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'An imprint on my heart'

Phil Cronin worked hard to shift a board into place on Charlie McDaniel's deck.


"They all have such unique and awesome character traits and continually leave me in awe at the impact they have made in our short time together."

—Michele Kehl

Phil Cronin worked hard to shift a board into place on Charlie McDaniel's deck. "Keep your weight on it," said McDaniel as he looked up at Cronin on the ladder. With a little help from a crowbar, the board finally slipped into place.

Cronin and four other high school seniors from The Boys Latin School of Maryland have been helping McDaniel and other Bowleys Quarters' residents repair homes still damaged from when Hurricane Isabel hit last September.

The students are required to do a senior project, and Cronin said they were happy to have this alternative offered to them. Most of the senior projects place students in apprenticeships with lawyers or other professionals, said Cronin. "We're having fun out here learning a lot and meeting interesting people," he said. "We were also surprised that people still needed help."

And 'the boys,' as they're known to residents, have offered exactly that. "They've made so much progress," said Michele Kehl, volunteer coordinator for Isabel Recovery in Bowleys Quarters. "I love having them here, I wish we could keep them for longer!"

The seniors' project term is three weeks, and next week is their last. Cronin said he enjoys the differences between this longer-term project than a typical one day service project. They work six hours each day, with some of them having to drive a significant distance to the small town east of Baltimore. Some of the tasks they've done include painting, construction, cleaning up debris, and landscaping.

Cronin and fellow senior Ridwan Tomhe also play lacrosse for Boys Latin, oftentimes leaving after a six hour work day to go play an evening match.

Kehl said she hopes the boys know how much of an effect they've had so far.

"They all have such unique and awesome character traits and continually leave me in awe at the impact they have made in our short time together," she said. "They have really left an imprint on my heart and the families whose lives they have touched. They have brought a bright ray of instant sunshine into a slow, dismal recovery."

Slow, but steady

Charlie McDaniel's home and yard have come a long way since Isabel hit. The floodwaters almost covered his home, sweeping out most of their belongings.

The inside of his shed still shows flood marks, with the insulation torn away along the walls and muddy belongings cluttering the floor.

Thursday afternoon, as Cronin, Tomhe, and fellow senior Seth Bradfield put tools away, McDaniel leaned against his home for a moment in the shade. At 75, he says he still gets around pretty well, but he really appreciates the help from 'the boys.'

"I'll tell you what, those boys have been a huge help," he said, wiping sweat from his forehead. "They're good boys, they're willing to learn, they helped me with the deck and untangling the fishing nets. They have me about a month ahead of schedule."

McDaniel spent most of his life as a commercial fisherman, saying he's "been on the water since he was 14." His boat, the 'Anticipation,' is tied to the pier behind his home. It was also severely damaged by Isabel. "If I can get it working again, I'll be back out there," said McDaniel.

The flood took many personal items from McDaniel and his wife, including all his wife's jewelry. Yet months of time spent sifting through debris in his yard turned up some positive results. "I found her watch and her two wedding rings," he said, smiling. "And she said, 'Good, that's all I need.'"

An avid woodworker, McDaniel was also pleased to find one of his hand-carved wooden duck decoys. The rest were lost. Rooting around in the shed, he came out with the unfinished saved duck. "This is all hand-carved, I even burned in each one of the little lines," he said, pointing at the detailed markings on its back. "And I know just where to put it now."

He walked up the steps to his new home, went into his new living room, and placed the duck on his mantle. "Looks good right there," he said.

Looking around his home, a modular unit elevated about ten feet, McDaniel said he's also now in debt. "Oh, I'm in debt up to my ears - right about to here, you can still see a little ear, though," he laughed, pointing at the top of his ears. "But this new place is great, it's beautiful. It may not be as big as our old place, but it's still our home. We've lived on this spot for 58 years."

New growth and re-growth

Just down the road from McDaniel's home, seniors Tim Davis and Tim Burbage, along with Kehl's daughter Amanda, are busy landscaping around another flood family's front yard.

Where a small patch of rough dirt and debris used to reign, there is now new sod, a small rock wall, flowers, and shrubs. The seniors designed the set-up themselves. "This is the first landscaping we've ever done, too," said the two seniors. They also pointed to a post they just cemented into place, which will soon have a lighthouse mailbox mounted on it.

"This whole area used to be covered with oil, and we had to shovel it out," said Michele Kehl, who also lives in this neighborhood. Kehl's was one of a handful of homes not flooded when Isabel hit.

Spreading mulch out around the new flowers, Kehl's daughter asked what the other boys were doing over at Charlie's.

"Everything," laughed her mom.

Landscaping isn't the only new topic the boys have learned about in Bowleys Quarters. They've also heard about the insurance problems facing many residents. Low insurance pay-outs throughout Isabel-affected states have plagued numerous families, so much so that the complaints prompted the National Flood Insurance Program to review appeals from their clients. So far, 948 review requests from three states - including Maryland - have been made, with 33 being allowed pay-out adjustments.

A state-wide Isabel relief group is also seeing an adjustment. Representatives from more than 15 federal, state, and local organizations gathered Wednesday to discuss the re-organization of the Maryland Interfaith Recovery Team (MIRT). The goal of MIRT is to not only raise recovery funds for Isabel families, but also to serve as a communication network for all the organizations involved with Isabel relief work.

'We haven't stopped'

Back in Bowleys Quarters, Thursday night marked another community dinner at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Bowleys Quarters. Dottie Coppell, coordinator for Isabel Recovery and a member of St. Matthew's, is bustling around the kitchen making sure things are ready.

Coppell has been involved with Isabel Recovery since the beginning, organizing lunches and dinners for all those affected, and for the volunteers. During the first week after the hurricane, Coppell said she wasn't sure how she was going to help.

"The first evening I was sitting there wondering how I could organize food for those who needed it, so I said to God, 'If you want me to do this, you have to help me find the means,'" said Coppell. "And then 15 minutes later the phone rang, and people were calling in saying they could help make food. Since then, we haven't stopped."

According to Coppell, every time they've needed something, someone has come through with it. Local residents and friends have gone above and beyond to lend a hand. "It's been like that the whole time," she said. "It's a gift from God that we've kept it all going."

Initially, Coppell said she and many others helped make daily lunches and dinners for everyone who needed it. Now dinners are offered Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Coppell said the dinners offer the flood families a chance to share their stories and just be together. She added that at times, people simply need a hug.

The flood families speak endless praises about Coppell and Michele Kehl, saying both have worked tirelessly since the beginning to do everything they can for the community. Coppell said that flatters her. "You know, neither of us feel like we've done that much," she laughed. "Why do we do it? I don't know, we just have to - we're supposed to, you know? And we do get rewarded for it every day with smiles and laughs from all the families."

This has strengthened my faith, said Coppell. "God doesn't make mistakes, he knows what he's doing."

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