DANVILLE — Candace McNeal says she has much to be thankful for, especially this year.
That's because on Sunday, Habitat for Humanity of Danville officials will hand McNeal and her three children the keys to their new home.
"I feel so blessed," said McNeal, a financial aid counselor at Danville Area Community College. "And I'm just so thankful to Habitat for giving me this opportunity to live the American dream."
Habitat officials will dedicate McNeal's house at 942 Harmon Ave. at 3 p.m. The ceremony is open to the public.
The house build is the organization's 48th project in the Danville area, and the first one that was sponsored by Habitat's ReStore at 121 N. Walnut St. The store, which opened in late July 2010, accepts gently used home furniture, furnishings and other items for resale, and uses the proceeds to help build affordable housing for qualified families.
Habitat broke ground on the 1,450-square-feet ranch-style home in May. It features four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room and a front porch. Lowe's donated a shed for the back yard.
"It's gone pretty quick," Executive Director John Graves said. Between 50 and 60 volunteers, including McNeal and her three sons, worked on the project.
The house is valued at close to $100,000, said Graves, who designed it. However, homeowners receive a 20-year, no-interest loan, so McNeal will pay only about $60,000.
Graves said the organization hopes to build three more houses next year. He secured funding for the 49th project, is raising money for the 50th and is going after grants to finance the 51st.
While officials have an idea where the houses could go, he said, the locations will be determined by the needs of the homeowners.
McNeal, 27, who's also pursuing a master's degree at Eastern Illinois University, said her new home will give her and her three sons — Jamare're, 10; Caveon, 8, and Jamar'rea, 5 — some much needed elbow room. Last year, they moved in with her dad after he had a stroke so that she could care for him.
"They're so excited to move in. They're not going to be stepping on each others' toes," said McNeal, adding each son got to choose the color of his bedroom walls. Jamare're, a Green Bay Packers fan, chose green; Caveon, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, chose yellow; and Jamar'rea got tan.
"He didn't care. He's just so happy," said McNeal, who got to select her kitchen cabinets, flooring and other details.
McNeal said she believes that her sons will have a better appreciation of the house, knowing that they helped build it, as will she. As the homeowner, she was required to put in 250 hours of "sweat equity" with Habitat, but she said her boys wanted to help, too.
"When I went to the ReStore to work, they went. When I went to the house, they went, too. They hammered nails, shoveled dirt, carried the wheelbarrow, dumped dirt, along with me. They didn't complain. They were glad to help because they knew what the ending was, that they were going to have a home. Now they're going to be able to look at this house and see that hard work does pay off."