By LESLIE COLLINS
October 31, 2012
For some Northeast residents, Christmas arrived early this year.
It didn’t come in the form of neatly wrapped gifts tucked under lighted Christmas trees.
Instead, it came as volunteers armed with tools to repair porches and staircases, install furnaces and fix leaky roofs.
“We’re trying to change lives in neighborhoods one house at a time,” said John Summers, managing director of Kansas City’s Christmas in October.
Since 1984, the program has rehabilitated more than 7,500 homes in the Kansas City metro area, concentrating on meeting the needs of “warmth, safety and dignity.” The program is geared toward homeowners aged 62 and older, veterans and those with disabilities, Summers said.
“Basically, we’re just trying to keep the threads of the community wound together and helping the folks that can’t help themselves,” he said.
Each home rehabilitation averages $2,000 and costs the homeowner nothing, he said. Annually, the economic impact is $3 million.
A number of churches and area corporations like Hallmark, Sprint, the Bayer Corporation and others volunteer for the program.
This year, Christmas in October rehabilitated approximately 250 houses and approximately 6,000 volunteers showed up ready to work Oct. 6, Summers said. At least six homes in Northeast benefitted from the project.
“I’ve done this in past years, and I just find it rewarding to know I’m helping someone that wouldn’t be able to do it themselves,” said Bayer Corporation employee Scott Wade, who worked at the home of Northeast resident Brenda Powell.
Work at the Serrone house in Northeast began at 7:30 a.m., despite the frigid temperatures.
“It’s cold, but everybody seems to be in good spirits,” said volunteer Krystal Marcum of the University of Phoenix.
The remnants of vandalism were evident along the Serrone’s front porch and siding, where white paint splatters made their mark. Marcum and others painted over the paint specks and repainted the trim on the roof.
“I felt like Santa Claus up there on the roof for Christmas in October,” Marcum said.
Volunteers also re-leveled the aging front and back porches, re-doing the stair treads and spindles. They also fixed the slope of the front steps, reinforced the front porch with new beams and repaired the handrail.
“We were all excited. Thank you God we’ve gotten a little break,” Julie Serrone said.
Two years ago, Julie’s mother died and both Julie and her father, Angelo Serrone, continue to struggle with health issues. In April, Julie’s 11-year-old son, Angelo Michael Serrone, underwent two major brain surgeries and stayed in the hospital for 24 days.
“It’s just been a rough two years. But, we’re survivors; we’re strong,” she said.
Julie said she read about Christmas in October in Northeast News and convinced her father to apply.
“I didn’t know they had Christmas in October. I didn’t know what it was,” Angelo said.
With more than 1,000 applicants this year, Julie said she felt lucky to have been chosen and Angelo agreed.
“They’re helping elderly people out. That’s what I like about it,” said Angelo, who turned 85 this month. “I can’t afford to pay to do all that stuff… I’m happy because now I don’t have to worry about falling through the porch.”
Projects at the Powell house included replacing the defunct furnace, fixing a leak in the family room, installing a GFCI outlet, and repairing the exterior balcony staircase and deck.
“This (balcony staircase and deck) was a hazard because it was about ready to fall off (from the house),” said Bayer employee Brian James.
For Powell, receiving the furnace alone would have been enough, she said.
“I’m in awe. It knocked my socks off from day one,” 68-year-old Powell said.
If it weren’t for Christmas in October, Powell would have struggled to afford a new, working furnace, she said.
“I just love these people. They’re just so great,” she said. “They’re adding more feathers to their angel wings.”
How you can help
Christmas in October is approved by the Missouri Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) and can provide a 50 percent tax credit to eligible tax payers making a qualifying contribution.
Donations will be used toward the purchase of supplies necessary to refurbish homes.
Send a check to: P.O. Box 32108, Kansas City, Mo., 64171
You can also donate online via PayPal at www.christmasinoctober.org/donations.php