With an hour and a half to go before the Hailu-McIver family was to come home, there was still a lot to do in the Newton Street home Spirit of Giving volunteers were renovating, but the dozen or so gathered there Saturday worked tirelessly to get it all done.
The house was a beehive of activity Saturday, with volunteers painting, moving furniture, stocking cabinets, and decorating as the final hours of the group’s largest undertaking wound down.
The effort to rehabilitate the rundown house was spearheaded by the Spirit of Giving, a nonprofit group started 13 years ago by local emergency service agencies.
Every year, Spirit of Giving holds a holiday campaign, providing toys, clothing and other donations to local families in need. This year, the organization went even further by renovating an entire house.
“We just had to get in here; we had to help this family,” said David Lowell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Hunter’s Ambulance. And while Spirit of Giving has received and doled out some large donations in the past, “We’ve never done anything to this scale,” Lowell said.
The family, nominated by a third party for the Spirit of Giving, had been forced to leave the home due to its condition. Teams of volunteers began working on the house in mid-December, replacing and repairing things from the top down.
Volunteers from the city’s building and housing department, from its police and fire departments, and a host of private contractors, worked for three weeks to repair a leaky roof, patch holes in the walls, fix electrical and plumbing issues, build a new driveway and walkway, and furnish the house.
Local companies, including LaRosa Construction; RTS Lawncare LLC; Lynch Landscaping, LLC; Haberli Electric; the Carabetta Companies; Fiderio and Sons; Northside Self Storage; and Creative Carpeting all donated materials and services to the project, and Roberts Chrysler Dodge Ram donated a van to the family, Lowell said.
“Throughout the whole project? We probably had 100 volunteers,” Lowell said. “And that might be low.”
Others, like Tara Ellef of Southington, helped turn the building into a home.
Ellef, who is president of the national clothing store Soft Surroundings, leveraged her considerable connections to decorate and furnish the house, Lowell said.
New couches, chairs, tables, rugs, cabinets, beds and bed frames, pillows, and curtains among other things filled the rooms. Ellef said much of the furniture and accouterments were donated by Soft Surrounding in some capacity.
And all of it — the repairing, the decorating, the moving, and painting — led up to a single moment Saturday when at last the Hailu-McIvers family saw their finished home for the first time.
Zima Hailu and her four children arrived at their Newton Street home in a white stretch limo (the ride donated by Hunter Limousines, headed by Donna Hunter) while the crew of volunteers waited for them to step in. The electricity of anticipation buzzed through the living room.
The five of them, flanked by extended family, let out shouts of awe and incredulous laughter as they walked into the home. Cheers erupted from both volunteers and family members, and it was hard to tell which of the two groups was more joyous.
Momentarily overcome by emotion, Hailu stood in the entryway to her new home while volunteers offered congratulatory hugs and welcomed her home.
Each room the family entered elicited more shouts of excitement, and they paused briefly in their renovated kitchen to enjoy some brownies that had been put out by volunteers before taking a tour of the upstairs.
As Emanuel McIver, 12, and his brother Joshua McIver, 9, ran upstairs to see their new room, their cheers could be heard throughout the house. Kyla McIver, 15; Solomon McIver, 20; and Hailu were likewise impressed by their new rooms.
“I feel like I’m still dreaming,” Hailu said afterward, standing in her new dining room. “It’s overwhelming, e bvery room is a dream.”
For Ellef and Lowell, the experience was equally moving.
“There really aren’t words to describe the feeling,” Lowell said. “This family has an opportunity ahead of them now, and the expressions on their faces, the emotions they felt to come into a house that so many people worked to make a home for them, that just says it all.”
The effort was so successful, Lowell said Spirit of Giving is planning to undertake a similar project yearly. He and other organizers are working out the details of how families would apply or be referred for consideration, he said.
Ellef said the hard work was worth it.
“This is really like a new home. All the work and effort everyone put into this for the past three weeks just pales in comparison to the feeling of being able to bring a family such incredible joy,” she said.
“I don’t know how I can ever thank everyone,” Hailu said. “It’s beautiful. This is a new home and a new life.”
Note: O&G volunteers helped with the construction as well as making a donation of materials to build a walkway.