By Elizabeth McGowan
Walt Poliansky refers to himself as simply a carpenter.
To Mary Kucharski, however, he's one of the hundreds of talented and industrious elves who continue to make the Prince George's County version of Christmas in April a roaring success. Poliansky and Santa's other envoys will be at it again on April 26 tackling a bevy of home improvement projects for the needy at 83 houses from Laurel to Fort Washington.
Veteran Christmas in April volunteer Walt Poliansky is once again serving as a house captain. Poliansky, a carpenter, and fellow volunteer Miguel Rodriguez, a plumber, check out supplies in the Upper Marlboro warehouse before the April 26 event.
"You meet the most wonderful people through this organization," says Kucharski, the longtime executive director of the April-themed nonprofit. "We're fortunate to have all of these givers. If we weren't here to help all of these people, who would?"
Poliansky, who retired nine years ago as a chief master sergeant at Joint Base Andrews, says he linked with Kucharski several decades ago as a way for the military to forge a partnership with a nonprofit in its own back yard. He has volunteered 20 times since Christmas in April was launched in 1989.
"Christmas in April means family fellowship," Poliansky says about the event that always occurs on the last Saturday in April. "It's about spreading the wealth and sharing your talents with those less fortunate than you."
And he's well aware that this one-day charitable event requires months of planning. In January, he learned he would serve as a house captain for a home owned by an elderly couple in Hillcrest Heights. That means he has spent the last several months honing a checklist of the tradespeople and supplies he will need for the big day in April. Some resources are already stockpiled in the nonprofit's ship-shape warehouse in Upper Marlboro that once served as the county jail.
Like other house captains, Poliansky is planning a trip to Community Forklift to ferret out some of the appliances, cabinets, bathroom fixtures and other building materials that his crew of at least four dozen workers will need.
"Access to the Forklift gives Christmas in April an expanded opportunity to do more with our limited resources," Poliansky says. "You can't beat the prices you have in your warehouse. And who is going to turn down free money?"
Community Forklift has offered a total of $6,000 worth of building materials to Poliansky and his fellow house captains this year. This outreach is part of the Forklift's mission to share its resources with local nonprofits also focused on lifting up communities. Other recipients of the Forklift's generosity - which added up to $24,543 during 2013 - have included 136 schools, civic organizations, public art projects, playgrounds, camps, community gardens and theater groups.
Mary Kucharski, executive director, and Judy Bradshaw, volunteer coordinator, work together at the Christmas in April of Prince George's County headquarters in Clinton. The nonprofit, which has fixed up more than 2,300 homes, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
When the Forklift opened more than eight years ago, "we made an instant connection," says Kucharski, who jokes that her title should be professional beggar because she's always asking for something from somebody. "We have solidarity because we're both in the business of trying to help people. That's what makes us such good resources for one another."
A careful inventory of the one-story house in Hillcrest Heights revealed that Poliansky and his team will be using every minute of daylight on April 26 to tile the basement floor, replace the soffits along the front of the roof overhang, reconnect the gutters, install new windows, haul away a dilapidated shed and build a ramp that can accommodate a wheelchair.
Poliansky and his right-hand man, Miguel Rodriguez, got a jump-start on their assignment by arranging for a certified company to remove asbestos tiles from the basement. Rodriguez is a plumber and master sergeant who befriended Poliansky at Joint Base Andrews.
Often, Rodriguez says, the houses selected for attention from Christmas in April are owned by senior citizens who are no longer mobile enough to keep up with repairs and updates. Their "to do" list has become too daunting for younger relatives lacking the required skills.
"Before our crew arrives, the amount of work can look overwhelming," notes Rodriguez, who has been involved with Christmas in April for 14 years. "But as we move from task to task, families come to understand that something that seemed unattainable can be achievable one project at a time.
"Part of what we're doing is educating," he continues, adding that adult children of the homeowners frequently pitch in on the day of the event and learn about basic maintenance and upkeep.
Over the last 26 years, close to 78,000 Christmas in April volunteers have offered their expertise to rehabilitate 2,338 homes across Prince George's County. This year, Poliansky and Rodriguez will be among the 3,200 volunteers answering the call.
Time never drags, Rodriguez says, because so many of the carpenters, painters, roofers, plumbers, general contractors and other tradespeople are repeat participants who have developed a unique camaraderie.
"It's a bond of kindness," he says. "We never run out of stories."
The annual gathering is literally a family reunion for Poliansky, a New Jersey native. Several years ago, his brother-in-law drove down from the Garden State to help. This year he's expecting at least tool-wielding 10 relatives to show up.
"Christmas in April allows us to serve our community," Rodriguez says. "It's our way of not only touching families in need but also of giving them hope they might not have known existed."