A home for the holidays
Owing to help from volunteers across the country, a Southern Oregon family who lost everything in the Almeda Fire two years ago is moving to a better place — and just in time for Christmas.
Dozens in the community flocked to a driveway in south Medford Monday afternoon to welcome Hector and Priscilla Rodriguez — and their five children, Jose, 17; Romelia, 16; Brissia, 14; Pedro, 8; and Mateo, 6 — to their new home built with help from Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity.
The blue home on Northridge Terrace — the 76th built with help from the nonprofit — sits atop property that was scorched in the Almeda Fire and is the third Habitat home completed to benefit a family displaced in the disaster.
Programs and Operations Director Brandon Thoms kicked off the ceremony with a statement prepared by Executive Director Denise James welcoming the family to their new home.
“The journey you have traveled since that day in September is now over,” James said. “You are home.”
The Rodriguez family lost their Phoenix trailer and everything inside on Sept. 8, 2020. Jose Rodriguez told the crowd that immediately after the fire, he never would have imagined his family would “have an opportunity like this.”
“I’m just very grateful that I get to call this a home with my family,” Jose Rodriguez told the crowd.
Hector Rodriguez was much more interested in looking forward to the brighter days ahead for him and his family.
“I just want to focus on the good things,” Hector said. “We want to leave everything behind and just move forward.”
He shed tears of gratitude as he thanked the numerous volunteers who helped him.
“If any of you have ever thought or wondered or asked God what is your purpose in being here? This is your purpose. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Hector said with the help of a translator while waving his hand at his new home.
Pedro had the honor of cutting the ribbon on the front door, and young Mateo unlocked their front door for the first time. Hector said he planned to start moving his family in immediately after the housewarming celebration.
Until two weeks ago, Priscilla Rodriguez believed her family wouldn’t move into their house until after the new year.
“It’s been 10 months of construction, so it felt like this forever thing,” Priscilla said.
Their daughters want everything ready in the new home in time for Christmas, which Priscilla called “the perfect gift for our family.”
Monday’s ceremony and ribbon-cutting followed years of cramped quarters in FEMA trailers.
Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity had help from the nonprofit investment organization Thrivent International in the construction of the Rodriguez family’s home, according to Thoms. The roughly seven groups of volunteers who’ve helped build homes for fire survivors have hailed from the states of New York, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona.
“When we say all across the nation we do truly mean all across the nation,” Thoms said, adding that Thrivent International has committed to supporting the local Habitat for Humanity’s Almeda wildfire recovery program for at least the next year and a half.
The Rodriguez family’s home took roughly 1,700 volunteer hours to complete and involved 89 volunteers.
“That’s an incredible feat that just goes to show what can be done when we all work together,” Thoms said.
Habitat for Humanity families put in sweat equity and must pay property taxes, homeowners insurance and their no-interest mortgage that helps the local nonprofit build more affordable homes for qualified families.
“This is not the housing lottery,” Thoms said. “Our families work so hard — this is a hand up, not a handout.”
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