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Carolyn Valli, left, executive director of the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, hands Bonnie Hayden, right, and her sons Robert, center left, and Andrew, center. keys to their new home.

PITTSFIELD -- Doctors told Bonnie Hayden she wouldn't live past the age of 18. Hayden, of Pittsfield, is now 50, and though she struggles with rheumatoid arthritis, her life just got a little easier thanks to a new home built for the family by the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

The Pittsfield home was built through a combination of donated time and labor on the part of community volunteers, along with materials bought from local businesses.The property was donated by the city of Pittsfield for one dollar and is valued at $130,000, with the cost of the home estimated at $100,000. Hayden will have to pay of 80 percent of the mortgage at zero percent interest, with Habitat for Humanity financing the rest.

"I think I'm numb," Hayden said on Saturday following the grand opening of the home. "It's amazing."

About 50 people, including Habitat for Humanity volunteers, packed inside the house to wish Hayden and her family well.

Her sons, Andrew and Robert, spent an estimated 500 hours working on the construction of the home. They have been volunteering on Habitat for Humanity construction projects for years. Robert is a carpentry student at Taconic High School and Andrew attends Berkshire Community College. The construction was managed by Ron Marcella.

The Dewey Avenue home was built with a ramp that will allow Hayden to use her wheelchair. Hayden's former apartment wasn't handicap accessible.

Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, said Hayden was chosen after meeting the organization's guidelines for income requirements and for living in substandard housing. Applicants must also pass a financial literacy course. Valli said that Hayden lived in an apartment with conditions that included leaks and a landlord who deserted the property.

The construction of the home wasn't without incident -- somebody stole power tools from the construction site in October.

Asked how she was able to beat the odds of rheaumatoid arthritis, Hayden credited "prayer" and her children. Several prayers and blessings were made for Hayden and the home on Saturday.

Numerous testimonials to the Haydens and Habitat for Humanity were made by the family's friends, Habitat for Humanity volunteers, employees, city officials and even Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jake McCandless. References to "hope," a Charles Dickens book and the show "Cheers" were made to illustrate what Hayden had achieved with the help of Habitat for Humanity and the community.

"It's not just building a house," Valli said of her organization's mission. "It's helping people."

"It's a dream come true," Hayden said. "I never thought it would happen."

For Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the next project has already begun on Goodman Lane, Valli said.

The shape of Dewey Avenue could change even more if a planned project by the city to create a greenway on the street comes to fruition, Valli said.

For those looking to get involved in the next Habitat for Humanity project or apply to live in the next home you can contact the organization at (413) 442-3181.

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
nmayberg@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6243