow into the area. In the weeks that followed Winter Storm Jonas, subfreezing temperatures forced homeowners to bundle up and remain indoors. What about the people who didn’t have heat in their homes? Manny Gomes was worrying about that very question as he picked up the phone and made a call to Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna. When his call was answered, Manny came straight to the point: did Habitat know of someone who needed a furnace? If so, his Edgewood HVAC company, HGH Mechanical, Inc., was willing to donate one and install it free of charge. There were many applicants who could use a furnace but one name immediately came to mind -- Robin Skoczylas.
Robin has lived in Harford County since the age of 16 when her father retired from the Army. She started out as a hairdresser and noticed she was having muscle and back problems but attributed them to all the standing she had to do for her job. She decided to go to college and graduated from law school but her health continued to decline. After seeing a series of doctors, she received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
Robin was living with her father in his Aberdeen home when he passed away suddenly. It was then that she learned he had a reverse mortgage and she would have to move out. She decided that buying a house of her own would be cheaper than renting, even on her small disability income. She found a house around the corner from her father’s so that she was able to remain in the neighborhood. She moved there a year ago and remembered the advice given to her by the Maryland Mortgage Program that helped finance her home -- put a little money aside for future repairs. Unfortunately, the house’s furnace was about 30 years old and stopped working within months after moving in. Robin didn’t have enough money saved to fix it.
“I’ve been using two little heating units and blocked off all the rooms to keep the heat in this one area,” she said, indicating her living room. “This last storm had me praying the whole time because I was worried the electricity would go out and I’d have no heat at all.”
Robin’s sister, Molly Dry, had been advising her on different programs available to low-income residents, and it was she who mentioned applying to Habitat. A home visit by Habitat’s Repair Program identified many serious problems to the house, but the most crucial was the item Robin had been living without for almost a year -- a new furnace. And then came the call from Manny.
“The previous few days were really cold and we had a bunch of customers without heat,” said Manny. “My thoughts went to the fact that some people may not be able to afford to pay for services to repair their equipment.”
“I really don’t know what else I would have done,” said Robin, as the technicians installed her new furnace four days later. “It would’ve taken me years and I would’ve been in substantial debt to fix the problem. I was out of options.”
HGH Mechanical, Inc. was founded by Manny Gomes, Philip Hobbs and James Hobbs, Jr. and has been providing HVAC services in and around the Baltimore-metropolitan area since 1993. Although the company had been a contractor on previous Habitat jobs, this was its first time donating materials and services.
“I have lived in Harford County, graduated from Edgewood High School, and really love this area,” said Gomes. “It was really time to give back to this community.”
“It gives you faith in humanity that there are still people out there doing things out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Robin. “I’m terribly grateful.”
“It does not take much to go a long way,” said Manny. “I thought that it would be the right thing to do.”
Lydia Love has been living in her Edgewood mobile home for the past 14 years. She shares her house with her brother David Shaeffer, a former paratrooper in Vietnam, who moved in nine years ago. For three years, Lydia had been having difficulty walking and two years ago she began using a wheelchair when she couldn’t walk anymore. Whenever she had to leave the house, her son, Bryan Taylor, would come over and help her walk down the three outside steps – an effort that would take more than 15 minutes to accomplish.
In the fall of 2015, Lydia had total knee replacement surgery, but a series of medical setbacks, including kidney failure, dialysis treatment, and pneumonia, kept her in the hospital for many months. Her daughter-in-law, Boneek Myers, knew that when Lydia came home, it had to be with the stair situation resolved once and for all. Lydia needed a wheelchair ramp.
“I knew about Habitat from eight years ago when I lived on Edmund Street in Aberdeen,” said Boneek. “Habitat was building a house next door to where we lived. I would bring them coffee and check out their work. It’s a beautiful house.”
Boneek went directly to Habitat’s Bel Air office where she spoke with Jeremy Bopst, the Construction Manager, to explain Lydia’s situation. She was given an application and list of all the paperwork necessary for the review process. Two months later, Jeremy and nine volunteers – including two from Harford Hammers, Inc. – built the much-needed wheelchair ramp. The effort took more than 75 hours to complete.
“It means everything in the world to me to have this ramp,” said Lydia. “It’s beautiful and I’m so grateful for everybody’s help. I’m so glad Bo did this to help me.”
“All the volunteers who came here were great,” said Boneek. “They were always on time, and they did not cut corners. They were complete with their job.” The all-volunteer crew consisted of: Joe Hartka, Randy Benedict, Dave Parker, Steve Troy, Carol Suzdak, Tim Knabe, Marty Whitesel, and, Harford Hammers, Inc. volunteers William Elkin and William Zimmerman.
Lydia said her neighbors are very complimentary about the ramp. “They walk by and tell me how great it looks,” she said proudly.
“I would definitely recommend Habitat to people who need help,” said Boneek.
Lydia is thankful to Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna and all the volunteers who worked so hard to give her a beautiful wheelchair ramp. She credits her daughter-in-law Boneek for her persistence and caring attitude throughout the whole process.
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