Elizabeth Gamble stared at the keys dangling from a yellow ribbon. She approached the front door, slid the keys into the lock and opened her new three-bedroom, two-bath home. This was an empty lot along 28th Avenue N when the single mom of two boys applied for help from Habitat for Humanity in February.
On Wednesday, just in time for Thanksgiving, the house was complete. During a ceremony by Habitat for Humanity, Gamble was handed the keys.
"Words can hardly describe how I feel right now," she said.
Gamble and her sons, Jonathan, 17, and Javontae, 11, lived in a two-bedroom apartment for the past four years. The boys shared a room. She said the family developed allergies from the old walls.
"The kids were constantly sick," Gamble said. "It was a place for us to live, but it wasn't a home."
A close friend bought a home through Habitat for Humanity, so Gamble decided to sign up.
Before she could become eligible to have her own home, she helped build other houses that one day would belong to families like hers. With help from loved ones, the clerical assistant clocked about 250 hours.
Pinellas Habitat home candidates attend 13 ownership classes, complete 250 to 350 sweat equity hours, and save for closing costs and the first year's insurance. They receive a no-interest, 25- to 35-year mortgage.
Last year in Pinellas, Habitat for Humanity built 26 homes, said vice president of development Steve Lightburn. So far this fiscal year, nearly 10 have been completed.
Among them is Gamble's home. In August, she and other volunteers, many of them friends and family members, began to build.
Jonathan painted the walls and helped install floor tiles and baseboards. Javontae cut the grass.
On Wednesday morning, about 20 Habitat for Humanity workers and Gamble's loved ones stood outside the olive green home. Small bushes and purple flowers dotted the front yard.
During a prayer, Gamble lowered her head and grinned. Javontae, with eyes closed, rested his head on his mom and smiled.
Gamble received her first mail, an envelope filled with Valpak coupons. She was handed a Bible, flowers and a welcome mat that she placed outside her front door.
Nathalie Hernandez, a recent contestant on NBC's The Voice, performed two songs. It was the Dunedin teen's second time singing at a Habitat for Humanity home dedication.
When Gamble opened the front door, her sons and loved ones bolted inside.
The house smelled new; the walls were white. Sunlight spilled onto the beige tile floor from the living room windows. Wood cabinets lined the kitchen walls.
Jonathan and Javontae sprinted to their new rooms. They will no longer have to share bunk beds.
"It's kind of wonderful to have my own room," Jonathan said.
Javontae explored the rest of the home. He opened and closed the lid of a toilet seat, still covered in clear plastic. He pulled up the door of the garage in back.
Gamble slowly walked from room to room as loved ones hugged and congratulated her. One of her first stops was her bedroom.
She recently bought new bedroom sets for herself and the boys. The family moved in that afternoon.
Family and friends are coming over with food to celebrate Thanksgiving, she said.
"We have so much to give thanks for."
Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8713.