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Wednesday, April 4, 2007 07:30 pm

The way back home

Grandmother, struggling to keep six kids in safe housing, seeks community’s help

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Dorothy Milford and her grandchildren stand in front of her 16th Street home. Back row, left to right: Lavaughn “Odie” Miller, 8; Caitlin Jewell, 12; Ashley Milford, 13; and Dorothy Milford, 70. Front row: Labron Milford (a cousin), 3; Michele P
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES
Untitled Document Dorothy Milford was feeding quarters into a washing machine when the Laundromat television brought her startling news: A massive hurricane had devastated New Orleans, flooding hundreds of homes. She froze for a moment, absorbing the terrible news. Then came the aftershock: Katrina had hit days earlier; Milford just hadn’t heard about it. She had been too busy dealing with a catastrophe of her own. Her two youngest grandsons, preschoolers at the time, had been found to have lead poisoning. The paint in Milford’s South 16th Street home was the culprit. As the legal guardian of her daughter’s six kids, Milford had to find another residence, move, and register the kids in new schools — all within the span of two days, all without a car. She did that, and got the kids’ clothes ready for the first day of school (the task that brought her to the Laundromat), without complaint.
“I am thankful to God that I insisted they get checkups,” she says. But her problems worsened. Soon the health department discovered that the house Milford had just rented on North Fourth Street was also contaminated with lead-based paint. So Milford and her grandkids moved — and changed schools — yet again. “They cried a while, but we ended up at good schools,” she says. The bad news kept coming. The blood-lead tests had brought Milford’s home to the attention of city inspectors. Those inspectors discovered such a plethora of structural problems, they condemned the property. If Milford doesn’t begin major repairs before the end of May, the home will be torn down. The home means a lot to Milford. She and her husband, Bob — who owned a shoe-repair shop — began buying the house on a contract-for-deed basis. After Bob died, in 1990, a woman who had been a steady customer at his shop hired Dorothy as a part-time housekeeper for $80 a week, which allowed her to keep up the payments. Before the woman moved away, she loaned Milford enough money to pay off the house. “She was actually a Christian person. A wonderful person,” Milford says. Milford repaid the woman the entire loan. However, finding the $40,000 that city inspectors estimate it will cost to repair her home is entirely beyond Milford, who, at age 70, gets by on a household income of about $1,200 per month, mostly Social Security. She’s now paying $500 a month to rent a home on East Kansas Street. Bobbie Hahn, founder of Loving God Out Loud, and Nick Stojakovich of Hope Evangelical Church, met Milford recently and “fell in love with her,” Hahn says. They are now working together to try to repair Milford’s house so that she and her six grandchildren can make one last move — back home. “We sat there and listened to all her family history within the walls of that home, and we decided we want to rebuild that home for her and the children,” Hahn says. “There wasn’t another answer once we met with her.”
Hahn, a former mobile-home dealer, has developed her ministry around restoring unwanted trailer houses and turning them over to homeless clients. Milford’s house will be Hahn’s first attempt at restoring a traditional “stick-built” structure, and she hopes to find a volunteer foreman to oversee the project. The house needs foundation repairs, new beams in the basement, heating and air, insulation, siding (to encapsulate the lead-based paint), carpeting, and just about everything else. Hahn has established a fund for Milford at Marine Bank. Milford is already celebrating the improved health of her grandsons. The child with the highest blood-lead test results has shown no symptoms usually associated with lead poisoning. “I’m told by his teacher he’s one of the brightest children in school,” she says.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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