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Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, Alexandria family gets a home of their own for Christmas

Habitat receives far fewer applications than Christopher Dean thought; generally about 30-60 a year, according to Sara Gronholz, Community Engagement coordinator.

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Madilynn Dean, 9, a fourth grader at Lincoln Elementary School, hangs an ornament on her family's Christmas tree. In the foreground is an ornament made by her mother, Lara Dean, in honor of the family's home purchased through Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County.

The Dean family’s biggest gift this year won’t fit under any Christmas tree.

It’s the chance to finally be in a home of their own for Christmas.

A week ago, the family of five got the keys to their own front door. Parents Christopher, 34, a landscaping foreman, and Lara, 30, who works part-time at Arrowwood, purchased the home from Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County . They closed on it on Monday, Dec. 14, ate their first meal in it cross-legged on the floor on Tuesday, Dec. 15 and spent their first night there on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Madilynn, 9, gets her own bedroom, while Harper, 5 and CoraAnne, 2, share a bedroom.

“I told the girls we’d be in the house before Christmas, so we’ll get to have Christmas in our own home, so that’s awesome,” Lara said.

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They have been running since they closed on it, painting and moving furniture and clothes and toys and all the things a family accumulates over the years.

For years, Deans and their three daughters lived in apartments without any yard, mostly in Glenwood and more recently in Garfield. They were often two-bedroom units above businesses and the neighbors would bang on the walls when their kids were noisy. They brought their children to the park, but wished they had their own yard where the kids could play. They also dreamed about having a dog.

Their new place not only has more than a half acre, but it’s across the street from Lake Latoka, and they hope to get a boat.

“We went from having no room for the longest time to having more room than we know what to do with,” Christopher said.

Owning a home has been one of their long-time goals. When they were first married, they checked with a banker about getting a home loan, but ran into issues because they had no credit record. Neither of them had ever had a credit card and Christopher had always paid cash for his vehicles.

The bank approved a small loan for them, they said, but the only houses in their price range needed too much work.

Meanwhile, Christopher’s grandmother, Helen Dean of Grove Lake in Pope County, kept encouraging them to apply for a Habitat home. She even saved a newspaper article about it for them. But it seemed far-fetched.

“We figured there would be thousands of applicants and we’d never get picked,” Christopher said.

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A couple of years ago, Helen died. The Deans remembered her advice and decided to apply for a Habitat home. To their surprise, they were selected. As it turns out, Habitat receives far fewer applications than he thought; generally about 30-60 a year, according to Sara Gronholz, Community Engagement coordinator.

Approval is based the applicant's housing need, willingness to help build the home and their ability to pay the mortgage. Approval rates have risen in recent year, she said. Most rejected applications are denied because of high debt, and even those applicants can eventually secure a Habitat home if they work to improve their finances.

"There is no waiting list to be approved into our Habitat homeownership program," she said. "As soon as someone is approved, they begin working on sweat equity."

On Friday, Madilynn, 9, danced around on the glossy floor, which is a coated concrete.

"It's so slippery in here!" she called gleefully while twirling.

Madilynn said she was most excited to live in a place where they could get better internet access and get Netflix again.

The girls were all begging for a puppy, and last week, a terrier mix called Titan joined their family. The family has lots of room to run around, with a big hill in the back yard to roll down.

They thanked Habitat profusely, as well as the Habitat mentors who worked with them. They said they appreciated the finance classes Habitat buyers take, and hope to serve as mentors themselves someday to a new Habitat family.

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“They made something that seemed impossible happen for us. They gave us a hand up,” Christopher said. “I would encourage anybody thinking about it to try.”

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