The leak started slow.
Gary and Cindi Muisener couldn't afford a new roof, so they patched. Then one day three years ago, the ceiling above their bed collapsed. They cleaned up the mess and once again did what their pocketbook would allow: They patched.
They sought help from their insurance company. No luck. When it rained, they scrambled with daughter Heather and son Wolf to place plastic jugs and buckets where the water dripped the most.
"We could barely keep up,'' Cindi said. "It was exhausting.''
Things would get much worse.
In October, Gary, an auto mechanic, was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his bones, liver and kidneys. He got so sick he couldn't work. Cindi quit her job at Subway to care for him. The mortgage company foreclosed.
And when this summer arrived with a daily dose of downpours, the Muiseners got out the buckets.
Then, two months ago, Cindi read about a new program at the West Pasco Habitat for Humanity called Brush With Kindness, where volunteers paint and clean up properties for people in financial distress. Habitat staffers visited the home on Whippoorwill Lane in Shady Hills and saw the roof. They encouraged the family to apply for help through another program: Critical Home Repair.
"When they called to say we were accepted,'' Cindi recalled, "Gary was at the hospital getting a treatment. We didn't have much to celebrate for a long time, but we celebrated that day, I can tell you. Gary was so happy we were finally going to get that roof fixed.''
Habitat contracted with Metro Roofing and its owner, Ken Wiley. He arrived Friday morning with a crew. Cindi smiled and cried at the same time as she watched them hammering atop her house. Gary knew they were coming, she said. "It gave him comfort. I know he's watching all this.''
Gary Muisener, a Vietnam combat veteran, died two days earlier. He was 59.
Cindi couldn't stick around to watch the construction. She had to make funeral arrangements. As she left with her daughter, a steady stream of vehicles arrived at the house, Habitat staff and volunteers eager to help the family by trimming trees, cutting grass and handling other chores.
"This one really touches my heart,'' said Habitat development director Charkay Suiters as she carried bottled water to workers.
Later, back at the Habitat headquarters on Madison Avenue in New Port Richey, she joined with executive director Kobus Appelgrijn to explain the affiliate's shift away from building new houses in favor of helping existing property owners.
Appelgrijn, 60, is an ordained minister who lived 45 years in South Africa before becoming a U.S. citizen. He's a certified general contractor and worked two years as human resources manager and general manager for a plastic mold company in Odessa before joining Habitat as its board cleaned house. The board had been concerned that so few homes had been constructed compared to communities with smaller populations.
In the last six months, Appelgrijn said, the nonprofit affiliate has worked with the West Pasco Board of Realtors to reach more families in need. "We're still building houses,'' he said. "We're doing our third one this year right now. But we have widened our horizons.''
The demand in west Pasco for this charitable effort far outstrips the supply. Appelgrijn and his staff must carefully weigh the applications while seeking more donors, construction professionals and volunteers. As is typical of Habitat projects, the repairs are not giveaways. The Muiseners, for instance, benefit from discounted labor and materials and a zero percent interest loan, but they still are obligated to pay $125 a month for the next three years.
Appelgrijn says the next big push will be to identify an entire neighborhood that can be transformed through the Brush With Kindness and Critical Home Repair programs. "We want to enlist churches, the county, cities and businesses,'' he said. "So many neighborhoods are showing their age and there are so many people out there who just don't have the resources to fix their homes.''
Cindi Muisener can relate. Monday morning, as hospice workers visited to help her adjust to losing the man she married in 1984, the sky turned black over her home. Thunder shook the windows. For the first time in years, she didn't run for the buckets.