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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | April 13, 2011

Christmas spirit alive in April as JBA members help family in need

By Senior Airman Torey Griffith 11 WG Public Affairs

In a true embodiment of Service Before Self, approximately 20 Joint Base Andrews members joined forces with Christmas in April * Prince George's County, a local volunteer organization, to help a family in need April 2, here

The volunteer team, consisting of skilled builders from the 11th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron structures shop and others offering strong backs and big hearts, gathered at the residence of Alicie Callahan, who works at the Naval Air Facility Washington Judge Advocate General office on JBA.

Christmas in April * Prince George's County is a non-denominational volunteer organization that repairs the homes of senior citizens who are either low-income and/or physically challenged so they may live in warmth, safety, and independence. After months of planning and preparation, Christmas in April culminates in a one-day repair effort on the last Saturday of April.

Tragedy struck the Callahans January 23.

David Callahan, 21, and his brother Daniel, 19, Mrs. Callahan's sons, had car trouble on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway and the car stalled in one of the lanes. An SUV struck their vehicle from behind at highway speed, killing David and leaving Daniel paralyzed from the arms down.

The death and injury of her sons weren't the only stressors taking their toll on Mrs. Callahan, who, according to many who know her, exudes almost superhuman strength in the face of this tragedy. Officials at the hospital where Daniel was being taken care of said he wasn't able to remain in their care.

The Callahan home was nowhere near ready for a person in a wheelchair. The gap between hospital bills and insurance coverage was enormous. Even with the help of family, friends and members of her church, Mrs. Callahan wouldn't be able to prepare their home for Daniel's homecoming.

A friend from church recommended she call Christmas in April * Prince George's County.

"I called and I got Mary," Mrs. Callahan said with a weary smile of relief, amid the sounds of saws and hammers busy at work outside her home. "I left her a message. Before she even called me back, she had already started calling around to different people, organizing and things."

Mary Kucharski, event coordinator for Christmas in April * Prince George's County, said the whole office came to a halt when they heard Mrs. Callahan's voice message over the phone.

"In the 20 years I have been doing this job, I have never heard of a more heart-wrenching story," Mrs. Kucharski said. "We immediately went to work, determined to help this family in need."

She set about organizing a work day to build a wheelchair ramp that lead from the driveway to the front door of the Callahan home, April 2.

11 CES structures personnel, Navy JAG personnel, and other caring members of JBA arrived at the Callahan Home at 8 a.m. that Saturday with pickup trucks full of tools, eager hands and warm smiles.

Second Lieutenant Jed Tait, 11 CES chief of programs development, was one of the "House Captains" in charge of the build.

He said he was impressed with the variety of JBA personnel who came to offer their free time and energy that Saturday. The crew plans to return April 30th for another work day when they will accomplish several more tasks inside the house to make it more accessible when Daniel comes home.

Widening doors, building a downstairs room for Daniel, and transforming an existing bathroom into one easily usable for a person in a wheelchair are the goals for the up-coming workday. But, one more large project will need to be completed before the Callahan home is truly ready: The installation of a lift to allow Daniel access to the basement and first floor of the house.

This part of the project will be the most expensive and labor-intensive aspect of the project. Christmas in April * Prince George's County is raising funds and has the labor covered, thanks to a plethora of volunteers, but the Callahans' Church, Greater Morning Star Apostolic Church in Capitol Heights, Md. is spear heading a fundraiser for the lift.

While courageous, Mrs. Callahan said the stress of incoming medical and every day bills, the constant battle with insurance companies, social security workers, disability workers and the worry about how to prepare her home for what should be the happy homecoming of her son would be too much to handle without the support of family, friends and volunteers.

"The strength Mrs. Callahan possesses is amazing," said Mrs. Kucharski. "But, she still needs help. The best way people can help now is to donate funds for the lift."

To donate to the Callahan cause, contact Greater Morning Star Apostolic Church, 343 Possum Ct., Capitol Heights, MD 20743 at (301) 336-1190, or Christmas in April * Prince George's County at (301) 868-0937, or log on to their website at www.christmasinaprilPrince George'