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'I'm Blessed,' Says Evicted Man After Church Helps Him Get Job, Home

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2004

James Mode, and his vast collection of model cars, are no longer homeless.

"I've been blessed," Mode says. "That's all I've got to tell you."

Mode, out of work and learning-disabled, lost his Hyattsville apartment last month when he fell behind on his rent. The eviction, which involved a crew of movers loading his cherished cars into many boxes and garbage bags, was traumatic for the 46-year-old Mode, a soft-spoken former hospital worker and landscaper.

But friends at his small congregation, University Park Church of Christ, were there for him. They stored his cars in a room above the baptistery and found him a temporary place to sleep in a Prince George's County shelter. Their calls, and newspaper coverage of Mode's predicament, prompted an outpouring of sympathy, says Steve Thornton, a church deacon whose experiences with his disabled brother have given him special insight into Mode's needs.

In the church office, Thornton keeps a fat file of letters containing offers of assistance, including a note with a check from a woman who said she was living on Social Security and also was disabled and wanted to help.

"Tears came to my eyes," says Thornton, who has been busy writing thank-you notes. The biggest breakthrough came with a call and a visit from officials of the Lerner Corp., a large real estate management and development company based in North Bethesda. They wanted to meet Mode. They said they thought they could help him.

"Lerner Corporation does a lot of community outreach," says property manager Tony Fultz, who talked with Mode and was impressed. "He was a very nice gentleman."

Working with Thornton, they matched Mode with a job as a maintenance helper at Surrey Square, a garden apartment complex in Forestville.

"I just love it," Mode says. "It's $11 an hour."

Fultz says Mode is working out fine. "From what I hear he's doing a great job."

Mode's job comes with an efficiency apartment on the property, which is perfect for him, Thornton says. He tells Mode, "If you do this for the next 20 years, when you retire you can stay here for the rest of your life."

The deacon has helped Mode set up a bank account and manage his money so he doesn't get into financial difficulty again. He's also helping him get back his bicycle and some other items he pawned when he was having trouble. A lawyer has volunteered to help Mode with the legal repercussions of his eviction. The church is storing most of his treasured cars until he gets completely settled.

"He's not out of the woods yet," Thornton says. But he smiles at the thought of Mode's new job, and of his new place in the world.

Mode, ever the man of few words, smiles too. "I'm doing good."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company