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Jill Porter | Insider's outside appeal restores the heat

BY THE TIME Jean Averette called a City Council office for help, the ailing 82-year-old widow had been without heat for months.

BY THE TIME Jean Averette called a City Council office for help, the ailing 82-year-old widow had been without heat for months.

She was weeping.

Her plight touched the heart of Michael Quintero-Moore, an aide in Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller's office, who'd recently lost his own mother.

He immediately made phone calls on Averette's behalf. But he soon realized the cumbersome bureaucracy couldn't help her fast enough.

So, he did something ironic and unlikely for someone inside the system:

He went around it to get her help.

Quintero-Moore sent an "e-mail blast" about Averette to dozens of people - from community leaders to political foes to softhearted friends to members of the media.

"I said let's just do something and worry about the protocol later," he told me.

That was Oct. 31.

Yesterday - five weeks and many vexing moments later - Jean Averette got the help she asked for.

She was finally warm.

Water had begun accumulating in the basement of Averette's home on Carpenter Lane near Germantown Avenue in 2006.

"We'd go down there and bail it out by hand and think we got it all out," said Averette's son, Derrick.

"The next day it would be back."

In May, PGW turned off the gas to the heater because the water kept putting out the pilot light.

Mrs. Averette and her friends and family spent endless months trying to find the source of the leak. They got conflicting answers and repair estimates that were exorbitant, especially for someone on Social Security.

From the city Water Department to the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, from one agency to another, Averette sought help and got nowhere.

"My heart goes out to this lady because I think she certainly has been getting the runaround from a number of agencies," said Ellena Jonas, of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

And as the weather turned cold, the homebound grandmother struggled to stay warm.

Indeed, it was so cold when I visited that everyone was sitting around in their coats and had their hands in their pockets.

Jean Averette had a blanket over her lap.

Averette's poise and immaculate grooming give her a certain majesty, enhanced by the backdrop of the gracious high-ceilinged living room with white furniture.

She bubbles like a bride when relating how she and her husband bought the house 54 years ago - calling him "a dream." He died in 1984.

She wouldn't leave, despite pleas from her surviving son and daughter - she's lost two children - to stay with them while the heat problem was resolved.

Averette was jittery about her private travails being documented in a public article, worried that she'd be misunderstood or make someone angry.

"I don't want to be a celebrity," she said tearily.

"I just want to be warm."

Ken Weinstein, a Mount Airy activist and commercial real estate developer, was among the first to respond to Moore's e-mail.

He sent his plumber, Jerry Kehan, to Averette's house immediately.

Each time Kehan thought he had the problem fixed, another glitch developed and the water kept coming in.

His calls to the Philadelphia Water Department were ignored. Mine weren't.

Last week, a crew went out and - whaddya know - found a leak in an abandoned water line that they didn't find last spring.

They fixed it. PGW restored the gas. The Heater Hotline, sent by PCA, replaced a part.

And, as of late yesterday afternoon, Jean Averette's heater was working.

"I'm so thankful," she said.

And Michael Quintero-Moore was relieved - and saddened.

"This is just one person. How many others are there like this who didn't call me or people like me who'd say, 'Let's forget the red tape, this is a human being in need?' "

Weinstein, the developer who sent his plumber, said he understood why Quintero-Moore went outside City Hall for help.

He felt the same frustration when he was chief of staff to former Councilwoman Happy Fernandez.

"At times, you just throw up your hands and say, 'I really want to help this person, but how do I do it?' " Weinstein said.

Fortunately for Jean Averette, Michael Quintero-Moore found a way. *

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