Aaron, Elsie and Junior Fleming are especially excited about Christmas this year. They're going to be celebrating the holiday in their new home.
The Flemings were the recipients of this year's Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity home, built in Kenai.
"I didn't think I was going to get it because nothing like this happens to me," said single dad Collins Fleming, 39. "It really hasn't sunk in that this is mine yet."
And thanks to donations from local organizations of furniture and decorations, and even Christmas presents from the school bus barn, the Flemings are feeling right at home.
Fleming said the bus barn decided to donate presents to his family in part due to his son, Aaron, 8, who has Down syndrome.
"My son has been the angel of everything," Fleming said. "Aaron melts all the bus drivers' hearts."
"The kids will have the best Christmas ever," he added.
And Elsie, 6, seems to agree.
"Christmas is fun and my daddy is going to buy us presents," she said.
On Wednesday night, the family ate together around their donated kitchen table. After Fleming got off work as an in-home care provider, he picked up his young children from the baby sitter. Junior, 9, Elsie, and Aaron go to Mountain View Elementary.
At home, the children jetted around the house, playing with their two new rottweiler and husky mix puppies -- Samson and Goliath -- and pushing each other in banana chairs.
Their only chore was to clean their rooms before they could play video games and wait for dad to finish making minestrone soup for dinner.
And Fleming would not have it any other way.
"It's just such a big relief having your own place and letting the kids be themselves," he said. "I want them to enjoy themselves and be themselves and just have fun."
Fleming said he was unemployed for three months after having to leave his job as a cook on the North Slope to fight for the custody of his children from his allegedly abusive ex-spouse.
Tim and Raelynne Murphy of Kenai took in Fleming and his children while he was trying to get back on his feet, he said.
The Murphys received a Habitat home themselves in 2007 and they were the ones who encouraged Fleming to apply for housing.
"The amount of help that I've received is unbelievable," Fleming said. "I've never seen human hearts reach out like this."
According to Sharon Radtke, this is the 16th house the Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity has completed.
Habitat is an international, non-profit organization that provides safe and affordable housing for people living in unsafe conditions. The organization loans the money needed to build the house for its recipients interest free, but recipients are expected to make monthly payments to Habitat, similar to a mortgage.
"It's important that people understand it isn't a 'give-me' program, it's a helping hand," Radtke said. "These people purchase their homes."
The families selected to receive a Habitat home are vetted through an application process that weighs need and ability to pay.
The recipient must also put in 500 "sweat equity" hours and help build the home, she said.
"I was here everyday when I could," Fleming said.
But the biggest help came in a crew of volunteers from the Lower 48 and Canada who helped the framing and building go faster.
Even though Habitat uses a standard housing design, Fleming was able to make a few customizations. He picked the four bedroom-one bath model of the 1,200 square foot home so each of his children could have their own room. He said he also chose the outside light blue paint color because it's warm and inviting.
The Flemings were the only family in two years to receive a Habitat home.
Radtke said the organization could not build last year because it did not have enough money. And it might not have enough money next year either.
In January the local Habitat board will meet to decide if it will build this year or skip a year.
"Its like everybody else, everybody is hurting right now," she said.
But the Flemings are safe, and at home.
As Elsie swings around Samson and Junior and Aaron play-wrestle on the floor, Fleming seems at peace this holiday season.
"I have everything I want in life," he said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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