Catherine Smith got the Christmas gift to end all Christmas gifts on Sunday afternoon.
She and her 11-year-old son Camaryn pulled into the driveway of their new home, which was built as part of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County. Inside the three-bedroom ranch-style house were friends, family and the volunteers who made it possible.
“I’m on top of the world. It’s a dream come true for me,” said Smith, as she stood in the front lawn of the home that will be hers in a few days. “If I never get another gift for Christmas, this is all I need.”
Sunday’s dedication ceremony was about two years in the making and came after about 16 weeks of actual building, with construction starting in July.
Smith said the move was an important one for her and her son. Her old neighborhood wasn’t horrible, but she described it as a “not-so-good neighborhood.” She characterized her new location on Marriott Avenue as the suburbs and noted that her son was ecstatic about the move.
“This is going to be a blessing for us,” she said.
Upon entering the home, Smith paused only for a moment to hug the first few people she saw and then darted from room to room, wearing a smile on her face as she touched fixtures and walls in every room. In the kitchen she rubbed the sink counter and turned on a light, smiling into a mirror, as she said, “I’m so excited.”
Charlton resident Jack Sleeter, the house leader overseeing the construction projection, could only smile as he watched Smith enjoy the new house. “It is beyond words,” he said.
Regarding the goal of the project and the finished results, Sleeter said, “It brings the most joy to your life. It brings purpose to your life.”
He credited the volunteers with making the project possible.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy called the event a great day for the city and said the ongoing efforts of HFHSC ensure more happy days like this in the future.
“It’s how we rebuild our community. It’s really one family and one home at a time,” McCarthy said. “This is just a great example of that.”
From her new kitchen, a thankful Smith addressed the crowd of friends, family and volunteers that were packed well beyond capacity to celebrate the day. She made a special show of thanks to Sleeter, who received a gift from her. “You have a piece of my heart, and I just wanted to give you a small token of that,” Smith said, handing him the gift and a hug, as she failed to hold back tears. “I love you, Jack.”
“I love each and every one of you here … I’m so blessed today,” she added, before starting off a round of applause that the rest of the crowd joined in on.
The ceremony ended with Smith receiving a Bible from HFHSC Executive Director Jeff Clark, which prompted one volunteer to note that Scripture was written on all the walls of the house. During construction, volunteers and Smith had written down prayers and Bible verses on the inside of the walls and framing.
“The volunteers had a great time doing that,” said Clark, who joked that they could rip a wall down for inspiration if they needed it. That prompted Smith to point out that everyone was standing on top of prayers, which were blessing their hearts and souls.
After the ceremony, an excited Camaryn narrated the slide show on a digital picture frame, which showed the evolution of the house.
Find out more about the HFHSC, which has helped put 35 families into homes since 1993, at www.schenectadyhabitat.org.