When Kamecia Clark was a child, she always wanted to have a set of those miniature houses that could be arranged in villages around the Christmas tree.
Last year, she landed a dream volunteer job – staffing the Holiday Houses for Habitat display at Glenbrook Square of more than 500 Department 56 ceramic collectible structures. The event benefits the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
I just was overwhelmed by all the little towns and everything, Clark says. We brought the kids up there to see it, and of course they didnt want to leave.
Last year, Clark also harbored another dream – a new house for herself, her husband, Kenny, and their six children – Jerrail, 9, Ken, 6, Janaezya, 5, Janiah, 3, Mya, 2, and Jeremiah, 10 months.
This year, as the couple volunteer again at the display, that dream has come true. The family will be celebrating their first Christmas in a new Habitat for Humanity-built house, a five-bedroom ranch on Colerick Street in Fort Wayne.
The home, the latest completed by the agency and one of the largest it has built, was dedicated Nov. 2, and the family finished moving in late last month, says Laurie Brumbaugh, Habitats director of development.
Theyre a lovely family, Brumbaugh says. They volunteered for us last year, and theyve come back to volunteer at the Holiday House event again. In fact, thats how they earned part of their sweat equity.
Sweat equity refers to Habitats practice of having potential homeowners contribute time building or working on other projects before receiving a home.
In the last year, to accumulate their needed 300 hours, the Clarks put in about 40 hours staffing the display, 100 hours of construction work on other peoples homes and 25 hours building their own home in October.
Construction work wasnt much of a stretch for Kenny, 25, who had worked for a construction company before taking his current job in sales with Aunt Millies Bakeries.
It was through his construction job, Kamecia says, that the family heard about Habitat.
At first, we didnt (qualify), but then their guidelines changed and we did, she says.
Kamecia, 28, says the best part of the process came as the actual structure took shape.
I was just a geek about it, she says, laughing. My curiosity just runs. Whenever I drive past homes, I always wonder about how they are constructed inside. Now I know.
The Houses for Habitat display, now in its fifth year, was designed and constructed with the help of Dale Strebig of Fort Wayne, a Slater Steel retiree who works part-time for his sons Eric and Randys construction company, Fort Waynes Strebig Construction.
The original collection of 300 homes came from David Ridderheim of Fort Wayne, retired president and CEO of Parkview Health System, who had given the houses as Christmas and anniversary gifts to his wife, Margaret.
Since then, other collectors, including Strebig the Fort Wayne chapter of the Nifty 56-ers Club, have contributed items, and the collection has swelled to more than 500 pieces and is billed as the largest Department 56 display in Indiana.
Brumbaugh says last years display was attended by about 14,000 people. This is the year the setup is expected to put the agency over a cumulative $60,000 in donations – enough money to sponsor an average Habitat home, she says. The agency will finish 13 houses in 2012 and plans 15 in 2013.
Theres no charge to visit the display, but donations are accepted at the door, Brumbaugh says. A $10 donation comes with the reward of a Habitat for Humanity ornament.
Some families come year after year, she says.
People just love it because theres so much detail – you can go (several times) and never see the same thing twice. And we have an I Spy game that you can play with the kids as you go through the exhibit, Brumbaugh says.
Its just one of those things that go together nicely – that this is a collection of houses is going to raise money to build a Habitat Home.
Inside her Habitat home, Kamecia says, things have been pretty busy. She says the house finally gives her family enough space – much more than their previous place, a three-bedroom, one-bath house on Webster Street.
Its more space overall, and you have all the newer appliances, so you dont have to worry about things breaking. And its more insulated, so the energy cost is much less. Its much more feasible with our budget, says the stay-at-home mom who formerly worked as a nurses aide.
Most of the children now have their own bedrooms, Kamecia says. And theyre adapting well.
They love it. I cant get them to stop talking about it. Usually they would be sad about a move, but they were so excited about it, and about going to a new house and because we have yard space also. Theyre not cramped and theyre able to go outside.
Kamecia says the family is looking forward to Christmas. Because of moving, she hasnt gotten to do much decorating, she says, and she and Kenny are still debating about whether to have a real or artificial tree.
On Christmas, she says, I think maybe well have a nice family dinner because we werent able to do it for Thanksgiving, and stay home and open the presents.
Were going to relax that day, she adds. Thats a must.