Seven-year-old Oryssa Hudson giggled loudly and then ran through the hallway to show off her new bedroom.
Her new bedroom, in her new house, complete with handpicked hot pink walls.
A few feet away, her father Orson smiled and laughed just as loudly as he watched Oryssa decide where she thought she might place her bed.
The home on North Courtland Avenue is a far cry from the Hudsons’ current situation, where the father and daughter share a one-bedroom cramped apartment that Orson said is about as large as their new living room.
But thanks to Habitat for Humanity of the Kokomo Community, the Hudsons should officially be homeowners by the end of the year.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Orson said. “But I’m glad. I never had a house of my own. I’ve always been in apartments, stayed with people, but to say something is yours is truly a blessing.”
The Hudsons’ new home is the 63rd residence that Habitat for Humanity has built throughout the city over the years, but it was also one of the more challenging builds thanks to COVID-19, site supervisor Chuck Shaffer Jr. said.
“We probably started digging this last November,” he said, “and we got started on the framing around the middle of December. Then it was in April when we had to shut down for a few weeks due to COVID.”
Since the cost of Habitat houses are approximately 40% less than their appraised values, the organization relies heavily on community volunteers because very few projects inside each home are actually contracted out.
“Right now, our volunteer base is down considerably through all this,” Shaffer said, “but it is what it is. We do have a group of about 10 or 15 that show up on a regular basis, and that helps. … But did you hear that little girl giggling in there? That helps out a lot too because she’s pretty excited about her room, and that makes it all worth it.”
One of the volunteers that did show up to work every week was Orson himself, in what Habitat calls “sweat equity hours.”
Sweat equity hours are just one of the many criteria for home ownership, and new Habitat residents must put in at least 250 hours of work before they can officially move in.
Their efforts then act as a down payment on their residence, Shaffer and Habitat liaison Robin Symonds noted.
“Part of it is that they [new and prospective residents] start working with us and learn to do things for themselves,” Symonds said. “It’s an ‘I can do that.’ Our tagline has always been ‘A hand up, not a handout.’ And another part of it also is that we hope they will stay and become volunteers with us in the future too.”
Orson has over 500 sweat equity hours with Habitat now, and he said he appreciates the feeling of ownership that comes with all of that work.
“I’m just excited that I helped build this,” he said, standing in his still unfinished kitchen. “I can say I helped lay the floor. I can say I helped paint or put the wall up over there. I helped put in the crossbeams. I helped shingle the shed a couple weeks ago, and that was the first time I ever shingled something. I know how to shingle now. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I know how to do it.
“It gives me the opportunity that if something goes wrong, I know pretty much how to fix it,” he added. “I won’t have to ‘Ring, ring, ring, hello plumber.’ I can say I probably pretty much can try to do it before calling someone for help.”
But the house that he helped build for his small family also gives Orson something more, he said, and that’s security.
“These are going to be everlasting memories,” he said. “… Every day is going to be a fun day. We’re going to make it happy and loving and joyful. … It’s just going to be a huge blessing for both of us. We’re finally looking forward to a home of our own.”
And the smile spread across Oryssa’s face seemed to agree.