‘Christmas’ makes its annual April visit
Armed with paint brushes, drills and rakes, campus volunteers improve living conditions for the elderly, disabled in Berkeley

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Irma and Percy Lewis, above, look out of the front porch of their West Berkeley home, which a team of volunteers renovated Saturday, April 28, as part of the Christmas in April program.
Noah Berger photo

02 May 2001 | As a cacophony of banging hammers, scratching sandpaper and snapping hedge clippers floated through the air, 83-year-old Irma Lewis gazed in wonderment at the bustle of activity that surrounded her.

“I’m at a loss for words; this is really something,” exclaimed Lewis, who celebrates 63 years of marriage to her husband, Percy, next month. “At our age, we could never do this work ourselves, and we can’t afford to pay others to do it for us.”

On April 28, dozens of Berkeley staff and students descended on the Lewis home to paint, landscape, clean and renovate the house she and her husband have lived in since 1945.

Their efforts were part of the nonprofit group Rebuilding Together’s “Christmas in April” program, an annual, nationwide event that aids low-income elderly and disabled homeowners unable to cover the cost of repairs.

Like an old-fashioned barn raising, Christmas in April brings together volunteers one day each year to work on houses in their community. The Lewis’ home was one of several Berkeley residences that campus volunteers upgraded.

“We want to help the Lewis’ live safely and independently for as long as possible,” said UC Berkeley Extension student Jeanne Klucznik, a crew leader for the site. “They’ve been in this house for 54 years. We hope our work will help them remain for many more.”

Materials and tools used for repairs were donated by local companies, said Klucznik. Ashby Lumber and The Home Depot were among them; additional funding for the Berkeley projects was provided by Bayer Corp., Peet’s Coffee and the Oakland Tribune. The university donated more than $12,000.

Staff from Housing and Dining Services, Capital Projects and Community Affairs were among the volunteers working on the Lewis’ house.

“I have been very fortunate in life, so it’s important for me to give back,” said Pamela Booth, a family and graduate housing assistant. “It’s also a chance to meet in person colleagues who I’ve only spoken to over the phone.”

The volunteers spent the day painting both the interior and exterior of the Lewis home, remodeling the bathroom, cleaning out the basement, replacing the kitchen floor, pulling weeds and trimming hedges.

“I know nothing about home repair, which is why they have me scraping paint,” joked Capital Project’s Christine Shaff.

“I’m just happy to show up and do what I can,” she said. “It’s also nice to meet people from other areas of campus that I don’t normally interact with.”

As Irma Lewis sat in the middle of her dining room — watching busy volunteers delicately maneuver around each other — she spoke of her good fortune.

“We spent all our lives working to have a home, and I want to stay here as long as I can,” said Lewis, who left Louisiana with her husband in the early 1940s to work in the Alameda shipyards. “Thanks to these wonderful people, we’ll be able to do just that.”

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