Bertram Rantin

Holiday home repair blitz a blessing

Jessie Knox once relied on Band-Aids to hold back the dripping water during periods of heavy rain.

The stains in her ceiling were a constant reminder of the much-needed repairs to the roof of her southeast Columbia home.

But Monday, Knox listened gratefully as the youthful sounds of restoration echoed from outside and into the East Bay Park community.

"It's a great sounding thing to me," said Knox, whose home is one of 14 throughout the city getting upgrades this week as part of Home Works' 2009 Christmas Break Blitz.

The nonprofit organization brings teens alongside adults to repair homes of the elderly and residents in need throughout the Southeast.

"They're saving me," Knox said of the dozen or so volunteers re-roofing her house.

"I couldn't believe they were coming out to help someone they didn't even know."

Now in its seventh year, the annual holiday blitz has grown from two to 14 houses.

Home Works executive director Hank Chardos said that has been possible because of the increased interest from the area's youth.

About 180 volunteers, including several soldiers from Fort Jackson, are taking part in this week's blitz, which started Sunday and runs through Wednesday.

"Hands and feet came forward," Chardos said. "It's absolutely incredible. The kids are the ones who are leading the charge."

This week's upgrades include roof repairs, new flooring, bathroom upgrades, exterior painting and insulation. Work starts each day following a morning prayer and breakfast, which is being provided by Lizard's Thicket for the volunteers and homeowners.

For Knox, it is the first time her roof has been repaired since she moved into her house nearly 30 years ago.

"This is a peace of mind that I can only thank God for," she said. "At least I know it won't be raining in my house."

Helping provide that type of comfort is what brings Preston Busby back to Home Works sites year after year.

The Clemson University freshman and Heathwood Hall Episcopal School graduate has worked on several Home Works efforts and is serving as one of the youth site leaders again this week.

"It's all about the homeowners," Busby said, adding the most significant contribution the volunteers will make doesn't involve nails or tiles but is "about making a difference in their lives."

Busby said he expected the repairs on Knox's roof to be finished today, though Knox was not watching a clock.

"I don't care how long it takes," she said. "This noise doesn't bother me at all. It's a great sounding thing to me."

Since 1996, Home Works has modified more than 1,300 homes, expanding from South Carolina to ministries in Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Peru.

As participants become more skilled over time, many assume lead roles at other sites.

"It's just great to see them as the motivators and the encouragers," Chardos said. "The only variable we have is the rain. We'll work through the cold. This is the passion they have."