p67makeover-D-11-04-10Erica Steffens, a fifth grader at St. Roman School, Milwaukee, paints the side of LaDeane Kozup’s home on Saturday, Sept. 18. Steffens and other volunteers from St. Roman helped repair the northside home of a St. Roman teacher’s sister facing code-violation fines from the City of Milwaukee, and had been unable to make the repairs that were required within 90 days of the notice issued in mid-August. More photos can be viewed and purchased at http://photos.chnonline.org. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

The latest community service project for teenagers at St. Roman Parish didn’t involve a long, summertime ride to another state.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, St. Roman’s Work Camp students traveled only from their Milwaukee south side parish to the city’s north side to give a large duplex a much-needed sprucing up.

About 15 teens and several adult volunteers worked to scrape and paint the house’s clapboard exterior and trim, remove an overgrown evergreen tree and more. The worksite buzzed with activity over two late-September weekends.

The house, built in 1892, is owned by LaDeane Kozup, whose sister, Judy, is a first grade teacher at St. Roman School. “Deanie,” as LaDeane is known, faced code-violation fines from the City of Milwaukee and has been unable to make repairs that were required within 90 days of the notice issued in mid-August. The code violations included unsafe porch steps, unsafe porch railing, peeling paint, three broken windows and a broken gate and fence.

“We want to finish it up,” Joey Dzierzewski, a 16-year-old parishioner, said on the second day of the volunteers’ work. “To see what it was on day one, it would be good to see it (completed). It’s going to get done – I know it will. We have a good parish, and we love helping people.”

To St. Roman, Judy Kozup isn’t just “people.” She’s a beloved member of the parish and school community. She’s been a teacher at the parish school for 31 years.

“Many of our kids had her, and for many she was their favorite teacher,” said Rae Ann Konkol, co-director of the parish’s “Festivals of Faith” religious education program and leader of the yearly Work Camp mission trips.

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“We said we needed lots of scraping and painting done, and they’re like, ‘Sign me up.’”

Judy, 58, and Deanie, 62, grew up in the sprawling house, first rented by their family in 1961.

Their parents finally were able to purchase the house in 1988. By 1996, both parents had died. Judy had moved out in the early ’70s.

“Deanie worked 17 years at Nunn-Bush, until 1981. She took care of Dad when he got Alzheimer’s,” said Judy. “All she wanted to do was keep the house. To me, I thought the one thing I could do was give her the one thing in life she wanted.”

p67makeover-E-11-04-10Cindy Balistreri, administrative assistant at St. Roman School, uses a pressure washer Sept. 18 to scrape paint off of LaDeane Kozup’s home, the sister of St. Roman first grade teacher Judy Kozup, who faced code-violation fines from the City of Miwaukee. She and other volunteers from St. Roman Parish and the parish school joined together to make the required repairs. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)Deanie is disabled and cannot work, but values her independence. She is well-known to neighbors and even to drivers on the Milwaukee County bus routes she frequents. She was not at home during much of the time volunteers were working on her house.

“I think she’s overwhelmed,” said Judy. “She doesn’t know what to say. She sees all these people helping, and she doesn’t even know them.”

Earlier, a neighbor recruited volunteers from his own parish, St. Francis of Assisi, to take down a towering chestnut tree that needed to be removed from the south side of the property.

In 1998, a community group painted the house’s exterior. Fortunately, Judy had kept paperwork showing that lead paint had been removed then, hastening the scraping and clean-up this time.

Speaking of speedy work, Dennis Wimmer, a third-grade teacher at St. Roman, had the house’s front steps rebuilt by 10:30 a.m., the first day the volunteers were on site. He has experience in remodeling and is guiding the crew, according to Cindy Balistreri, administrative assistant in the school office.

“He’s our Ty Pennington,” Balistreri said, invoking the name of the enthusiastic host of TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

Balistreri had provided valuable information when Judy first learned that her sister’s house was in violation of building codes. Herself a property owner in the city, she was well-versed in the requirements.

“At least if the city sees we’re making an effort to get something done, they will be a little more understanding if we don’t get everything done within their time frame,” Balistreri said.

Adding to the anxiety as summer wound down, Judy had a thyroid problem that caused her to miss nine days of school at the beginning of the year. She has recovered, but still tires more quickly than she’d like. None of that has stopped Judy from helping. “Judy’s been right in there working with us, painting and doing all (of) that, too, to what she can for her abilities,” Rae Ann said, adding that she thinks the help from students, many of whom Judy taught, has reaffirmed to Judy how good everybody is. “Oh, she’s cried several times.”

“She turned it all over to God,” said Mary Cribb, Judy’s roommate. “It shows the power of prayer.”

Cribb herself is limited in the work she can do because of a series of foot surgeries, but she’s scraping and painting as much as she can. Seeing Judy’s resolve even has her thinking about becoming Catholic.

“Judy’s always had her faith. It got her through cancer 10 years ago,” said Cribb. “You see it come to fruition when people give up their time and money to help. Miracles do happen.”

p67makeover-B-11-04-10Dan Tackes, principal at St. Roman School, Milwaukee, helps scrape and paint the Milwaukee home of LaDeane Kozup. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)Call it a miracle or just plain luck, the St. Roman community had just the people it needed for the project. Parishioners donated money for supplies. A group stepped up to take box lunches to the worksite. One teen got her boss at a hardware store to lend them some ladders. A UWM student brought a friend to volunteer, too – a buddy who didn’t mind working on an extension ladder because his summer job had been painting water towers. Several passersby have picked up paintbrushes and given their time.

Greg Konkol, 13, son of the St. Roman mission trip director, said he was “just happy to be here” as he lent a hand. The experience he’s gaining will make him an even better Work Camp participant next summer, he said.

Typically, 20 to 30 St. Roman teens go on the mission trip. They’ve journeyed south in recent years, and last summer did a project in Midland, Mich.

Work Camp and confirmation students at St. Roman come from St. Thomas More and Pius XI high schools, as well as public high schools, including Milwaukee Hamilton, Greendale, Greenfield, St. Francis and South Milwaukee.

Dzierzewski attends Oak Creek High School, where, as a member of the National Honor Society, he is involved in volunteering.

“I’m open to doing lots of service hours,” he said. “Kids should do more community service. It makes you feel good on the inside. It’s better than sitting home playing video games. It builds good character.”

In a follow-up interview, Rae Ann told your Catholic Herald that the group plans to return to Deanie’s home, as people are available, to finish addressing the broken windows and, once they find a taller ladder or scaffolding, to complete painting of the upper level. “It’s taken us a lot longer than we thought – it’s huge,” she said, noting that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the house is completely painted.

In the meantime, a parent whose children attend the school, and who works with housing groups in the city, is working with a city inspector to get an extension on the repair date. “The inspector was up there looking when one of our parents was up there one day and said he’s thrilled with the progress and that he would definitely be willing to give us an extension,” Rae Ann said.

When asked how many times they will return to the house to complete the work, Rae Ann said, “As many as it takes.”