An early Christmas gift for a family

The first thing Fredy Jr., 4, did after entering his house Saturday night was run toward his new and much improved bedroom to see for himself what it looked like. There, he encountered a brand-new bed with a plush Spiderman atop it, newly painted walls (super hero-themed, naturally) and new toys. His delighted scream said it all.

This marked the first time Fredy Jr. had a bed, and it was a night of many firsts for the family. Part of St. Vincent de Paul’s Fresh Perspectives program, which provides home improvement for low-income families, and a service project for the eighth grade class at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, for a whole week the house went through an extreme makeover.

The story begins a couple of months ago, when Fredy Sr. reached out to his local St. Vincent de Paul community pantry (also called "Conferences") after the family had been without water for three weeks. 

Anna Calderon, the Conference President, said the first time SVdP volunteers visited the family, they knew they had to help. The house had no flooring and practically no furniture. Fredy, a carpenter, hadn't had an assignment for weeks and the family was barely getting by. 

"We wanted to help them, but it seemed like a much bigger job than the conference is used to," Anna said. "In the mean time, we brought them food and clothes for the kids, and I gave Fredy work in my yard." 

When he came over, Anna saw Fredy fill out five-gallon containers with water in her yard so his family would have water for the toilets or to wash themselves. It was then Anna called Luis Garcia, SVdP's District 7 president, who was looking for a family to enroll in the Fresh Perspectives program. 

Luis, however, was also hesitant to take on the challenge of the family home. 

"I knew the house had great potential as soon as I saw it," he said, "but when I first saw it, I thought 'I don't know if we even have the capacity to do something this big.'"

Now, the home's potential truly shines: The floors are vinyl or carpet, there is a brand-new dishwasher in place, the family will get to enjoy hot water with a new heater, the windows have all been replaced, the whole house has been repainted, Fredy has a new office, and all the rooms have new or donated furniture. There is even a playroom for the four boys and the backyard now has a huge wooden jungle gym for them. 

Fredy said when the family got the call that they had been chosen for the program, they had a hard time believing it. 

"When we found out, we immediately felt excited and full of strength because we knew it was a gift from God," he said. 

He was the only person in his family to see the house while it was being remodeled because he worked alongside volunteers to make it happen. Still, it was as much a surprise to him as it was to his wife, Leticia, and to his four boys when they walked in and saw the final product. 

"I have no words," he said. "I would just like to say that as soon as we have the resources to do so, we would like to help a family like so many people have helped us." 

Jaryd Shield, our Fresh Perspectives coordinator, said this had been one of biggest and most extensive projects the program had ever completed. Watching first-hand the family's reaction was great, he said, but knowing they will have a home to call their own is better. 

"I think working with volunteers is my favorite part of the program," he said. "They get to do something out of the ordinary and pretty much transform a house into a home. Now, the family really has a place for the kids to grow up in." 

When the project began, the plans did not include redoing the floors or working on the backyard at all. That all changed once St. Thomas the Apostle's 8th-grade class joined in. 

Stacey Kelly's daughter Bridget is in charge of Christian Outreach for Student Council at the school, and Debbie McGuire's daughter Maggie is in charge of the same for the National Junior Honor Society. The pair spearheaded the project for their daughters and the rest of the class. 

"The eighth-graders wanted to do a big project," Stacey said. "So here we are!"

Stacey, Debbie and the rest of the parents were able to get many local companies to make generous donations: Dorn Homes installed new windows, vinyl flooring and carpets, two security doors and a new bathroom door; Maloney Plumbing donated various plumbing services as well as a new hot water heater and installed it; Sleep America donated all new beds; Granite Express donated all the rock for the front yard; Western Sod donated sod for a small area in the backyard and CertaPro Paint donated paint for the interior of the house. 

"We started with a home that needed new flooring, paint and furniture. The parents of our school really came together to make this all come to life," Debbie said. "We wanted this to be a project for our kids to ultimately benefite their kids."

The students raised funds, collected furniture, toys and books and two parents adopted each room, carefully planned its design and decorated it. 

Debbie said it was truly a community effort because everyone reached out to anyone they knew and thought they could help out. 

"Seeing the transformation was pretty amazing," she said, "but seeing the boys come in and looking at their new house was just the best." 

By the time most volunteers had left on Saturday night, Leticia stood in her new backyard and looked at a rainbow that had formed in the cloudy sky. She said her family had never felt so blessed before.

"When it all started, I kept looking at the people who were coming in to look at the house and plan the project and I still felt like it wasn't real," she said. "When we left last week to go stay at a hotel and I saw the empty house, I told my sons 'Take a good look because next time we see it, everything will be so different.' And it is! I'm just speechless."