Fixing Others' Dreams (Daily Press)

Fixing Others' Dreams

Agency renovates houses for those who can't afford it

Photo by Kenneth D. Lyons/The Daily Press 1997

Bill Kozma learned early in life to care for others and be responsible. Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., he was the oldest of 11 kids -- 24 years older than his youngest sibling.

"Being the eldest, in some ways it is like you're by yourself," says Kozma, now a 51-year-old York County Resident with two children of his own. "You are given responsibility early on to do things. Mom and dad, when they wanted to go out, I stayed home with the kids."

Kozma never became bitter about his duties. Instead, the sense of helping others stayed with him. A few years ago -- retired from the Air Force and thinking about his successful career and close family -- Kozma decided he should find a way to help those less fortunate. He found out about the nonprofit Housing Partnership Inc. in Williamsburg and jumped on board as a volunteer.

Unlike Habitat for Humanity, the agency doesn't build homes from scratch. Rather, volunteers fix up homes for residents who can't afford the upgrades themselves. Or they buy an abandoned house, improve it and sell it cheap to someone with a low income.

With aboiut 1,500 volunteers like Kozma, the housing agency has completed 71 projects since last July. Twenty-one projects were done in 1985, the agency's first year.

Kozma thinks people too often look to the government for these types of services. They should, he says, look to each other.

"We have a responsibility to help one another," he says. "And when you do help your neighbor, it's paid back because they feel a responsibility to help the community."

He likes the idea of volunteer labor because it keeps overhead costs down and creates a link to the community. He is reminded of that link every time he sees a house the group renovated, such as the home of a woman on Richneck Road.

"She was an elderly lady in her mid 70's living by herself. She had these concrete stoops with no guard rails around them," Kozma says. "The doors were falling off the hinges. The garage, it was sagging. You didn't know when it would fall."

Kozma and other volunteers spent more than four months adding railings, painting the house, replacing doors, installing better outdoor lighting, and rebuilding the garage.

"And she was very grateful, you know," Kozma says. "We drive by that house on Richneck now, and I say, 'Hey! Yep, the railing is still up.'

"But that's how you build a community. You don't do it by thinking about it. You don't do it by sitting around your house."

Long before meeting Kozma, agency director Nayda Pophal had heard good things about him from her volunteer coordinator.

The coordinator, she recalls, was relieved to have Kozma at any project because Kozma "was so consitent and very particular about work being done well."

"He doesn't give himself enough credit," Pophal says. "He's wonderful. He just works well with everybody, and everybody likes him."

Age: 51
Home: Born in Perth, Australia, he has lived in York County since 1986.
Occupation: As an administrator at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, he plans and maintains building and machinery.
Family: His wife, Judy, and their two sons, 23-year-old Jason and 20-year-old Andrew.
Interests: Reading historical novels and "real good science fiction. Not the fantasy science fiction. I'm more of the old school."
  What: A nonprofit agency that renovates homes and provides affordable mortgages for elderly and poor residents of York and James City counties and Williamsburg.

Where: 1455 Richmond Road in Williamsburg.

Information: Call 221-0225.