By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Every day for the last three months, the De Leon family has walked together to the very edge of their lot, where the sparse grass and dusty soil meet the street. They turn around when they get out far enough and stand together, admiring their house for a few minutes.
The marigold-colored house provides a stark contrast to the dusty, brown landscape. They’ve planted a little palm tree out front, but the yard is a work in progress. They are proud and excited, and can hardly wait to move in.
Right now, Jaime and Ofelia and their four children live in a tiny, mint green trailer behind the new yellow house. There’s no bathtub or water heater in the trailer, so they bathe outside in the summer and heat water on the stove for the kids’ baths in the winter. There’s no sink inside, so they carry water in from an outdoor spigot. There are no closets, so their clothes are piled up on tables. All six of them share a bedroom, with half the family in one bed and half in another.
When Buckner staff first met the family, they could see living conditions in the trailer posed a health risk. The roof had a leak and a swath of black mold growing across the ceiling. Vanelly, their 5-year-old daughter, was suffering from allergies and coughing fits. She had an inhaler to manage her symptoms, but Buckner staff knew they needed to treat the root cause.
They started by getting rid of the mold and patching the leak, but the family had long outgrown the cramped trailer. They needed a more permanent solution.
“The De Leon family has many strengths,” said Andrew Trujillo, case manager at the Buckner Community Transformation Center in Peñitas. “They are attentive and involved parents, and they are highly motivated to pursue a better future. They just needed some help along the way.”
Jaime is a seasonal worker in the orange orchards earning $200 to $250 a week working six days. When citrus season ends, he takes odd jobs in construction and money gets even tighter. Ofelia stays at home to take care of the kids, who range in age from 1 to 9.
As Ofelia talked about the family’s struggles, the tears came. She said her children often asked, “When will we have a house where we can run and play? When will we have a bathtub to bathe in like other people?” It tortured her not to be able to give them an answer or provide them with what they wanted and needed.
Things started turning around earlier this year when, through the help of Buckner, Stonegate Church of Midland, Texas, was assigned to work with the family and start construction on a new house in late July. In the meantime, the De Leon family secured a building permit and prepared the foundation of the home with the help of their neighbors.
Volunteers from Stonegate worked together with Jaime and a dozen teenagers from the CTC Youth Leaders to build the structure of the home in fewer than five days. Since then, the family has been waiting for the interior to be finished out.
Stonegate volunteers returned to the Rio Grande Valley in October to install the bathroom, plumbing, water heater, insulation and sheetrock in two of the rooms. The home will be finished and ready to move into in November. For now, the family continues looking forward to the day their dream home will be finished.
“I can’t wrap my mind around how I’ll feel when we move in the new house,” Jaime said. “It’s overwhelming emotion. We can’t even fit it in our minds. We’ve been thinking that the first thing we’ll do after we move in is make a meal and invite all the Buckner team to come over and eat in the new house.”
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