PITTSFIELD — Leah O'Keefe, 8, stepped with joy into what is her new bedroom, after years in a cramped Pittsfield apartment with no safe place outside to play.
"I have two windows to myself," she said, sweeping her hand across them.
O'Keefe's parents, Susie Barto and Derrick O'Keefe, and Leah's siblings, Sean, 4, and Danica, 2, are one of two families handed the keys to their new home Saturday, as well as gifts and blessings from a Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity community that stretched from a local student tradesman, to dozens of local contractors and other business, to the mayor and local state lawmakers.
After a virtual dedication on Facebook, about 25 organizers and volunteers were on-site for the real live one, as families were nearly speechless over the magnitude of this life-changing event that they themselves also worked to make happen.
The two four-bedroom, two-bath, energy-efficient homes are the product of hundreds of hours of sweat equity from the two families, as well as the power of giving in the Berkshires.
The Barto/O'Keefe home is one of two completed, identical houses dedicated as part of the Gordon-Deming Village, where construction of four units next door is underway on this remediated former gas works site donated by Berkshire Gas Co. 10 years ago.
The dream began 10 years ago with the donation, and it couldn't have come true without a $425,000 MassWorks grant, and City Hall's Department of Community Development and its program manager Justine Dodds, said Carolyn Valli, Habitat's CEO.
It couldn't have come true without 150 volunteers from construction companies and tradesmen who donated time to the project that began in September.
Valli told those assembled that the coronavirus pandemic has made affordable housing more important than ever.
"It's a time when shelter in place took on a magnified meaning," she said. "Two families moving from sub-standard rentals to homes built with love."
On Facebook, Mayor Linda Tyer, as well as Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Sen. Adam Hinds, two Pittsfield lawmakers, echoed this, saying how crucial it is to have a stable, safe home.
The Barto/O'Keefe family knows this all too well. They have struggled with an apartment too small for their growing family, one that worsened the allergies of their youngest, and one where there was no safe outdoor space for play or to ride bikes.
Mieko Kopiec and her daughters, Jessica, 16, and Ashley, 13, will live next door. The family has moved several times, with Kopiec making rental payments she couldn't afford so she could live in safe housing.The single mother works long shifts for Berkshire Extended Care Services, where she has worked for more than six years.
Standing inside her home, with its wood floors and fresh white walls, Kopiec and her daughters are too excited and overwhelmed to speak. The girls, who attend Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, said they will continue to volunteer for Habitat.
Both families have aging parents, and now space to take them in when the time comes. Greylock Federal Credit Unionhas made their mortgage payments even more affordable, and Berkshire Bank and Pittsfield Cooperative Bank also helped the project.
It isn't just the families who have found an anchor through working here. Miguel Estrella, 20, a Pittsfield High School graduate, said that after going from "dead-end job to dead-end job," Pittsfield Community Connection helped him apply for an AmeriCorps program to land on this job site with nine others. He thought it might be another dead end, but something clicked.
"It's crazy," he said. "When I first started this, I could work with other trades, so, it really opened my eyes and gave me a chance to see what I want to do."
He is training to be an electrician, having found that to be his calling. And he started from scratch.
"You can come here with no skills, he said. "I couldn't even read a tape measure when I first got here."
And Estrella said that knowing his work helped this family is deeply gratifying.
Valli said there are five open slots for more AmeriCorps trainees to continue work on the other houses.
In what Habitat calls a Home Builder's Blitz, 45 construction and trade companies joined forces.
Allegrone Construction led the project and said this type of volunteerism is built into its personal and company ethics.
"We asked to be involved and volunteer and give back," said Aaron Singer, project superintendent for Allegrone.
Project Manager Joe Simon, also of Allegrone, said they and the other contractors and tradesmen spent weekends here, and assisted during the week as needed. Simon said some of the smaller firms and tradesmen took a risk to put time into this project.
"They were giving up a lot of time," he said.
And Singer said the beauty of it was how all these companies, which typically compete for jobs, worked side by side.
"It brought everyone together," he said.
Habitat is continuing its mission in other locations. Projects coming soon are on Pittsfield's west side, and in Dalton, Housatonic and Great Barrington.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.