When Rosalind Blakey learned she would be a homeowner for the first time in her life, she felt as if she had won the lottery. But, she didn't scream with excitement or cry with happiness. She just asked for the address. Again and again.
Habitat for Humanity, an international, faith-based organization that builds affordable housing, is putting the finishing touches on its first house in Carroll County. A selection committee chose Blakey, a 34-year-old single mother, from about 30 applicants for the modest, three-bedroom rancher in Westminster.
The group's Carroll chapter broke ground in September after several years of organizing and looking for land.
"It really jumped out of the ground with the help of volunteers mainly on the weekends," said Jeremy Cooper, the local chapter's president.
Since the owner must help with construction, Cooper called Blakey with the news and gave her the address.
"Say it again," she said.
Cooper repeated the street and house number.
"Say it again," she said. And when he did, she added, "Praise the Lord."
The gray one-story model with white trim that sits atop a hill overlooking the city was a hub of activity on a recent Saturday. Blakey's family, neighbors and friends were painting inside. A crew of carpenters and roofers hammered on the exterior. Others worked on the grounds.
The organization's guidelines say that prospective homeowners must have need, a willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity and the ability to pay the mortgage. Blakey, a self-employed hair stylist who has "always rented, never owned," has become so involved in the organization that she has volunteered to serve on its board of directors.
"I can be a great advocate for Habitat," she said. "There are a lot of people in the same situation as me. This is like a dream for me, a real start. It is giving my family a chance. We have a small apartment now, but soon we will have all this space."
The Blakeys, more than 35 area businesses and many volunteers have contributed time, labor and materials to the project. And dozens of lunches, Blakey said. The Saturday before Christmas, when many of them could have attended to their holiday preparations, nearly 20 volunteers were tackling homebuilding tasks.
"It makes a lot more sense for me to prepare for Christmas this way rather than to go out and fill some want rather than a need," said Mike Geiger, project manager. "This is a gift that has true value, one that will last a lot longer than the three minutes it takes to open a present."
The family's pastor also came from Washington to help.
"Habitat is about mercy and helping those in need," said the Rev. Pat Allen, pastor of In His Presence Worship Center. "It is not about yourself, but about someone else."
While atop a ladder rolling paint on the ceiling, the pastor found herself with an entirely fulfilling chore. "One swipe and it's covered," she said.
Geiger constantly tried to keep his volunteer painters on task. "Let not your roller depart from the wall," he said.
Justin Blakey, 10, can be "lethal" with a roller, his mother said. The child had flecks of bright white on his eyelids and chin and wore jeans that were covered with more white paint than blue denim. But, he reasoned, he had the first coat down, and he could soon add the final coat. He chose a deep blue and will decorate the walls with posters of rap artists.
His sister Jakani, 12, also cannot wait to decorate. She will sponge paint her room in blue and purple hues, put up shelves for her rock collection and find the perfect spot for the "dream boat" her grandmother made.
"I like it out here," Jakani said. "It is cool, quiet and I can walk to my friends' houses."
Habitat for Humanity, which counts former President Jimmy Carter among its volunteers, purchased the small lot off Bond Street for about $45,000 a year ago. Prospective owners typically put about 400 hours of work into the home and repay the cost of construction with an interest-free mortgage. Blakey's house will be worth about $140,000, but it will cost her about $90,000, which she will repay through a 20-year mortgage, Cooper said.
Home prices in Carroll average more than $180,000, a cost that keeps the working poor from homeownership. Without assistance from Habitat for Humanity, Blakey would be years away from a home of her own, she said.
Cooper expects to turn the home over to the family this month. Blakey is visualizing where the furniture will go in each room, choosing colors and wallpaper and planning the window treatments.
"This is such an honor to have been chosen the first family to kick this off in the county," she said.
Rosalind, Jakani and Justin will not be in the home until a few weeks after Christmas, but they are calling it their "best present ever." If they ever need a reminder of that gift, they only have to look to the end of their soon-to-be-paved driveway at the towering pine that they are calling their Christmas tree.
"We moved the driveway over slightly from the original plans to save that tree," said Cooper. "It really is a beautiful Christmas tree."