Last December, Tee Serrano gave birth to a baby boy. Now she’s laboring alongside a volunteer crew at the North Kenai home where she plans to raise him.
“I want him to have what I didn’t have,” she said. She hopes that all his memories will be in this house on 2nd Street, near Redoubt Avenue.
Someday, she wants him to come home from college and remember the corner where he bumped his head, the other memories of a childhood spent in one bedroom, one yard.
“I want to raise a good young man,” she said.
Construction at the 1,200-square-foot home being built by Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity was called off on Wednesday because of the weather. But early Thursday afternoon, Serrano was busy working on the floor of her house while Teeson was at daycare.
Before work began on the house, Serrano had no construction experience. Step-by-step, seasoned builders who volunteer with the local habitat for humanity organization are showing her the ropes.
“I’m eager to learn and I pick up pretty easy,” Serrano said. “Just a Red Bull and I’m ready to go.”
Thursday, her job was to screw in the plywood base of the floor. Habitat for Humanity building code requires screws, not nails, every six inches.
When one tool gave out, she learned to use another and kept on going.
Measuring the distance between each screw? That was something she already knew how to do.
“Being a hairdresser kind of came into knowing six inches,” she said.
Dave King, the volunteer heading up construction of Serrano’s house, works alongside her many days.
“She does good, she’s a hard worker,” King said. He worked construction in real life until he retired five years ago, he said. Ever since then, he’s been helping with habitat houses.
And she knows the secret to a happy day of work, he said.
“She brings us doughnuts,” King said.
Serrano’s new house requires more than just doughnuts and a willingness to learn.
Habitat for Humanity’s model is a little bit country barn raising, a little bit revolving loan fund.
Serrano is paying for her house partially through sweat equity. She has to put in at least 500 hours of labor while the house is being built. Then she’ll make monthly payments to the organization until she’s paid off the rest of the cost.
Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director Sharon Radtke said each family that receives a house doesn’t have to do all the work on their own to get their sweat equity hours. Serrano has been joined by her stepfather and a close friend, and is hoping more helpers will show up in the coming weeks. One friend is donating hours of daycare while Serrano builds.
“She has good support,” Radtke said.
How long it takes to the build the house will depend on how much help they get, said King, who is heading up the construction.
“Hopefully before it gets cold we can get a house up,” he said.
The official finish date is April 1, Serrano said. But they’re hoping to finish sooner.
Serrano applied for the house last winter. Radtke said the Habitat for Humanity board has a family selection committee that reviewed applications in February and March.
“There’s three main criteria when they’re selected,” Radtke said.
The successful applicant must demonstrate that his or her family needs housing, has some sustainable source of income and is willing and able to put in the sweat equity hours.
“Habitat for Humanity is giving a hand up, not a handout,” Radtke explained.
The organization also does a credit check.
Serrano met all of those criteria. She works at a salon in Soldotna and was willing to learn as much construction as needed to get her house built.
“I want a stable life for my kid,” Serrano said.
This is the 18th year Habitat for Humanity has operated on the central Peninsula, and the 17th house the organization has built, Radtke said.
Serrano’s new house is the second in a row of five lots that the city of Kenai sold the organization for a good price.
The houses have similar floor plans, but they aren’t identical. Hers is turned sideways, and has one fewer bedroom than the one next door.
She’s excited for her son to grow up playing in the big back yard the sideways house will afford.
“My baby’s gonna have a field day,” she said.
Eventually, the money that Serrano pays back to the organization will help build houses down the street from her own. Right now, her neighbors are helping build her house.
Next year, Serrano will be a building expert. She’ll pass that knowledge on to her neighbors.
“I’ll be like ‘hey, I got this,’” she said.
She’s already an expert on flooring. The boards get glued down and hammered in tight so they fit snugly.
“I go in and screw down the corners and screw all those in,” she said.
Despite Serrano’s hard work, building a house is no easy feat.
“We got a really late start this year because we didn’t know if we were going to have enough money to build,” Radtke said.
The organization is reliant on donations and income from past houses to fund the purchase of each new house. Right now, nine or 10 families are paying back their homes each month, Radtke said. The organization also has fundraisers and recieves donations from individuals and businesses.
There are no labor costs because the organization is completely volunteer-based.
Habitat volunteers are happy to help teach newcomers, so people don’t have to be experienced builders to lend a hand, Serrano said.
It’s a little hard to coordinate volunteers because the work schedule depends on factors that are out of her control — out of anyone’s control — but she has been posting on Facebook and checking in every time she’s at the house so people know they can come help.
And as long as the materials for the walls show up, Saturday will be a big work day.
“Everybody’s welcome,” she said.
For now, Serrano’s house is a foundation and floor-in-progress. Materials and labor dependent, the walls are going up this weekend.
The house is all ready for city water and sewer, King said. A plumber will help finish the house after the walls and roof are up. Then the house has to pass a city building inspection before Serrano and her son can move in, she said.
Eventually, the house will be gray with white trim and a red door, Serrano said.
She’s going to decorate her son’s room in a “Cars” theme.
Basic appliances, including a stove and refrigerator, are donated and come with the house. Habitat will also let her choose a washer, dryer and dishwasher, which will get added to the cost of her loan. Most of the rest of the furniture, Serrano plans to buy herself.
“My goal is to just start fresh,” she said. That might mean chilling on bean bag chairs for a while, she said, but she wants to buy new stuff as she is able.
“I’m very excited,” she said more than once. “God is good.”