Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'It's like Christmas... times 100'

How a simple gesture led to a Habitat home -- just in time for the holidays

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Home is where the story begins: These are the words that will be placed across the wall of the Van De Kaere family's home this Christmas.

After 17 months of waiting, the family of four finally moved their stacks of boxes from storage into their new Habitat for Humanity home on a bitterly cold winter day just two weeks before Christmas.

The frigid temperatures didn't dampen the anticipation and spirit Shannon Van De Kaere, mom and recipient of a new Habitat home, expressed the day they picked up their moving van and opened the door to their new Elmwood home. After months of delays due to zoning issues beyond their control, Shannon directed her hectic moving-day volunteers with ease. But tears of joy ran clear just days earlier at an intimate key ceremony hosted by Habitat and its sponsors in the crowded kitchen of their McCalman Avenue home.

"We need to start by thanking my dad, who we lost in May 2010, who started the chain of events that led us to this day," she said at the ceremony.

In February of that year, when her father was in the hospital, a dear friend he used to work with, Laury Yallits, would come and visit. One day, Shannon offered him a ride home. At the time, she had no idea her simple act of kindness would fulfil a far-off dream she held in her heart of owning her own home. The drive led to a conversation about his volunteer work with Habitat and he encouraged her to apply. She took his advice and started the process the next day.

"Little did we know then that this was a conversation that would change our lives forever. And for that we are truly thankful."

Five hundred hours of labour and three years later, Shannon, her husband, Rene, and their two children, Brendon, 18, and Cadence, 7, officially became the new home's owners on Dec. 11. Shannon says it will be like a double Christmas for them this year.

Opening boxes from storage they haven't seen in almost two years will feel like one Christmas. The second will be opening their own home to friends and family for the holidays, something they could never have done in the past. The family spent the last year living in cramped quarters in Shannon's mother's home after delays slowed the process in getting into their new home. Prior to that, they lived in a small apartment suite where their living room quarters had to double as a bedroom for Brendon.

"I literally can't put into words how I feel about this. I don't even feel like it's real half the time because of so much excitement. The only way I can explain it to somebody is, basically it's like Christmas before Christmas -- times 100. Not only because we're opening boxes that you don't know what's in them but just the whole thing. I mean, yes it's a home that we're paying for, it's our home, but it's being able to do this at all. This is such an incredible gift for all of us... this is the most exciting day of our lives as a family."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 A1

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Updated on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 7:48 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video

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