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Habitat plays Santa for Arnold mom and daughter

| Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008

Kristen Guy hung a wreath outside her Victoria Avenue home Monday morning as a bitter wind swirled snow around her and her 7-year-old daughter, who was battling a fever.

For Guy and her family, it was a beautiful morning.

Guy, 25, and her daughter, Alexandrea, are the beneficiaries of Allegheny Valley Habitat for Humanity's latest project.

Although Guy's two-story, three-bedroom home won't be habitable for another month or so, her family and many volunteers gathered Monday to celebrate the massive effort to rehabilitate the house in a few short months.

It was the first time Guy saw the refurbished front of her home, which featured a new porch, door, windows and paint. A large tarp had covered the porch to permit work during winter weather.

Diane Belitskus, executive director of the Habitat chapter, compared yesterday's celebration to a scaled-down version of the new house revelations on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" television program.

"We don't have a bus, but we had a tarp," said Belitskus.

After Guy hung the wreath and received her keys, the crowd quickly moved inside out of the cold.

Belitskus led tours through the house, pointing out new energy-efficient windows and fresh white walls. The new paint covers patched holes made when insulation was shot between the walls. Basement windows have been replaced with safer, more efficient glass block, and a new Lennox furnace is on the way.

Guy was happy to see the wood trim and staircase remained. Alexandrea, who wasn't feeling well, snoozed on the bottom steps as well-wishers spoke with her mother.

"She likes her room, but she really likes the backyard," Guy said. "She has a Christmas wish for a trampoline, so we're going to hope Santa brings it."

Guy, a single mother who works as an employment specialist for UPMC's senior communities, said she picked up a Habitat application a few years ago but didn't submit it until May 2008.

She never dreamed she'd be a homeowner in less than a year. Nor could she have guessed she'd own a house a block from her parents, Clifford and Christine Guy.

She was living in a small apartment in New Kensington's Parnassus section when she was accepted by Habitat. She since has moved in with her parents to save money.

"This feels wonderful," Guy said as she stood before her living room Christmas tree, clutching a loaf of bread brought by a neighbor. "It's a blessing from God."

When Belitskus learned the house was so close to Guy's parents, she knew it was a sign: "I said, 'Wait a minute, God. I get it. This was meant to be.'"

Belitskus said work on the house, which was donated over the summer, was proceeding slowly and was not slated for completion this year.

The pace picked up considerably when State Farm Insurance announced this fall the Allegheny Valley chapter would receive a $30,000 donation.

Doug Griffith, a spokesman for State Farm's northeastern region, which includes Pennsylvania, said the house became a signature project and the start of a partnership with Habitat that will include projects in each of his region's eight other states.

Griffith said the donation was in honor of State Farm employees, who significantly increased their volunteerism last year.

"As a way to show our appreciation for their efforts, we wanted to give them a really meaningful project," he said.

In addition to the donation, Griffith said more than 80 State Farm employees across the region chipped in 600 hours working on the house since early November.

"It's not the money, it's our people who really made the difference," Griffith said.

"We would not be this far if not for State Farm," said Dave Pakulski, a project supervisor for Allegheny Valley Habitat.

Belitskus agreed. She said it's the second consecutive year volunteers toiled well into the winter to complete a home.

"I wish it were done for the holidays," Belitskus said. "But we're close. We're very close."

Additional Information:

How to help

Diane Belitskus, Allegheny Valley Habitat for Humanity executive director, said her chapter is in need of volunteers; she said the average age of her workers is about 72.

In addition to working at job sites, volunteers also staff ReStore, Habitat's used home goods store that raises money for Habitat homes.

For more information, visit www.habitatav.org or call ReStore at 724-337-8347.

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