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Island generosity puts family in Habitat home for the holiday

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of December 27, 2012)
Photo: Luis and Elvira Areyan will spend their first Christmas in their new Habitat home.

Her cheeks puff and her lips part when Elvira Narez Areyan begins the tour of her home. Stew comes to a boil on the pristine stovetop, filling the house with a welcome and warming feeling of home.

Continuing to smile, Narez Areyan walks down the hall pausing at each of the four bedrooms before heading back through the living and dining area to give a tour of the front and side gardens.

 “Contento,” she says.

She has joy.

The light green house on Grace Avenue in Fellsmere is covered in bright Christmas lights.  Small lion heads and bright yellow and green over-sized concrete pineapples that her husband Luis Areyan Arroyo used to make when he first arrived in Indian River County for a job at a concrete fabricating company have found their spots on the family’s front porch and yard.

Nancy Areyan Narez, Elvira and Luis’ 20-year-old daughter, joins the couple on the front porch as they discuss how beautifully their flowers and bushes are coming along.

The home, the family’s home on Grace Avenue, is a far cry from home the family knew in Mexico. It’s  also very different from the cramped, two-bedroom, one bath home one they knew down the street in Fellsmere where they spent nearly every penny they earned on rent for the last several years.

With rent costing $770, Areyan Arroyo said there was no way for the family to ever get ahead. Now, their Grace Avenue mortgage is $450.

This home, as many throughout Habitat for Humanity’s Grace Meadows project, was built largely through the generosity of barrier island residents, who have given some $14 million to Indian River County’s Habitat for Humanity programs.

John’s Island money built Luis and Elvira’s home.

“We are very happy and thankful to the people of John’s Island that donated and helped us to be here today,” Areyan Arroyo said.

Through Habitat, the family of six now lives, as Areyan Arroyo proudly says, “el sueño Americano.”  The American Dream.

Through the end of June, Habitat’s fiscal year, the communities in the Moorings,  John’s Island, Sea Oaks, Orchid, Riomar and Grand Harbor on the mainland,  have funded 140 Habitat homes – just one shy of half all Habitat homes in the county. Eleven more of the 22 homes planned to be built through next June will be because of the generosity of the men and women in these communities.

“God bless them,” said Andy Bowler, president and chief executive officer of the local Habitat for Humanity program. “They are blessing so many families here on the other side of the bridge.”

For five of six years, the generosity of the island communities and Grand Harbor has helped the local Habitat program land top billing in the mid-size category by Habitat for Humanity International,  Bowler said.

Celena Prieto, a housekeeper for the Goodes family of John’s Island, will get a hammer in January when Habitat begins construction of her  home.  On her off time, Prieto has volunteered to help build other Habitat homes.

“She is so excited,” said Nancy Goodes.  “She and her husband work so very hard,”

Goodes also has been known to grab a hammer and help build Habitat homes. “I really like to get out there and do it,” she said.

She and scores of islanders have also done framing, laid flooring, installed kitchen and bathroom cabinets – built other peoples’ houses with their own hands.

Goodes got involved when she and her husband sat down with France Kenyon, an islander who used to head up the local Habitat board.

Kenyon explained the need for affordable housing in Indian River County and the couple took out their checkbook to purchase a large piece of land. 

Not long after, over a Thanksgiving holiday, the Goodes took their family to see a Habitat project.

From that point on, Goodes’ stepdaughter Melanie Caceres of Baltimore has used money from the Goodes Family Foundation to help build other Habitat here.

The memories of the many dedications that Goodes has gone to when the keys are handed over to families are ones she said she will always treasure.

“They are life-long dreams,” Goodes said. “How else can they afford to buy a home? I love going to those (dedications) and seeing how much it means to the people when they get that key and the see the efforts of all of their hard work. Then, they finally open that door – you cannot help but shed a tear. It is the best day.”

Construction for Luis and Elvira’s home began at the start of the year and was dedicated to the family in April.  By June, the family moved in and quickly got to work applying personal touches in the garden areas.  Recently, they added the Christmas decorations.

“We are so happy to be in our house for Christmas,” Nancy Areyan Narez said.