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Bessie White could keep her chin up and try to forget about her kitchen floor. But she worried about her 97-year-old mother staying warm, a concern that grew each autumn and with each draft that snuck through her rotted floorboards and delivered a shot of cold air.

Joann Crump, just on the other side of Interstate 77 in Charlotte, N.C., also kept close watch on the weather, along with her 14-year-old great-granddaughter. A strong wind would blow shingles off their aging roof. Rain was worse. "I could hear it coming down through the walls," said Crump, 70. "I could hear it dripping down the rafters, and I knew I had to get something done."

Last fall she did, and so did the 76-year-old White, with the help of Lowe's. Their homes were two of the 24 wait-listed projects planned by Habitat Critical Home Repair, a division of Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte. The three-year-old Critical Home Repair program provides major repairs for low-income homeowners, many of whom have homes that are in danger of being condemned. Tim O'Neil, director of Critical Home Repair, estimates that 5,000 of Charlotte's homeowners live at the poverty level and can't afford repairs needed to meet city codes.

Lowe's $45,000 grant, together with $25,000 in material and products provided by Lowe's stores, enabled Habitat to complete nearly half the projects on the 2009 waiting list, giving 10 Charlotte-area families a safe and dry home for the holidays. Getting the two months of repairs done by Thanksgiving was made possible by a host of Lowe's Heroes.

For the first time, Lowe's district managers Steve Kirby and Lynn Lyons coordinated their Heroes projects, bringing together more than 130 employee volunteers from 21 stores across Charlotte.

"It's just been a great experience for the store teams to be a part of the revitalization of the community. This is the American dream," said Lyons, standing a few steps from Crump's front door and just below the Stars and Stripes flying 15 feet above her front yard. "The biggest reward is knowing you are changing lives."

'Next thing I know, up popped Lowe's'

Crump had nearly run out of options a couple of years ago, after her grandson used some roofing paper to patch up a leak in her 83-year-old, two-bedroom home. The paper didn't hold, so Crump turned to something else.

"I prayed about it for two years," said Crump, who heard about Habitat's Critical Home Repair this spring and then ended up praying some more after she said a sponsor wasn't immediately available. "Next thing I know, up popped Lowe's," she said.

Crump has lived in the newly trendy NoDA neighborhood for more than 30 years and has turned back dozens of investors looking to buy her out. She said she tells them, in a not-so-grandmotherly tone: "This is my home and I'm not going nowhere."

To help make sure of that, Crump said it took Lowe's volunteers nearly two days to scrape off her shingles — four layers of asphalt shingles and the original cedar shake shingles. Rain that had seeped through the roof had damaged the kitchen floor. So Lowe's Heroes replaced that as well.

"The workers are just as nice as can be," said Crump, who took time to chat and laugh with most of the volunteers, telling them how grateful she was for their help in ensuring her great-granddaughter, Brittany, will have a safe place to call home for years to come. "They're heroes. That's exactly what they are."

How do you properly thank a hero? Crump hung up a banner on her porch, thanking God for Lowe's and Habitat. A few of the volunteers said they got teary-eyed the morning they saw the banner. Crump wasn't through thanking them. A few days later, she cooked up a big pot of beef stew soup that the Heroes quickly finished off.

'It's like a new toy'

Bessie White expressed her gratitude with something a little sweeter — some homemade pound cake. Five generations of family members come in and out of her west Charlotte home. She often looks after her 3-year-old great-grandson, Darius, and provides 24-hour care for her mother, Anniebell Beatty, who had a stroke 10 years ago that paralyzed her left side and left her wheelchair-bound. Making the home safe for all three of them, and all the family members who visit, required major repairs.

The work included a new roof, a renovated kitchen with new cabinets, a reconstructed handicap-accessible bathroom, rebuilt railing, a new concrete foundation and the much-anticipated new flooring.

"It's like a new toy. It's beautiful," White said of the home that's been in her family since 1955. "Now I can walk to the sink without looking at the ground, the dirt, the cold air coming through and everything."

The old clawfoot tub in the bathroom is out; a new easier-to-access shower is in. White said "Mother fussed at first," saying she's not going to take a shower, but has since relented. Beatty gave the work done by Lowe's volunteers her seal of approval: "If it ain't right, I'll tell you about it."

She'd need to have a word with her grandsons, too. James White Jr., 47, and Jaye White, 40, worked alongside the volunteers from start to finish and picked up some tips for future upkeep. James said all the repairs give his grandmother another reason to look forward to the change of seasons.

"Grandmother loves to sit out on the front porch in spring and summer," he said. "She enjoys the blooms. She'll sit there and she has to speak to everybody coming by. Now she can hold her head a little higher. It's going to be wonderful for her."