Samantha Dominguez will serve dinner today in her own kitchen, in her own home, giving thanks for the generosity of friends and strangers.
"This is my dream," said Dominguez, a single mother who moved last month to a home in Edgebrook Village, Habitat for Humanity's new neighborhood in north Wichita.
"Since I was 13 I dreamed of having a house of my own. Now, through the grace of God and a lot of hard work, we have one and I just feel so thankful."
The two-bedroom house on North Jackson, near 33rd North and Broadway, has sage green siding with khaki trim. A trio of pumpkins sits in a little flower garden out front, and new grass sprouts from the mostly-mud lawn. It's not extravagant but it's roomy enough, solidly built and cozy.
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Dominguez, 24, and her twin boys, Angel and Josue, used to live in a run-down duplex not far from here, she said. The landlord never fixed a big hole below the front door — he never fixed a lot of things, she said — so last winter she stuffed it with blankets to keep out the cold. She wasn't able to keep out roaches and other pests.
This year, in her Habitat home at the end of a cul-de-sac, her sons like to watch geese gather along Chisholm Creek. She's planning to hang multicolored Christmas lights outside and put a tree in the front window.
"I know how to do those things now," she said. "I learned a lot this past year."
People selected as Habitat homebuyers are required to perform "sweat equity" by volunteering on other Habitat homes. They also attend classes on money management and home maintenance. In return, they get to buy a new home — valued at about $85,000 — with a 20-year zero-interest mortgage.
Dominguez logged more than 250 sweat-equity hours — well above the minimum requirement — including countless hours hammering nails, installing windows, painting and finishing her own house.
"The day this roof went on, that was the highlight," she said. "After the roof was on, I was like, 'Oh, yes, this is my home. You can't get me now, rain!' This is my home now."
Habitat officials say the building process brings together givers and recipients in a way few charities replicate.
"We believe that when people volunteer at a Habitat site, the lives of the soon-to-be-homeowner and the volunteer are blessed," said Linda Stewart, executive director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity Inc.
"When you get that chance to meet and hear stories and see how hard they're working to pursue this dream of home ownership, that's very real and very inspiring."
Churches, schools, businesses and other groups — along with corporate and anonymous donors — helped build 42 homes and a park with a playground that makes up Edgebrook Village. Habitat is echoing the concept with another neighborhood in south Wichita, along Victoria between 43rd and 44th streets South.
"In the midst of a very tough economy, this community has supported Wichita Habitat and enabled us to put 19 families into homes this year," Stewart said.
Dominguez said she learned about Habitat while she was working at a convenience store near Edgebrook Village. A woman would come into the store almost every day at lunchtime, her clothes covered in dirt or sawdust.
"I asked her what she did, and she said, 'I'm building my house,' " Dominguez said. The woman explained how Habitat worked. A few weeks later, Dominguez called the charity and was quickly approved to begin working toward her new home.
Now the two women are neighbors.
"I like that we've all had the same experience, we've been through the same process," Dominguez said of the Habitat neighborhood.
Stewart, the Habitat director, said the neighborhoods are "all about building lives, building homes and building a community."
Hanging on the wall above Dominguez's kitchen table is a rendition of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper," more brightly colored than the original. Today she and her boys, along with more than 20 aunts, uncles, siblings and other family members and friends, will crowd into the little house on North Jackson for what Dominguez hopes will be the first Thanksgiving supper of many.
"I'm so fortunate, and I thank God that Habitat was there for me," she said. "It's like they lifted me up. They gave me a whole new life."