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A brush with kindness

More than 80 years have passed since Dot Shelton’s family moved into a two-story home perched high above Elm Avenue.
Grant Shelton was serving as Erwin’s first mail carrier when he moved his wife, Ann, and their three children, including Dot, to 416 Elm Ave. In the big new home, there was room for the whole family — and Ann’s colorful flower garden in the big backyard.
“I’ve been in this house since I was in the second grade, and I’m 16 now,” Dot said as she lets loose an infectious giggle.
She won’t divulge her real age, but she offers that she graduated from Unicoi County High School in 1940.
“You can,” she said, “figure out the rest.”
For Dot, maintaining her Elm Avenue home in recent years has become difficult. Her mother’s garden, once bursting with colorful gladiolias, has long been overgrown with weeds. The stately home’s paint has chipped away, and many of the shutters have fallen off or are barely hanging.
But all that’s changing — thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County. The organization has taken on Dot’s home as its latest Brush With Kindness project.
On a recent Saturday, Habitat members, as well as volunteers from Erwin Presbyterian and Ninth Street Baptist churches, worked to pull weeds and chop down wayward trees from around the home.
In the coming weeks, Habitat members — and more volunteers — will begin renovations on the home’s exterior, but Habitat President Gloria Mouton, said the group must have a member become certified to remove lead-based paint.
“We can get fined $37,000 a day if we don’t have certification,” Gloria said, “so, obviously, we need that done first.”
After receiving certification, volunteers will strip away the lead paint and apply a coat of new paint. The shutters will be revamped or replaced, and Dot’s home will, once again, look new.
Habitat’s Brush With Kindness works in a similar fashion to the organization’s more well-known home-building projects.
Just as those applying for a new home must provide a portion of the cash needed (usually made available with a no-interest loan), as well as “sweat equity” — that is, shared amount of work with Habitat members and volunteers — so must participants in Brush With Kindness.
For Dot, Erwin Presbyterian is picking up the tab for the cost, as well as offering additional volunteer assistance.
“The Brush With Kindness program is about beautifying our town and helping out neighborhoods,” said John Edwards, pastor at the Erwin Church of God and a board member with the Unicoi County Habitat group. “We have a lot of older homes, and our elderly aren’t able to keep them up like they once did so we want to be able to help with that.
“We can step up and help people in our own communities.”
While the Unicoi County Habitat organization has built two homes for local families and, with Dot’s house, started on its second Brush With Kindness project, the all-volunteer group is in need of additional workers and people who can serve as project coordinators or supervisors.
“We need people who have expertise in construction,” Gloria said. “It’s important that we have the right volunteers for certain projects, and we are making a call for all volunteers, especially anyone with construction or home-repair experience.”
The Unicoi County Habitat chapter was originally sponsored by Erwin’s Centenary United Methodist Church, which provides Habitat free office space on the second floor of its church administrative office at 203 N. Elm Ave.
Those who would like to volunteer or join the local Habitat chapter should call Gloria at 743-4342.
Taking a close peek at the feverish work going on around her home, Dot said she couldn’t be happier.
“I think it’s great,” she said, adding that it’s brought back memories of times long since passed.
“Momma loved her flower garden,” Dot said. “Momma always hired some guy down on Third Street, who had a one-horse plow, and he’d come plow the back yard. She was wild about the gladiolias up there, but there haven’t gladiolias up there for a gazillion years.
“It’s just so very, very nice of them to help me out.”
A lifetime member of Erwin Presbyterian, Dot remembers, as a girl, barely being big enough to reach the door knob to access the Sunday School room. Now, Dot said, she’s grateful her church will lend a hand to make sure Habitat is able to extend its Brush With Kindness project to her home.
“Oh, heavens,” Dot said, “life is about helping one another.”
And that, Gloria said, is what Habitat is all about.
“This is part of Habitat’s drive to do neighborhood revitalization,” she said. “Based on what’s been going on in the economy the last two years, Habitat has really focused on these types of projects. For an affiliate like ours, it takes forever to raise enough money to build, and the last one it took us almost four years before we could build a house.
“But with this type of project, it’s an opportunity to have immediate impact, get people involved and let people see that we are actually doing things on a regular basis. If we can get more families and more volunteers involved, we can continue work just like this.”