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A new home, a bigger family

Another home dedicated, another family in Archuleta County with a roof over their heads.

Eleven twenty-one, house twenty-one, one more family placed in a house with a mortgage that they wouldn’t have had otherwise had, had it not been for Habitat for Humanity.

On a Sunday, we stood in a circle, about 20 of us, warm inside the walls that Habitat had helped us raise, celebrating our accomplishment — building a home and making one more low-income family its owner.

My dining room table was full of treats and my house was full of angels, each looking in rooms, admiring the gorgeous wood floors, complementing the design of the floor plan.

Everyone agreed that I had been helped to build a wonderful home.

My odyssey building this house began almost a year ago to the day. Recently separated from the spouse who had brought me to Pagosa Country, I scrambled to make a life for myself and my three children as we vacated her premises.

When it looked as though this family was done with Pagosa, it was the kids who insisted that we stay here with this community, with this big dysfunctional family (which one is not?). To thrive within these forests and these mountains, hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, biking, camping, rafting, running, soaking, breathing deep everything our friends and neighbors who have likewise shot their roots into the shale and clay to declare this area home.

Taking a shot at firmly establishing those desired roots, I picked up an application for the next Habitat home to be built. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few decades, you know that no one becomes a journalist hoping to become a millionaire. With eyes wide open and an inconsistent sense of practicality, I realized that owning a home would be through an organization like Habitat.

At that time, a newly single full-time dad, I started working with John Vick from the Archuleta County Fatherhood initiative — working full time and raising kids full time, I acknowledged that I needed all the help I could get if I was to thrive in Pagosa.

During our initial meetings, I told Vick that I had picked up the Habitat application and intended to submit it.

Unfortunately, as life, work and kids got ahead of me, I filed the application under my car’s sun visor and, well, out of sight out of mind as they say.

Fortunately, Vick was looking out for me and, as the application deadline neared, began reminding me to get the thing turned in. In fact, the day the application was due, Vick walked into The SUN office and took the application himself, dropping it off for me with Cindi Galabota, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity.

After an initial interview with Habitat board members last December, two of those board members visited me and the kids in our tiny apartment this past January. Seeing how my two daughters were sharing the master bedroom, my son was in a room the size of a walk-in closet and it was abundantly clear that the four of us were sharing extremely cramped quarters.

Before the board members left, both said, “If there’s ever been a family appropriate for a Habitat home, you’re it.”

It was mid-March when Vick gave me the call he said he was proud to make. That evening, the Habitat board had met to make the decision on which family Habitat would choose to “partner” with and I have a clear and vivid memory of his voice on my phone: “Jim, I’m thrilled to be the one to give you the news,” Vick said, his joy palpable as he spoke. “You’re the family we’ve chosen to partner with this year!”

It felt as though I’d won the lottery; I did not sleep a wink that night.

What Habitat means when they say the organization “partners” with a family that building the home is a shared responsibility. At the very least, I was expected to put in a minimum of 100 sweat-equity hours (with friends and family expected to donate another 300 hours). Habitat would be helping me (and my friends/family) build our house. Furthermore, I was expected to attend home ownership classes. Finally, with Habitat as the lender, I would be the mortgage holder (30 years) with extremely liberal terms — zero percent interest.

In fact, their are three mortgages, designed to provide incentive to not only stay in the home but to retain ownership. Two weeks ago I got my first taste of being a home owner as I signed my name to the dozens of forms required for a closing. The following day, we began the move into our new house.

It is a beautiful house, far exceeding the expectations I had last April when the kids and I walked the vacant lot just north of Lake Hatcher. As my neighbors can attest, about two feet of snow still stood on the lot. “Daddy,” one of my kids asked, “How are ever going to build a house here?”

In fact, the build was seamless. By early June, the site had been excavated and the foundation poured. Revising a standard Habitat floor plan, newly-hired Construction Supervisor for Habitat Steve Koneman had designed a house suited to my family.

In early July, folks from all over the U.S., standing on a deck , volunteers all, pushing up the frame of the north wall, the first substantial indication that this is where a house stands. Braces in place, another wall went up and then another, framing like the ribs surrounding where the heart would go.

As I walked past the bones of what would form the frame of a home, I noticed graffiti inside the studs, “Built with prayer and love, 6/10/10,” “Bless this family, bless this home,” “One love, one heart, many homes, many hands.”

The number of homes built with those (and many other) loving words written within the walls are too few, too scarce. McMansions and McFailures continue tumbling down or sitting empty, scarring our national landscape like bodies tossed into the street after the plague, no love or life within their prefabricated walls, no spirit beneath their gaudy, plastic roofs.

I have been blessed, not just with the opportunity to own a home but in that almost every nail was hammered with heart, that almost every person on the job site was there to give of themselves. Not there for a paycheck, they showed up early in the morning bearing the gifts of their effort and love for the family of Humanity.

Those who could not build often brought out delicious lunches for everyone spending the day volunteering. Others donated materials or appliances. And, of course, the board members and volunteers for Habitat made certain that the day-to-day requirements of building a home was attended to.

By October, almost everything was in place and, for the first time I had a real indication of where I would be raising my children, for many years. Like a kid in mid-December awaiting Santa’s visit, it seemed as if closing day would never get here.

And here we are.

The loving crowd gathered in the living room of my home brought light and warmth with them. Several folks from the local chapter Daughters of the American Revolution were there to help us celebrate, donating a flag to fly outside to say, “Yes, we are an American family — a big, big family that knows no color, race, religion or political inclination, all of us in this together because we are proud of that family.”

After a brief presentation, all of us said the Pledge of Allegiance while two of the kids held the flag with solemn respect.

Looking back on this past Sunday and the previous year, I realize that it is a wonderful family. Blessed with three incredible, smart, loving children who were all too happy to help with building, all too enthusiastic to move into their new home (I doubt I could have had the successful move we made without their hard work, support and unconditional love), I know that my family grew very big this year. I have new brothers — Dale and the two Johns (Allen and Greenleaf) who were out building almost every day, as well as Steve whose construction knowledge and skills brought this all together. Big sisters Stephany Bouchier, Patty Brown, Kim Moore and Cindi. Big daddy (and Board President) Jim Vierbicher along with brother Vick… so many that I can’t mention but am loathe to neglect, and of course, the new family I met during the summer who came from all over the United States to help build a home, those dedicated to making housing affordable to families all over the world.

Habitat will begin work on House 22 in the spring. Donations — material and financial — are always welcome and of course, volunteers are always needed. To help the next family earn their way into owning their own home, contact Habitat for Humanity at 264-6960 or visit the web site at www.habitatcolorado.org/Archuleta/ for more information.

jim@pagosasun.com