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Holiday family gets fresh start in 'green' Habitat house

HOLIDAY — Tiffany Manuli waited on her new front porch, her eyelashes batting back tears. For the first time in five years, things were getting better. A new life was waiting behind that front door.

All around her were the people who made this happen: volunteers, donors and members of the West Pasco Habitat for Humanity. This was somewhat of a new start for the organization, too, using new materials in its "green" homes.

This isn't the first energy-efficient home for the organization. It has built homes in the past with steel-panel frames and Styrofoam insulation that cut energy costs. But Manuli's home was built with insulated wall and roof panels from Gramatica (owned by former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica, who was also at the dedication), made with cement board and polystyrene insulation. They cost about the same or less than regular walls with sheet rock, said Habitat's executive director, Kobus Applegrijn. The organization paid $15,000 for all of them.

Those, combined with double-insulated doors and windows for $5,000, and a low-speed air conditioner, should make for an average $60-a-month electricity bill, Applegrijn said.

Construction started in September. With electrical work, plumbing and floors donated and about 75 volunteers working on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the house was finished March 14.

On Wednesday, several of those volunteers and donors gathered in the brand new driveway to watch the payoff.

• • •

These past five years were the hardest for Manuli. She saw her mother lose her job then her house after being hit by a drunk driver. She gave birth to two children from men she no longer loves. She lost her own job and her truck. They migrated between apartments and living with Manuli's mom. Then she took her son, Sylis, 3, and daughter, Shylee, 1, to a three-bedroom house where seven family members packed in and some curled up on sofas every night.

When Manuli, 25, started working again, as a telemarketer, a co-worker told her about Habitat. She applied, then spent every Saturday for three years volunteering, helping build other people's houses.

Volunteers are required to put in a minimum of 800 hours of what the organization calls "sweat equity" to become candidates for houses.

She knows Habitat's mantra by heart: "It's a hand up, not a hand out."

The idea of a house kept her going. It's a dream she's had as long as she can remember: To have a barbecue and a place where her kids can play.

"I'm almost there," she said the night before the dedication.

Lately, she had been listening to Miley Cyrus' The Climb, a song about pushing through hardships.

"No matter how many things are thrown in front of me," she said, "I just keep going."

On Wednesday, the last thing standing between Manuli and her new home was a ceremonial red ribbon. To everyone's applause, she snipped it with a pair of orange-handled scissors and stepped through the door.

She left it open as she wandered into the house, down a hallway, past her children's rooms and into her own master bedroom.

Through the open windows, a breeze wafted in and sunlight flooded the floor. She stood in the middle of the room with a new smell and paper-white walls: four blank slates.

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Holiday family gets fresh start in 'green' Habitat house 03/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 9:03pm]
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