South-Central : Spring Cleaning With a Yule Touch

Ask Mary Stalling the time of year and she most likely will say it's Christmas.

Stalling, the principal at 97th Street Elementary School, was among the 300 who took part in Christmas in April, a one-day program that rehabilitates homes, schools and other buildings in low-income areas.

"It's marvelous, absolutely wonderful around here now," said Stalling, referring to newly planted petunia and marigold beds and freshly painted halls. "And the children have noticed it and talk about how pretty it is out here."

The organization brings together volunteers who donate their time, skills and resources to spruce up structures. On April 30 more than 800 volunteers armed with paintbrushes, hammers and wrenches fanned out across South-Central to tackle projects at 16 sites. About $200,000 in materials and labor were donated for the day's efforts.

The organization's local chapter was formed after the 1992 riots as a way to take a more active role in communities hit by the violence.

"The success of this year's event proves that Christmas in April is more than just a good idea. It's become an institution assisting the South-Central community," Bob Morris, a spokesman for the organization. "Two years later, Christmas in April is still helping the precise area affected by the civil unrest and plans to continue to do so 10 and 20 years from now."

Among the sites selected for work was the 990-student elementary school. In addition to the landscaping work, the school and adjacent mental health center were painted and the center's two bungalows were refurbished.

Stalling said she learned of the program while attending a public service group meeting in March. After filling out an application, Stalling got a telephone call a few weeks later notifying her the school had been chosen as a Christmas in April site.

"This signifies there is an interest from other agencies in making sure that schools can be places kids can be proud of," she said.

Started in 1988 with about $12,000, Christmas in April now operates nationwide with a budget of more than $500,000.

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