‘Random bit of love’ welcomes Denver families home

Bess Vannice (center), accounting manager for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver (Colorado), tied a crocheted mini-blanket to the porch of new Habitat home partner Charity Moli and her husband, Patrick Bonaize, on Friday. Vannice crocheted blankets for the owners of all 11 new townhouses built in Denver for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris HaugenBess Vannice (center), accounting manager for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver (Colorado), tied a crocheted mini-blanket to the porch of new Habitat home partner Charity Moli and her husband, Patrick Bonaize, on Friday. Vannice crocheted blankets for the owners of all 11 new townhouses built in Denver for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris Haugen

VIDEO: Denver homes shaping up

DENVER, Colorado — On Friday afternoon in Denver, as the final squares of sod were laid and construction cleanup began, volunteers started noticing colorful crocheted blankets wrapped around one of the posts of each new townhome.

“Where did they come from?” people asked. “What are they for?”

They came from Bess Vannice, accounting manager for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, who took her inspiration from artists who practice something called “yarn bombing” — creating knitted or crocheted works of art in public spaces under cover of darkness.

Vannice couldn’t wait for dark, but she managed to be pretty stealthy nevertheless.

She guesses she spent about 50 hours making the 11 baby-sized blankets: “I like doing it. It’s therapeutic. And people like handmade stuff,” she said. “It’s kind of a fun, random bit of love.”

New homeowner Charity Moli spotted Vannice wrapping her post with a blanket in shades of purple, turquoise and green.

“Did you make this?” she asked. “Wow! That’s so nice. I love it.”

Moli, who is originally from Ghana, insisted Vannice pose for a picture with her, her husband and the blanket. Then she gave her a big hug.

Across the site Friday afternoon, many hugs were exchanged, many pictures were snapped, many tears were shed.

Eleven families received keys to their new homes, and 15 families in the Globeville neighborhood celebrated newly refurbished homes that are stronger, safer and more efficient than they were Monday.

Rachel Moyers said she is already enjoying the new double-paned windows that volunteers installed in the home where she and her husband, John, have lived since 1973.

“The furnace doesn’t hardly even kick on,” she said. “I almost can’t wait for winter to see what our heating bills are going to be.”

Marcela Ovalle, who received the key to her new townhome Friday, is also excited about the future. As she expressed her thanks to volunteers who had gathered to bless her new home, she began to cry.

“I’m not crying because I am sad,” she said. “I’m crying because I’m so emotional, because I’m so happy. This is the greatest thing ever in my life.”

— Soyia Ellison

 
Vietnam veteran celebrates new home, growing family

Vietnam War veteran Elmer Lamberson, 67, lost his Union Beach, New Jersey, home in the flood caused by Hurricane Sandy. Former President Jimmy Carter will help Lamberson build a new home during this year’s Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Tracie TrohaVietnam War veteran Elmer Lamberson, 67, lost his Union Beach, New Jersey, home in the flood caused by Hurricane Sandy. Former President Jimmy Carter will help Lamberson build a new home during this year’s Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Tracie Troha

UNION BEACH, New Jersey — Saturday will be a big day for Elmer Lamberson. Not only is his son, Elmer Friday Lamberson, getting married, but former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, also will be helping Lamberson build a new two-bedroom Habitat home.

“I have to get to the build site early to meet the president, and take a change of clothes with me for the wedding,” Lamberson said.

The 67-year-old Vietnam veteran is excited about the changes in his life, especially after the devastation of losing his home to Hurricane Sandy.

“My father bought that house and lived there after I went off to war,” Lamberson said. “Then I raised a family of five — two sons and a stepdaughter — in that house. It had a lot of sentimental value to me.”

When the floodwaters came pouring in through the front door of Lamberson’s home last October, he was still inside with his son Friday and his two dogs.

“I was up to my waist in water in my house,” he said. “I had to hold the front door closed. My dogs were on top of my couch, and my son was on the washing machine.”

When the floodwaters finally receded, Lamberson was left with the realization that nearly everything he owned, including his prized 1987 IROC-Z28 Chevrolet Camaro, had been destroyed.

“My house was paid for, but I had no flood insurance,” he said.

Lamberson discovered Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County by accident; he walked into the office thinking he could get a gas card there. Instead, he left with an application for a new home.

During the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, a team of fellow Vietnam War veterans are helping Lamberson build a new home on the property where his former home stood. The house is due to be completed in January.

Now that construction is underway, Lamberson said he’s ready to rebuild his life with his growing family.

“I can’t wait to meet President Carter,” he said. “I want to shake his hand.”

— Tracie Troha

 

Oakland girl comes home to a 14th birthday surprise

Veronica Zavala was surprised on her 14th birthday when Habitat volunteers brought out a cake and sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the dedication of her family’s house. Veronica’s aunt dabbed frosting all over her face, to the delight of her mother, Maria, a Denny’s waitress. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Preston MerchantVeronica Zavala was surprised on her 14th birthday when Habitat volunteers brought out a cake and sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the dedication of her family’s house. Veronica’s aunt dabbed frosting all over her face, to the delight of her mother, Maria, a Denny’s waitress. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Preston Merchant

OAKLAND, California — On the first day of the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Habitat volunteers belted a rousing “Happy Birthday to You” to President Carter, who had just turned 89. Five days later, as the busy week was winding up, Habitat volunteers sang a bookended “Happy Birthday” to Veronica Zavala, who turned 14 on Friday, and who was grinning broadly on the front porch of her family’s new Habitat home.

After Veronica blew out the candles on her cake, her aunt, Adelfa Zavala, swooped a finger into the frosting and dabbed spots of it on her nose, forehead and both cheeks as volunteers cheered.

The Carters were in New York City Friday as part of the multicity approach to the 30th anniversary of their work with Habitat, but the 12 townhouses in Oakland’s Brookfield Court development still needed to be dedicated. A Habitat house dedication frequently means volunteers and homeowners offering heartfelt speeches, prayers, tears and presentations, and — more and more these days — everyone emailing each other photos on their phones while they are still together at the house.

Veronica’s mother, Maria Zavala, a Salvadoran emigrant who works as a waitress at Denny’s, was close to tears Friday as she talked about Habitat for Humanity.

VIDEO: California’s homeowners and volunteers

“I say thank you for every single person who came here to work for free,” she said. “I say thank you, God, to have this opportunity to have this home. Last night I worked 4 to 12:30 a.m. at Denny’s. I work six days, seven days sometimes. Right now I have not had a day off in four weeks. It’s hard.”

Maria is very proud of both Veronica and her son Henry, 17, who is currently applying to colleges. She gladly shares their latest report cards with volunteers.

“Everybody can come back after I move in, and I will cook for you,” she said. “I will make you pupusas,” a Salvadoran dish of corn tortillas filled with pork, rice and beans.

At all 12 homes, volunteers signed special Carter Work Project T-shirts and gave them to the homeowners. A few doors down from the Zavalas, Basudeb Dey and his daughter Padmini, 15, were surrounded by a circle of volunteers in their living room. Basudeb had been working on his house every day, but Padmini had been been in school all week and had not had the chance to meet the volunteers until Friday. She handwrote thank-you notes to each one and passed them out.

“I find it so remarkable that every one of you guys is taking time out from your life to help us,” she said. “We’re just ordinary people who were trying to buy a house but couldn’t. But now we do have a house. This is awesome.”

— Phil Kloer