Family gets ‘miracle makeover’

It all started with an e-mail asking a few friends to help paint the house of a South Kitsap woman drowning in troubles after her husband’s death.

But when 21 people showed up that Saturday and not only painted several rooms, but cleaned mildew, caulked windows and hung new blinds in the home where for years “if something broke, it stayed broke,” Gini Lee Kalkwarf said she knew something special was happening.

And, in fact, what Kalkwarf said she hoped might just be a few friends and neighbors lending a hand to the German immigrant with no insurance or family support who cleans houses for a living, quickly turned into an avalanche of help that enlisted everyone she knew and nearly every business she contacted.

Thinking at first she could help her housekeeper, Elvira Pierce, with a few new items like curtains, carpet and paint, Kalkwarf e-mailed everyone she knew. Before she knew it, she was overwhelmed with enough donated money, materials and elbow-grease to transform Pierce’s entire home.

“God calls us to do for our neighbors what we would want them to do for us,” she said, explaining that within a week, after offering people only her word that the money would go to Pierce, she had hundreds of dollars.

When she went to spend the money, businesses began donating services left and right, she said, and soon the little project blossomed into a homegrown version of “Extreme Makeover.”

On Friday, Kalkwarf’s makeover “miracle” was in the home stretch. Dozens of volunteers — including her husband and four kids — were lost in a flurry of activity that had someone crouched with a paint brush, screwdriver or drill in nearly every inch of the tiny house Pierce shares with her sons, William, 16, and Aaron, 14.

In one of the bedrooms, two employees from Home Depot were arranging furniture after installing new carpet into the first bedroom Will would have to himself. Just inches away, a man knelt to install a new sink in the bathroom while Pierce and Kalkwarf squeezed by with a new dresser for Aaron, one of two donated by IKEA for the boys, along with a kitchen table and chairs.

In the laundry room, a woman who had stopped by the house thinking the trail of balloons led to a garage sale and had returned with work gloves after hearing the story was busy scraping the floor. Meanwhile, Hidden Creek teacher Shannon Mackie patched the outside of the house, saying he was more than willing to give his time to the woman who devoted many hours volunteering at his school even long after her boys were students.

Outside, another Home Depot employee seeded the back yard that Kalkwarf said volunteers had transformed from a mass of weeds and overgrown trees into a welcoming mix of a lawn, a vegetable garden, an outdoor fireplace and, soon, a fenced-in area for the family dog, Goldie, to enjoy.

To make as much of the volunteers’ work possible, local businesses like Morrison Gravel and Evergreen Lumber donated gravel for the driveway and materials for a new front porch, while A&W and Spiro’s delivered food to help keep up the frantic pace.

The reason everyone was hurrying, Kalkwarf said, was simple.

“I want this to be done by Easter, which will represent the beginning of (Elivira’s) new life,” she said, explaining that with the home’s makeover nearly complete, it was time to start on Pierce herself — whose birthday just happens to be March 27.

The next day, Kalkwarf said — whispering to keep the trip a surprise — she and some girlfriends were whisking Pierce off to a day spa in Seattle for some much-needed pampering.

When she returns home, Kalkwarf said she will have a new outfit to go with her new look, courtesy of Guthrie’s Great Clothes.

“By Sunday, I want her to have nothing to worry about, except getting on with the business of living,” Kalkwarf said, explaining that she hoped Pierce would now have more time to pursue her goal of becoming a pastry chef.

Sneaking up behind her in an embrace, Pierce proclaimed with a wide smile that Kalkwarf was “awesome,” while Kalkwarf responded that she “deserved a palace.

“She is the most giving, amazing, non-complaining person,” Kalkwarf said. “And now God has totally blessed her.”

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