Veteran gets house help from Habitat fix-up program

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Homeowner and veteran Andrew Eperjesi and Habitat for Humanity program development manager KeriMarie Sutherland share a moment in Eperjesi’s backyard as workers paint his house. Sutherland organized a Brush with Kindness restoration last weekend. Photos by Leopold Knopp.

By LEOPOLD KNOPP
knopp@lewisvilletexan.org

Serving in World War II and as a minister in Denton County Jail for 25 years, Andrew Eperjesi helped a lot of people over the course of his life.

But this time, he was the one who needed help.

Eperjesi, who will turn 89 in October, is a widower who relies on Social Security as his primary means. Though he worked all his life, not retiring until age 81, he suffered a back injury in his early 60s that kept him from working for a year, leaving him with a steel rod in his back and without a big chunk of his retirement savings — and after raising six children, those savings were already slim, he said. With no money to spare and a tough time doing yard work, the Lewisville home he’d lived in for 50 years had fallen into a state of overgrowth and disrepair.

Until last weekend when Brush with Kindness, Habitat for Humanity’s new initiative, mobilized dozens of volunteers to remove hundreds of pounds of stray branches and paint the veteran’s home.

Habitat for Humanity is an international human rights organization dedicated to building affordable housing. But instead of building new homes, Brush with Kindness sees the organization focus on maintaining old ones. Habitat program development manager KeriMarie Sutherland said the idea was to bring communities together and better help those in need.

“A lot of times, people aren’t low-income, but become low-income after they retire,” she said. “We’re always looking to expand different projects to fit within our mission.”

Each individual project Brush with Kindness takes on is primarily made up of a network of volunteers, which Sutherland organizes. For Eperjesi’s house, she secured funding from Thrivent Financial, equipment from Sunbelt Rentals and a labor force from Frontier Communications and Flower Mound United Methodist.

Volunteer Amanda Ruppert shovels up mulch as it is shot out of the shredder during Brush with Kindness’ restoration of Andrew Eperjesi’s home in Lewisville. Photo by Leopold Knopp.
Volunteer Amanda Ruppert shovels up mulch as it is shot out of the shredder during Brush with Kindness’ restoration of Andrew Eperjesi’s home in Lewisville. Photo by Leopold Knopp.

Brush with Kindness has been in development for two years. Sutherland said the delay was a matter of getting more and more dedicated personnel, but it’s been open for applicants the entire time period. Even though the Eperjesi house was just Brush with Kindness’ second project, the restoration was still a long time coming for Eperjesi. His on-hand daughters, Reta Collins and Karen Culpepper, said it was a welcomed relief.

“My little daddy, he’s such a sweetheart and he deserves it,” Culpepper said. “He didn’t believe it was going to happen. He’s just kind of dumbfounded, I think.”

Eperjesi himself related it back to his days ministering, which he did for free.

“I was never paid for that, but the Lord is paying me back now,” he said. “I can hardly believe it.”

Sutherland said there were four more projects on the list for Brush with Kindness as of last weekend, but more have been added as word has spread. She said applicants need proof of citizenship, residence and ownership as well as proof of a low income. They can apply at habitatdentoncounty.org.

She also encouraged volunteers to apply to the same website, saying they need everything from trade skills to administrative skills to electrical knowledge to hard labor. “We need help from the community,” she said. “We can’t do it without them. They are the backbone.”