It took only a couple of coats of paint, but Agatha Toney hardly recognized the house she has lived in for 14 years.
Toney, 57, spent much of last Saturday standing in front of her northwest Pasadena home, trying to get used to the blue stucco that for a decade had been dusty pink.
"It's different," she said, nodding. "But I think I like it."
The painting of Toney's house on Adena Street kicked off Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services' participation in a countywide "Paint Your Heart Out" program. Volunteers from six Neighborhood Housing Services offices--in Pasadena, Boyle Heights, the Crenshaw district, Inglewood, San Pedro and the Vernon/Central area--plan to paint a total of 60 houses during the summer, using supplies donated by Builders Emporium.
The first of more than 20 volunteers arrived at Toney's house before 8 a.m. Only a few were assigned specific tasks. The rest worked wherever they were needed: painting the house, collecting debris, planting flowers and even barbecuing lunch. They finished late Saturday afternoon, and a few came back on Monday to touch up and paint the trim.
Agency officials said it would cost about $2,500 to have an average two-bedroom home painted--considerably more than most low-income homeowners can afford.
The nonprofit organization, which also grants low-interest and deferred loans to help people bring their homes into compliance with building codes, will concentrate this summer on upgrading 10 homes in the northwest area. The Neighborhood Housing Services office in Pasadena has already received 11 applications for the nine remaining paint jobs, and is helping applicants determine whether they qualify for other city programs.
Barbara Carver, a rehabilitation construction specialist for Neighborhood Housing Services, said income was only one reason Toney qualified for the program.
"She was so enthusiastic about having it done that we wanted to help her," Carver said.
Toney, a single mother of six grown children, worked in the housekeeping department of the Huntington Sheraton hotel for 17 years before it closed last year. Unable to find full-time work, she baby-sits and does chores for the elderly to pay her bills. Her children have left home, though they visit occasionally.
Toney said the paint on her house, which she bought in 1973, began peeling about five years ago, but she could only "wish I had the money to fix it."
"It started to look real bad," Toney said. "All the paint started to crack and fall off."
She and some of her children and grandchildren worked on the home improvement project.
Her son Randy, 18, home for the summer from UC Riverside, said seeing his mother's house with a new paint job was like "getting a new toy or something."
"We'd be saving up for a long time before we got it painted," he said. "I think it's great that people volunteer their time to do something like this."
"It needed to be done, believe me," said daughter Donna. "I always came over and said: 'Mom, you need a paint job.' "
In addition to the painting program, the Pasadena agency also kicked off a neighborhood maintenance and beautification program called "We Are Blooming" that will run through the summer.
Claire Petersky, who is in charge of that program, said the idea involves more than physically improving the area.
"If you're happy about the place you live in, then you're happy about the rest of your life," she said. "You start to care about your neighbors; they start to care about you."
Her workers swept sidewalks, clipped hedges and collected garbage from homes near Toney's on Saturday. Other blocks will be cleaned over the summer.
Ruben Gonzalez, who has lived next door to Toney for eight years, let the workers set up their luncheon barbecue in his front yard.
"They are volunteers and I want to help," he said. "I think they're doing a great job."
Gonzalez and his wife, Sandra, said they had taken out a low-interest loan from the city a few years ago to make improvements on their home.
Toney's newly painted house "is a big change," Sandra Gonzalez said. "It's good because it encourages the neighbors to follow their example."
Most of the volunteers work for Neighborhood Housing Services, but Laura Newman joined the crew with her husband, Clayton, a contractor who works for the agency.
Their 7-month-old daughter, Katrina, slept in Toney's living room as the couple painted and did yard work.
"I think this program is great," Laura Newman said, preparing the ground in front of the house for planting. "I see a lot of people who want to fix up their houses, but they can't."
Newman said she volunteered to help partly because of an experience with an uncooperative landlord. When the owner of her apartment refused to help pay for repairs, she and her husband painted the place and installed new carpeting.
Although they were not reimbursed for their expenses, she said, it was worth the effort.
Newman added that if Toney is anything like her, Saturday's efforts will not be in vain.
"I know she's going to take care of this," she said. "We're not doing this for nothing."