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Hernando volunteers make time to paint the town

Not since Tom Sawyer hoodwinked his neighborhood pals into painting a picket fence have so many people seemed to enjoy painting.

Some 200 volunteers spent Saturday morning putting a fresh coat of paint on the homes of nine Hernando County residents who were either physically or financially unable to do it themselves.

"It just makes you feel good," a paint-splattered Lynn Geiger said as she put the finishing brush strokes on the eaves of a house on C Street in Brooksville.

"I've been painting the inside of my house and I figured, "That's something I could do,' " said Geiger, one of a dozen volunteers from SunTrust Bank Nature Coast. "It sounded like a good project."

The project, called Paint Your Heart Out, returned to Hernando County after a three-year hiatus. Paint Your Heart Out originated in St. Petersburg and made its way to Hernando County in 1991. In 1994, the program fizzled in Hernando County due to a lack of leadership.

That void has been filled by John J. Kouba, owner of Showcase Real Estate Group.

"It's a great, great community activity," Kouba said. "It's neighbors helping neighbors.

"It's something that benefits the homeowner directly, and the entire community as well. If you get one person on a block with a freshly painted home, hopefully it will entice other neighbors to pick up a paintbrush. Everybody feels better about where they live."

Inspired by the strong volunteer turnout, Kouba hopes to make the project an annual event once again.

"The turnout was just fantastic," he said. "I think everybody had fun. If you can have some fun while you're doing something worthwhile, it's twice the fun."

"I've thoroughly enjoyed it," said Sue Hollingsworth, one of a dozen upbeat volunteers from Bell South Telephone Pioneers.

"We're all training to be Michelangelo," said Don Boulanger, another of the telephone pioneers, as he painted trim on a house on Easy Street.

"They're really doing a nice job," said owner Sarah Stewart, 85, who has lived in the house since 1940. "I appreciate it, too."

In all, nine houses in the county _ one in Spring Hill, the rest in Brooksville _ ended the day with a fresh coat of paint.

The homes were chosen by Florida Community Services based on requests and financial need.

The more than $4,100 donated by local corporate sponsors paid for the buckets of paint and brushes, as well as a barbecue party for the volunteers afterward.

By late morning, volunteers were putting the finishing touches on most of the houses.

"I like my new house here," said the owner of one of the homes, an elderly woman who lives alone. "It looks so good."