WINCHESTER — This is a tale of serendipity.

It starts with a woman on Woodland Avenue who lives in a well-kept, two-story home that was built in 1932 that's in need of repairs. Unfortunately, she is on a fixed income and in failing health, so she can't see to the work herself.

She gets in touch with Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity, a Winchester-based nonprofit that helps people with financial challenges find and maintain safe, secure housing. Kim Herbstritt, executive director of Blue Ridge Habitat, agrees to assess the woman's 89-year-old house and commission as many repairs as possible.

Meanwhile, six young adults are enrolled in a six-week maintenance and repair program offered through a partnership between Virginia Career Works in Winchester and Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown. "Eureka!" someone may or may not have cried when they realized the six students could help the woman on Woodland Avenue and get valuable on-the-job training at the same time.

This leads Herbstritt to contact Johnnie O'Hora of JC Construction in Winchester, who agrees to meet the students at the woman's home on Friday afternoon and walk them through the process of identifying repairs and compiling a cost estimate.

"I'm so glad you're here," Herbstritt told O'Hora and the students when they arrived at Woodland Avenue.

Scott Carlson, employer network director for Virginia Career Works at 419 N. Cameron St., said the students are nearing the end of the six-week program that is giving them the knowledge required to work in construction or become contractors. They spend two days a week in a classroom and the other three in the field, earning a wage from Virginia Career Works while receiving hands-on training from area companies that have agreed to help develop their skills.

When the course is complete, the six students will be certified to accept an entry-level job in the construction industry. They shouldn't have much trouble finding work, Carlson said, because more than six potential employers have already said they want to come in and interview the students prior to their graduation on July 30.

O'Hora huddled with the students on the sidewalk Friday afternoon before they all went inside the woman's Woodland Avenue home to assess the work she needs done. He reminded them to be respectful and understanding of her situation.

"We try to show the customer we care," O'Hora said. "And it really will make you feel like a better person, knowing you're helping somebody. There's a special kind of joy knowing you've made someone's life better."

The woman then led O'Hora and the students through her house. Some of the work that needs done, she said, are improving the home's front door and fence gate, fixing leaks in the kitchen and bathroom, waterproofing the basement to prevent the further growth of mold, repairing a rusting hot-water heater, removing old furniture and appliances, replacing the kitchen floor and cleaning the gutters.

O'Hara said he'll compile a cost estimate and meet with the students next week to explain how he came up with the numbers.

"Anytime any of you have questions, I'm available," he told them before heading back to his office.

Herbstritt said she'll use O'Hora's estimate to prioritize the repairs. The scope and cost of the work may mean there's too much to do at once, so she said some of the repairs may be pushed back to the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley's next Day of Caring, an annual event where community volunteers help low-income and elderly residents fix problems with their dwellings.

"We could get volunteers here to do a lot of that yard work," Herbstritt said as she nodded toward the faulty fence gate.

The next Day of Caring is scheduled for Sept. 15. By then, student Kenia Guevara will have graduated and, hopefully, landed a job. The 19-year-old said she would love to come back to Woodland Avenue and help with the woman's home repairs, either as a newly hired builder or a volunteer.

— Contact Brian Brehm at

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