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Businesses help Maryland nonprofit with renovation

PASADENA — The first time Barbara Huston walked in her new office building, the carpet squished and ceiling tiles hung in soppy chunks. The smell nearly knocked her over. She could relocate there rent-free — if only she could renovate the place.

“I’m generally optimistic, but I was a little concerned that maybe I had asked for more than I can handle,” she said.

Last week, the scent of fresh paint hung in the air as she thanked her benefactors as they toured the building.

“We are over the moon,” she said.

Her local nonprofit, Partners In Care, gives thousands of rides and does hundreds of handyman jobs for senior citizens. But the recession ate into charitable giving. Grant awards evaporated or dwindled. Huston laid off three of the organization’s 13 employees, and the rest, she said, have accepted furlough days.

The 19-year-old organization could no longer afford the rent at offices beside its Partners In Care Boutique in Pasadena, where resold toys, clothes, house goods and vintage jewelry generate about a quarter of the organization’s revenue.

But if Huston could find a cheaper place, she could expand the store and, she hoped, keep the rest of the organization intact.

About a quarter-mile down the road, Hospice of the Chesapeake had bought a 6.5-acre office complex with three buildings that needed help. The largest one, a 26,000-square-foot brick structure, would become the hospice’s new headquarters. The organization hoped that one day other nonprofits offering complementary services would move into the other two office buildings, which were deteriorating.

The building offered to Partners In Care had once held a day-care facility, but had been vacant for eight months and had a damaged roof and a mold infestation.

“We had no plans to renovate it because all our resources would be needed for our building,” Hospice President and CEO Michael McHale said.

Huston called Philip W. Gibbs, president of Hamel Builders.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Gibbs said. “It was a mess. I won’t say there were environmental concerns, but it had some damp mold and a leaky roof.”

Dumpsters appeared outside the squat, long building and work began almost immediately. Gibbs convinced 21 other local businesses to chip in. One took care of the mold, another cleaned the ductwork, and others helped with carpet, wiring and plumbing.

“I just called them and said this is a great organization to be involved in,” Gibbs said. “Giving is contagious, if you get the right people involved.”

Partners In Care moved into its new digs about a month ago, but the ribbon-cutting isn’t until Thursday.

Booz Allen Hamilton donated furniture for the conference room. Partners In Care set up some empty desks, ready and waiting for when the organization can rehire the employees it lost. McHale said the hospice will accept the renovations in lieu of rent for the next two years.

Volunteers at the store are itching to expand.

“The fun ones are the ones who come in and let you put everything together for them,” said Barbara Downey, who has volunteered at the boutique for three years. “You get a whole jewelry set, outfit, shoes, everything, for $20.” Last month, she helped an 80-year-old woman put together an outfit for a wedding.

The hours she puts in at the store may someday come back to help her.

Partners In Care operates on a time bank system. For every hour Downey handles jewelry at the boutique, she has earned an hour back in services from the nonprofit. Volunteers drive seniors to medical appointments. Others change light bulbs, fix toilets or give a home a fresh coat of paint.

Some volunteers act as advocates or negotiating agencies, or help with paperwork. Recently, volunteers helped relocate an ailing wife from a distant nursing home to one near to the affordable housing into which her husband needed to move to make ends meet.

“If there was an organization like this in Richmond, Virginia, I would be using it,” Gibbs said, explaining that his family hires a nurse to help care for his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. “I would love for somebody to come sit with my mother so my father could go do something ordinary, fun.”

The reciprocity makes it easier for seniors to ask for help, Huston said, since trading time does not make them feel needy.

“People often separate those things in our culture — you have the people who can help and the people who need help — and not understanding that, really, everyone has something to give. And we need that,” Huston said.