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Volunteers build heart and home for community

The reason I've never stuck with an exercise program is that it always seems so pointless. It's the same reason I can't spend an evening playing cards. What's to gain? Oh, sure. Exercise could make me look like Cher. But probably not.

She has black hair, and I'm blondish.

I tried walking to the grocery store every morning, but the bear claws and apple fritters in the bakery showcase were too tempting and undid my good intentions. I even tried reading the morning paper as I walked, but after I stepped in a pothole and twisted my left knee, I gave up on that.

Now I may have found the answer: the Housing Assistance Foundation for the Elderly Inc. On Saturdays I join foundation volunteers at Dampier Street and N Park Avenue in Inverness to work on a bedraggled-looking four-unit apartment building the foundation bought a few months ago. When we finish, it will provide four modern, attractive apartments for low-income elderly people.

In the meantime, the project is providing me with five solid hours of exercise carting around broken concrete blocks, sweeping debris from floors and hefting torn-out ceiling lumber. At the end of the day, every aching muscle in my body tells me it has had a thorough, strenuous workout.

The work also gives me a warm glow that all the Nautilus equipment in the world couldn't possibly give. I certainly don't feel as though I've wasted my time. Neither do my fellow volunteers.

Why volunteers instead of paid workers?

For some inexplicable reason, the federal government in 1983 thought people in Inverness were too wealthy to qualify for government grants. Apparently, the Feds didn't look at certain parts of our pretty little town.

After the turn-down, some city officials and staff members formed a group to fix, with their own hands, homes that needed fixing. In some cases, they've repaired; in others, they've built from the ground up.

It's amazing what they've managed to do with so little money. I can't help thinking what they could have done with the $2.3-million the federal government sent to Brooksville to fix up the predominantly black area of that city. In Brooksville, the money was largely squandered on high-priced consultants, administrators and engineering plans, and relatively little was left over to do actual work.

In Inverness, by contrast, volunteers have completed 22 projects, mostly with donated money. That includes building and furnishing two attractive houses for $14,000 to $17,000.

The problem is the current project is at a point where unskilled labor (like me) is not enough. Now that the inside walls have been knocked out and carted off, there's a need for experienced electricians, concrete workers, plumbers and carpenters to get the apartments ready for new occupants.

Right now, the foundation does not have enough money to pay for this. That means the project will be delayed. That would be unfortunate, but there is an alternative.

Citrus has a vibrant building industry; there also are a great many retired crafts workers in our community. Surely among all these people are some who would be willing to donate time to this deserving cause.

It isn't like the occupants will be taking business away from Citrus home builders. The maximum income the tenants can have will be $400 a month. Few, if any, homes can be bought in this county at that income level.

The apartments also need plumbing equipment, electrical wiring, insulation, lumber, kitchen appliances, bathroom and kitchen cabinets and flooring. With all the houses going up in our community, it would seem that builders could donate these items to speed completion.

And, of course, the foundation always can use tax-deductible donations.

As volunteer Daniel Sawyer said, "If we had finance and manpower, we could do something every day."

If you want to volunteer to work or to donate items or money, call City Clerk Marilyn Jordan or City Manager Bruce Banning at 726-2611 on weekdays, or just show up on Saturdays.

It's a good workout for the heart in more ways than one.