SALEM - Anita Arkwright, her son Kaleb and her daughter Brooke received their Christmas gift a few days early this year - a set of keys to a new home Thursday night.
"I feel blessed, very blessed," Anita said.
The Arkwrights are the latest family to move into a home constructed through the Habitat for Humanity of Northern Columbiana County. To date, there have been 33 all together, with 16 of those in Salem. The last home dedicated was also on Fourth Street.
Anita Arkwright and her two children, 16-year-old Kaleb and 12-year-old Brooke, gather around the Christmas tree in their new home at 317 E. Fourth St. in Salem, constructed by their own sweat and the sweat of volunteers and Habitat for Humanity of Northern Columbiana County. Habitat hosted the dedication ceremony for the family and their home Thursday night. The tree was given to the family by employees of Salem Community Hospital, where Anita works in the housekeeping department. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
"We don't often dedicate a house in December, but we're so glad we were part of Anita's journey. It's a special time of year and a special event," Habitat Executive Director Barb Loudon said.
"It's a Christmas miracle. It's awesome," 16-year-old Kaleb said.
An employee of the housekeeping department at Salem Community Hospital, Anita, Kaleb and 12-year-old Brooke had been living in a two-bedroom apartment at Briargate in Salem. She's divorced and grew up in the Columbiana area, going to school at Crestview.
When she learned she had qualified for a Habitat home, she was in shock. She said she just couldn't believe it. As part of the deal, families must contribute sweat equity by working on another family's home and then on their own home. In this case, they logged more than 250 hours of sweat equity.
She grew up with her father in construction, but said she still learned a lot from Scott Craven, the Habitat construction manager. He presented her with the keys at the dedication Thursday.
"They nicknamed me 'tar baby' because I had more tar on me than on the walls," she said with a laugh.
Families also have to pay a mortgage payment which includes property taxes and homeowners insurance, but it's more affordable because its 0 percent interest and Habitat acts as the lender.
Employees from the hospital, including CEO Steve Ruwoldt, kicked off the construction of the home by building the interior and exterior walls. Later in the build, more hospital employees volunteered their time to do all the interior painting.
Anita said she was honored that they wanted to help. Some hospital employees also got together and donated a Christmas tree for the home.
A volunteer work group from Bethany Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y. known as the Koinonia Mission Company worked for a week on the project, including on Sept. 11 when veterans and local officials helped out and had flags all over the grounds for the anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon/Pennsylania countryside tragedy. They even returned later in the fall to help lay the tongue and groove flooring.
The basement construction was partially funded through the city of Salem Community Housing Improvement Program money.
The dedication always includes a traditional blessing of the house, the presentation of a bible and a painting of the home. Pastor Jan Winnale, of the Columbiana Church of the Nazarene, where Anita attends, handled the invocation, blessing and closing prayer. Loudon described Anita as a "woman of strong faith."
According to Anita, God brought the house her way.
"If it wasn't in His will, I wouldn't have the house today," she said.
She offered a big thank you to all who helped, adding the people at Habitat are "very caring and extremely helpful."
A United Way agency, Habitat is a non-profit worldwide Christian ministry which chooses families through an application process. Habitat for Humanity of Northern Columbiana County is accepting applications now for future homes. For information, visit the Habitat office at 468 Prospect St. or call 330-337-1003.