Updated: August 20, 2013 11:08PM
Marella Rodriguez sat in her parents’ car and stared at the construction site of her new house.
Birds chirped overhead. A neighbor mowed his lawn. And a building permit sign proudly stood in front of the new foundation of Marella’s house, at 753 Cyrus St. in Valparaiso.
“This will be our brand new home, like a brand new life,” the 12-year-old girl told me. “I’m excited because we don’t have a home that’s ours.”
Marella’s parents, Tony and Carol Rodriguez, sat together in an affectionate embrace on the edge of the site’s foundation, admiring their home-to-be.
The couple was selected to be a partner family with Habitat for Humanity of Porter County, which began operations in 1994. The organization will build three new homes this year, including the Rodriguez home, and possibly a fourth later this summer for another family in need.
Habitat for Humanity International began in 1976 as a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. Its mission is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness while making decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.
“People of all backgrounds, races, and religions are invited to build houses together in partnership with families in need,” its mission statement says. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday morning in Valparaiso with the traditional “wall raising” ceremony.
Prior to the symbolic ceremony, Marella and her 9-year-old brother, Israel, helped adults hammer the walls and framework together. They also wrote scriptural verses on the wooden framework.
“Jeremiah 29:11 — For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope,” Marella wrote, followed by a hand-drawn heart.
“My children had their hands in this home, literally, and I know when I look at the drywall in the future, their scripture will be behind it,” said Tony, 39, as his kids played on the property.
The Rodriguez family will move into the duplex home later this summer alongside their new neighbor, Derrick Holman, 58, and his three sons, Elijah, 11, Theophilus, 10, and Jeremiah, 8.
The two families already know each other through Housing Opportunities, Inc., a Valparaiso-based not-for-profit agency helping families find safe, decent and affordable homes.
Holman and his sons live in a Housing Opportunities apartment complex located behind the agency’s office on Calumet Ave. The Rodriguez family currently lives in a Valparaiso apartment, just off Calumet, under the same Housing Opportunities program.
The Holmans also have been approved to be a partner family with Habitat and they, too, were surprised to be accepted. The long-odds coincidence that both families already knew each other, and their kids get along so well, is quickly chalked up to one collective explanation.
“It’s all God’s work,” Carol said as all five kids played together in the backyard-to-be.
“We need each other, and we’ll be here for each other,” Tony told Holman, shaking his hand. “It couldn’t be more perfect.”
“People talk to God like he’s Santa Claus, but he has a plan,” Tony said. “It’s like the world closed all the doors on us, through banks, jobs, and health problems, but God kicked down those doors for us with this new home for both of us.”
Tony and Carol were nominated for the Habitat for Humanity program by someone they barely knew. They also didn’t know very much about the program and the role it would later play in their lives.
“We had no clue,” Carol said.
Habitat staff members kept calling the couple last fall, but Carol figured she and her husband would never get accepted into the program. Plus, the couple was earlier teetering on divorce. So, they figured, why bother calling back?
“Our credit was shot, and we were barely working at the time,” she explained. “You always think things are bad until you find others who are in worse situations.”
When the couple later received the call from Habitat that they had been accepted as a partner family, they couldn’t believe the life-changing news.
“I was jumping out of my skin,” Carol said.
“It was mind-blowing,” Tony said.
Holman and his three sons have lived in multiple residences through the years, after he was laid off from his job at U.S. Steel several years ago. They bounced around Porter County but now have their sights set on 753 Cyrus St.
Holman explained to his sons that they, too, need to invest their “sweat equity” into the home, per Habitat’s criteria for partner families, even if it means not playing outside as much or missing Cub Scouts activities.
“This home takes precedence over everything else,” Holman said.
Both families are still in need of volunteer help over the summer to help complete the duplex. If you are able to lend a hand, contact Habitat for Humanity of Porter County at 531-0359, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.portercountyhabitat.org.
“It’s like building the Ark in the Bible,” Holman told me with hope in his voice. “They will come.”
On Saturday, Marella and Elijah climbed a tree behind their new duplex while adult volunteers helped raise the first walls. Both children noticed, and lamented, the middle wall being erected that will separate their two homes.
But, they both understood, the framework is now in place. Not only for their new home, but also for their new lives.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.