December 14, 2013 10:46:50 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The old, sentimental Christmas standards about home have never had more meaning for Tiffany and Terry Boykin of Columbus. Perry Como's "Home for the Holidays" and Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" seem to carry a deeper message this time around.
On Christmas morning, the Boykin family will wake up in a new house, one they have worked hard on, alongside Columbus-Lowndes Habitat for Humanity volunteers. A dedication this afternoon at 2 p.m. marks the conclusion of a year-long process that began with an application and hope. It's no less than a "dream come true" as far as the Boykins and their three children are concerned.
On Dec. 7, Terry and Tiffany and their children walked through the almost-finished house in eastern Lowndes County with Habitat for Humanity executive director Kathy Arinder.
In a small, bare bedroom that will be her very own -- her first -- young Madison Boykin opened louvered closet doors with a flourish and pronounced, "This is where I'm going to put my shoes!" Her arms were extended straight, pointing to brackets that would soon hold shelving at just the right height for a 6-year-old. Big sister Evelyn, 11, and brother Cameron, 9, are excited about their own bedrooms, too. The children have been sharing one in the aging mobile home they will move out of this week.
The family walked from room to room, envisioning out loud where beds, toys or clothing would go. Their voices echoed in the empty house. Empty, except for one single, special thing -- a Christmas tree. The artificial tree and its ornaments date back to Tiffany's childhood.
"We were just so excited, so we went ahead and put it up," explained Tiffany. "We didn't want to put our tree up at the old house -- I wanted the kids to know that this is home. This is going to be our first Christmas in our brand new home, and I wanted them to realize this is all coming true, this is all real."
Raising the future
Construction on the modest 1,300-square-foot house began on Sept. 7. It was an emotional day.
"We probably had 25 to 30 people that day in shifts, and we got all the walls up," said Arinder, recalling early September's oppressive heat. "We've had some of the best volunteers on this project." They have included Terry's employers at True Grit Inc., Tony and Billy Dunser. Arinder also praised First United Methodist Church of Columbus, which partnered to provide funding.
As the walls were raised, Tiffany couldn't hold back tears.
"I think it really sank in. It was a dream come true," she recounted, struggling to put the family's gratitude into words. When the children arrived at the site to see the first day's progress, Terry experienced an intense moment of his own.
"I may have had a little something in my eye," he admitted. "I finally get to give my kids something I didn't have as a child."
Work and reward
The Boykins have worked very hard to accomplish their dream of owning their own home, said Arinder, who has helped build numerous houses since she joined Habitat for Humanity in 2007. This one is the organization's 41st. Habitat's belief is that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. It builds and repairs houses using volunteer labor and donations. Partner families purchase these houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans.
Applicants are first evaluated on three main criteria: need, ability to pay and willingness to partner. Partnering means sweat equity, physically contributing to the building process. The Boykins were more than willing. They invested labor not only in their own house, but also in the Habitat home being built before theirs. An experienced painter by trade, Terry did almost all the painting on his family's new dwelling, and tackled a long list of other tasks, from caulking to installing door knobs and dead bolts.
"Terry doing the painting was a big help," said construction supervisor Scott Swain, a volunteer from Columbus Fire and Rescue. "That probably saved three or four Saturdays." Work on Habitat homes is done on Saturdays.
Tiffany stayed busy, from helping install "hurricane straps" that strengthen roof and frame connections, to trim work and putting plants in the ground. The children acted as clean-up crew.
Home for Christmas
This afternoon's dedication is an opportunity to thank all the volunteers and to bless the house, which the Rev. Raigan Miskelly of First United Methodist Church will do. Tiffany is sure there will be tears of joy as well.
"I have met some pretty amazing people over the past few months," she said. "Before we started this house, I didn't think there were any good, compassionate people out there any more. Boy, was I wrong. People I didn't even know wanted to help us make this dream come true. Not only are these people my friends, they are now my family. I wish I could thank all of them personally, but that could take years!"
For Arinder and the volunteers, the reward is in offering a hand up -- not a handout -- to others, in changing the trajectory of a family's future. Tax deductible donations to Habitat for Humanity from individuals and businesses are critical to the organization's work, as are the mortgage payments partner families make that also help fund the building of the next house. And volunteers willing to lift a hammer are always welcome. To learn more, go to columbushabitat.org, or contact Arinder at 662-329-2501.
For the Boykins, this Christmas will be like no other. As the family stood near the Christmas tree in the empty house a week ago, 9-year-old Cameron looked up at his mother and hugged her. "You love this house, don't you," he said. "I do, too. I want to stay here forever."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.