By Bill Kirk
---- — It truly is an answer to their prayers.
Osvaldo “Ozzy” Morales, 29, and his wife Vonne, 26, would frequently drive by the house at 98 Andover St. on their way to visit relatives on Dale Street.
For more than a year, students from the Greater Lawrence Technical School toiled on the three-bedroom house, which was being constructed for the Andover Community Trust as its sixth affordable town residence.
“We watched the house for a year,” said Vonne Morales, who is originally from Lawrence but now lives in Salem, N.H., with her husband and children. “We prayed about it. My son (Yandel) would go to day care at our church and tell the other kids that God sent people to build our house.”
Recent converts to Christianity, the family is active in the Granite United Church, a Baptist congregation led by Pastor Courtland Holloway.
This summer, they became the proud owners of that house they had been yearning for.
On the back deck of the new house last Tuesday, Aug. 27, as a soft breeze blew the warm summer air, Holloway made a brief speech to a gathering of about 20 friends, family and Andover Community Trust volunteers and board members.
“This is an amazing community effort,” he said. “This is an awesome dream that has been in the heart of a team. You guys made it happen.”
He added, “A house is just a house. Houses provide a home and I believe this young couple is going to provide a home for their children. A safe haven. What you guys are doing is incredible, pushing through the bureaucracy to make things work.”
The executive director of ACT, Susan Stott, credited the work of the organization’s president, John Pearson, along with clerk Joan Johnson and board members Blake Martin, David Lindsay and Tana Goldberg in uniting the Morales family with the home.
“These houses don’t fill themselves,” Stott said.
Johnson said her board, which includes current occupants of other ACT homes in Andover, had a hard time deciding who to choose from among the six applicants.
The pool was narrowed down to two families, and they were so close that the board decided to have a next-door neighbor on Andover Street pull the winning name out of a hat.
“You were the lucky ones,” she told the Morales family as she handed them a huge, gold key.
Vonne Morales said the couple was “shocked” when they found out they got the house.
“I get emotional when I talk about it,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “I just remember getting down on my knees and thanking God.”
Vonne Morales works part-time in a dentist’s office. Her husband works in manufacturing at Raytheon and also is an assistant wrestling coach at Lawrence High School, helping lead the team to numerous wins in recent years. The couple is active in their church.
Vonne Morales’ mother, Carmen Rivera, said the new house was “perfect” for her daughter’s family because they do so much for others.
“They are perfect together,” she said. “They love their kids. They like to help everybody. They worry about other people, not just themselves. They always give back.”
Pearson, who as an architect designed the three-bedroom home, said the dedication was the completion of years of work by many people, including students from Greater Lawrence Tech, subcontractors and Andover town officials.
“You have joined the Andover community, but you have also joined the Andover Community Trust,” he told the Morales family.
Also in attendance were the owners of some of ACT’s earlier homes, including Raymonda Abouhamad and her daughter, Brooke, who live at the group’s North Street property; Sandra “Sindy” Davila, who lives at 174 River Road; and Kellie Mahoney, who lives at the Cheever Circle house. Abouhamad and Davila are now members of the ACT board.
Originally from Lawrence, Davila, 32, moved into 174 River Road with her children seven years ago. She said it has been a wonderful experience.
“We love this community,” she said. “We’ve been embraced. We love the schools, do sports and have met new friends.”
Since its founding in 1992 by a small group of Andover residents, Andover Community Trust has built six permanently affordable homes for income-eligible families. Based on the strong belief that diversity is an important contributor to vital and livable communities, ACT builds modest three-bedroom homes to meet the needs of eligible households with incomes that are between 60 and 80 percent of the area median income.
The Andover Street project began in 2010 with the purchase of a 1/2-acre lot from the town of Andover at a tax-title auction. The plans were approved by the Andover Board of Appeals in 2011.
ACT is now preparing to move forward with its seventh house, planned for 94 Woburn St. The group will be seeking a special permit for the project from the Zoning Board of Appeals at its meeting next week.
But for now, the Morales family will enjoy being ACT’s newest homeowners.
As they looked around the property, which they hope to occupy in mid-September, Vonne Morales said, “I already have work for my dad.” She pointed to the stairs leading from the back deck to the backyard, which still needs to be landscaped. “My No. one thing is to get a gate right there.”
Just then, a train roared by on the MBTA tracks that run parallel to Andover Street, just a few yards from the back of their property.
“We hang out here a lot,” she said. “We sit here on the deck and talk and look around and say ‘hi’ to the neighbors. They are great.”
Meanwhile, out front, some of the children in attendance had found a toad resting in the dirt near the breezeway between the house and the garage.
A discussion broke out among the children about how and whether to handle the toad. They were admonished by Rivera to just leave the creature alone, and that it would hop back to its home in the woods after everyone had left.
According to Chinese lore, the presence of toads is good luck, meaning that good news, usually wealth-related, would come to the occupants of the home a toad visits.
Seems like it already has.