"It's a very special group here," said Roy Cooper, speaking to the mob of volunteers filling the recently completed home, where everyone took off their shoes to keep the rich wood flooring clean.
"People who did not know us came to help us. ... I can never repay these people." But "the greatest gift is my new extended family," he continued, standing alongside wife Brenda and their children Jennifer, Cody, and Shawna.
"It's been a very enjoyable experience adding the Cooper family to our Habitat family," John Cilio, a core volunteer, said.
The Cooper home was the 14th build for the local Habitat affiliate, and the effort involved 130 volunteers contributing nearly 3,000 hours.
The organization will now turn to finding a family in need of affordable housing for their next construction on Jennifer Lane beginning this spring. Partnering families contribute their own time to the build and receive interest-free mortgages with a term of 20 to 30 years.
Ground was broken on the first of 22 planned homes in the Jennifer Lane neighborhood in late 2011, with half of the new development involving a partnering private firm, who has agreed to sell those homes at cost - or no profit - to people who make no more that 125 percent of the median income for Bennington County.
"This is just one house," local Habitat Executive Director Richard Malley said during the afternoon dedication. "We have many more houses to build."
Like all Habitat construction, the Cooper residence involved many hands, and that fact was readily demonstrated by Sunday's crowd of well-wishers. Nineteen "core volunteers" contributed 15 or more hours of work, while contributing contractors and organizations actively taking part included groups from Castleton State College, Stratton Mountain School, Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce, Village Tile, Orvis, Vermont Country Store, Berkshire Bank, Merchants Bank, "and the list goes on and on."
Randy and Michelle Lewis, the first Habitat family on Jennifer Lane, welcomed their next door neighbors Sunday and, as luck would have it, the two families are related: Randy and Brenda are brother and sister.
"We're super excited to have you guys as our neighbors," Michelle Lewis said. "Welcome to the neighborhood."
"(The Coopers) are one of the most ideal families we could possibly choose," said Ginny Baier, who sits on Habitat's family selection and support committee. "Caring, committed, creative, competent, and compatible people."
Construction on the Cooper's home began last August. The international Habitat organization hopes to help 100,000 families worldwide in 2013.
On Wednesday, the Vermont Country Store announced that it has committed $100,000 to Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity to support the development of its project on Jennifer Lane in Manchester.
The commitment will be made over a five-year period, which provides $20,000 per year for each of the next five homes that will be built as part of a 22-home affordable housing development already under way.
The press statement outlining this announcement can be read on The Journal's website at www.manchesterjournal.com.