Eleven weeks after the concrete foundation was laid, Denise Morton, her arm around her youngest son, stepped from the biting cold and into her new two-story, three-bedroom house in Manassas, built by her family and dozens of volunteers. Tears glistened in her eyes. Finally, a place they could call home.
Inside is a kitchen large enough for the family of four to cook together, a living room wide enough for them to play and bedrooms that don't have to be shared by the children--La Toya, 18, Kendrick, 11, and Jeremiah, 9. For Morton, it's an answered prayer. For Habitat for Humanity International, it's one more home built.
"It's just such a wonderful feeling," said Morton, a health-care worker in Dale City. "To know that this is something that is ours. We've been wanting our own place for so long, and it's finally here."
The house on School Street, which the Mortons are scheduled to move into this weekend, is one of more than 30,000 houses that have been built worldwide for families in need. Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, Christian organization that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness by building affordable homes, usually with money donated from corporations and private organizations.
Volunteers from Columbia Energy Group assisted Habitat volunteers to complete the home before Christmas--building it in less than three months. The white house was presented to the Mortons with a Bible and a Christmas tree, complete with decorations and stockings, by the Rev. Bill Higgins of the Manassas Baptist Church.
"You will remember it takes a whole lot to make a house," said Higgins, a local Habitat board member. "It takes even more to make a community."
Habitat provides houses to people with annual incomes of $13,000 to $24,000. Applicants must demonstrate to board members that they have remained in a steady job and will be able to meet mortgage payments. Also, the new homeowners have to contribute "sweat equity," or a certain amount of hours spent building the house. In this case, Morton and her daughter worked more than 100 hours on their house. Over the next 20 years, before the house will truly belong to Morton, she will make interest-free mortgage payments.
Much of the house's cost was paid for by a grant from Columbia Energy Group's charitable foundation. The Herndon-based gas utility is also helping fund construction of Habitat houses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
"This was an unbelievably rewarding experience," said Deane Edelman, one of 150 Columbia Gas employees who helped with the project. "It was just such a feel-good kind of project from the standpoint that we helped someone get their first home in such a short amount of time."
The house was originally slated to be completed by March, but volunteers said they wanted the family, which was living in Dale City, to be able to have their own home by Christmas.
"This just feels great," Morton said. "Finally, our money will go toward something we will own."
CAPTION: Two of Denise Morton's children, Jeremiah and La Toya, have some fun with their brother Kendrick in front of their new Manassas house, which was built by her family and dozens of Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Volunteer Eldon Ehlers, below, gives the banisters some finishing touches.
CAPTION: New homeowner Denise Morton, above, helps son Kendrick with his coat before the home-turning ceremony. Volunteer Josh Roark adds the street numbers to the new house.