Dirty MBAs: What were those Dardenites doing?

If you heard a hearty ho, ho, ho on Saturday, April 12, you might have thought it was Santa celebrating spring. But in fact it was more likely a chuckle from one of the 12 happy homeowners who were lucky enough to be part of Christmas in April, a Darden School charity project that pairs MBA candidates with local contractors to do home repairs for low-income residents.

Felisco Harris, 61, who cares for her ailing 91-year-old father in the home on Route 20 north that he built himself more than 60 years ago, is one of the recipients of Christmas in April. She calls the project a "blessing."

Approximately 20 Darden elves joined with Ace Contracting to do thousands of dollars of work– at no cost to Harris or her father.

Every window was replaced, the house was painted, a 120-foot drainage ditch was dug to prevent water from seeping inside and causing rot, and new covers were made for the well and the basement. In addition, the enthusiastic students even mowed her lawn, pruned her bushes, and raked her leaves.

MBA candidate Jay Lambiotte, who headed up the project at Harris' home, says that nearly 200 students participate in some way at the dozen homes Darden students work on. But though the actual home repairs take only one day, Lambiotte says Christmas in April– a national organization akin to Habitat for Humanity for existing homeowners– is something Darden students work on all year.

Money– about $60,000 this year comes from an auction. The students contact local businesses, including Better Living and Lowe's, to secure discounts on supplies, and then the recipients must be selected.

Lambiotte says churches and community agencies including the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) provide names of low-income residents who are unable to perform home repairs themselves.

Contractors such as Ace (mentioned in the April 3 Hook cover story "My House as a Life") assess each home and determine which repairs can be completed in the one day allotted.

And that one day's work provides an immeasurable amount of comfort to the recipients.

"My mother, before she died of cancer, wanted this work done," Harris explains. "I said I'd carry on after she passed."

With tears in her eyes as she surveys the scene at her home, she says simply, "This means a lot to me."


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