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Putting a furlough Friday to good use

Some Dahlgren workers spent their final day of furloughs doing the same thing they did on their first mandatory day off: They helped a co-worker whose family has been overwhelmed by a rare disease.

“I have a lot of friends who are ill,” said Stephen Dix, who works at the Navy base in Dahlgren, “so I know it can be difficult to get help sometimes.”

The volunteers included naval engineers and scientists, financial analysts and those with doctorates.

They were among 14 people gathered for a “paint party” Friday at the Hopyard Farm home of Constantin and Nichole Langa.

Almost three years ago, Constantin Langa was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease, a rare ailment that impairs the body’s ability to process copper.

He’s 30 and can barely walk or talk as a result of damage the disease caused. He has to have gauze stuffed in his mouth to absorb excess saliva.

His wife, who’s 32, works at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, and has immersed herself in finding help for him. She supervises the caregivers he gets 18 hours a day, raises their 3-year-old son and works full time.

Even fellow employees in the financial community, where Nichole Langa is an analyst, weren’t aware of her situation until they saw a June story in The Free Lance–Star.

“When I read it, it was like a punch in the gut,” said Karen Jarrell. “You would never have known what she was dealing with at home.”

Jarrell started thinking of how to help. Emails made their way to Mike Purello, a division head at the base, and he encouraged people in his department to get involved.

“When we found out we were in a position to help, we had to help,” Jarrell said, whose efforts have included collecting food and gift cards.

On July 12, the group’s first Friday furlough, the volunteers did various maintenance jobs at the Langa home in King George County. They landscaped, installed shelves and organized the basement.

On Friday, the last furlough—at least in this budget cycle—six base workers were joined by college friends of the Langas and Hopyard resident Amy Carey.

Some brought ladders and paintbrushes, spackling tools and caulking guns.

Benjamin Moore Paint Store in Fredericksburg donated environmentally friendly paint for the six rooms downstairs, along with painter’s tape, brushes and trays.

All the walls in the home were white, and the volunteers wanted to give Constantin Langa “some cheeriness,” Jarrell said.

They started by covering furniture with tarps, then taped off baseboards and windows. They removed the covers from light switches, dusted heating vents and moved lamps, blinds and curtains out of the way of rollers and brushes.

Then, they turned the plain-Jane walls into a rainbow of shades from the beige family.

“Orange froth” went in the kitchen and family room. “Fennel seed” was applied to the living room. “August morning” was saved for the dining room and living room, and an accent wall was covered with “Patina.”

Nichole Langa literally jumped up and down as the colors were applied to the walls.

“I am so excited,” she said.

Keith Sampson, who worked with Constantin Langa at the Department of Homeland Security until the disease took away Constantin’s ability to work, was impressed.

“These people are angels, they’re really good people to come out here to do this,” said Sampson, who lives in Stafford County.

Several volunteers apologized for their lack of painting prowess. Retired utility serviceman Tom Parke of Bowling Green—whose daughter, Kim, attended William & Mary with Nichole Langa—also worked for years as a carpenter.

He said plumbing was at the bottom of his list of favorite things to do.

“Painting is second,” he added.

Their hostess repeatedly told the volunteers that their efforts were appreciated, and she didn’t care if the job wasn’t perfect.

When a few splatters hit the cream-colored carpet, she didn’t stress out about it as she might have done, before a disease changed every aspect of her life.

“I’m very laid back about stuff now, and I used to not be that way,” she said. “If it happens, it happens.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425