Longtime community advocate gets a renovation gift through Christmas in April -- Gazette.Net


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Gloria Swieringa, 74, of Fort Washington has been blind nearly her entire life, but that never stopped her from helping 4,000 children become adopted into stable homes and opening up her own home to 22 children, most of them with physical or mental disabilities.

Her blindness did stop her, however, from taking care of her home and tending to problems such as plumbing, outdated appliances, an overgrown yard and clutter, so about 60 Prince George’s County police officers, Xerox employees and community members came to her home Saturday to take care of those needs as part of Christmas in April, a county program to renovate dilapidated houses for homeowners that could use the help.

Officer Christopher Coles was the project captain for the two-story duplex home on Cleveland Lane, which the police department co-sponsored with the a local branch of national printing company Xerox. At the end of the day, the home had new kitchen appliances, clean walls, replaced cabinets, new flooring, improved bathroom plumbing, clean gutters and trimmed trees.

Coles said a Home Depot improvement store donated the new appliances, while community volunteers brought supplies, tools and equipment to help the renovation process throughout the day.

“The house needed a lot of work,” he said. “This will help her out a lot of course because of her handicap. She can’t really see what’s going on with the house. Hopefully, this will improve her quality of life and when we leave here, hopefully it’ll be easier on her.”

The county police department led renovation efforts for seven homes throughout the county Saturday. Overall, 86 homes belonging to elderly or disabled homeowners were worked on throughout the county during the 24th annual program Saturday. To date, the county has repaired and renovated more than 2,000 homes through the program.

During the volunteer work on Swieringa’s home, she stayed mainly in the upstairs bedroom with a 27-year-old man with autism who she has cared for since he was 3 years old.

She said she was extremely humbled Christmas in April accepted her application and that so many volunteers came to her home where she has been since 1985.

“I am handicapped trying to take care of handicapped kids. Taking care of my house couldn’t be done,” she said. “I think [the volunteers] are all a manifestation of the goodness of God, and God bless them all. I feel very unworthy, but I’m grateful.”

Swieringa is a reverend at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, a member of the Prince George's County Commission for Individuals with Disabilities and a member of a number of other county and state committees relating to accessibility and the disabled. She previously worked with the Maryland Adoption Resource Exchange, a state department of human services adoption program that helps match families to children looking for adoption.

“People think I should be sitting on a porch swatting flies, but I can’t. There’s too much work to be done,” Swieringa said.

Her sole biological daughter, Kim Swieringa, who lives with Gloria Swieringa, said she is grateful for the volunteer help to improve the house, given her mother’s involvement in the community.

“They’ve done a fantastic job. We really appreciate what they’re doing in helping my mom because she’s been such a help to the community,” she said. “This is going to allow her to be able to help her keep the house and live safely. It gives her a good start to kind of manage better. She’ll be able to live here comfortably, which is really excellent.”

Jacob Cogman, 18, of Accokeek, who said he would work on the house for 10 hours Saturday, said he decided to volunteer because it’s “the right thing to do.”

“It’s a great way to give back to the community for sure,” he said. “It’s to help out those who can’t really help out themselves.”

djgross@gazette.net