photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock

A single voice yelled out "youth!" followed by a collective "build!"

The sequence was repeated as 25 students in their navy blue T-shirts and sweatshirts gathered around the foundation of a new home.

This was a day for celebration, and all the hands from the Heart of Oregon Corps YouthBuild team, and Sisters Habitat for Humanity were out at North Desert Rose Loop to raise the walls of the future home of the Ayala family.

Silvia Ayala will purchase the home from Sisters Habitat when it is complete at the end of this year. Habitat homes are sold at no profit to families, financed with no-interest mortgages. Ayala and her three children, Silvia, Destiny and Jose, will be the 66th family to be housed through Habitat's homeownership program, and their home is the second home to be built by YouthBuild students from the Heart of Oregon Corps.

"The core value of YouthBuild is community," Andy Walker, YouthBuild construction lead, said during the wall-raising ceremony.

Heart of Oregon Corps (HOC) provides "work, earn, learn" opportunities for Central Oregon youth of all abilities and ethnicities. Founded in 2000, HOC helps young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds earn their way to success. Besides the Habitat home in Sisters, youth from HOC's YouthBuild program are also building a home in Madras that will be available to lease by agricultural worker households in the local community. These homes are providing opportunities for local youth to learn leadership and apply homebuilding skills that will help them gain future employment opportunities - benefiting the youth, their future households, and the communities that they live in.

"Having the Heart of Oregon Corps work in collaboration with Sisters Habitat has enabled us to build more houses a year, and that's a plus considering how difficult it is to find affordable housing for many families in our town. We are looking forward to renewing the contract over the next two years," Sisters Habitat Construction Manager Darleene Snider said.

Ayala applied for the Habitat homeownership program in 2016, and after she was accepted she has been working on sweat-equity hours by working at the Thrift Store. All future homeowners complete 500 hours of work before moving into their home. These hours are earned by working at the stores, attending classes and working at the actual home.

Through interpreter and family partner Suriana Iverson, Ayala told the crowd how proud and grateful she was and thankful to the students, volunteers and her employer, Greg Willitts. She and her children have lived in Sisters for nearly 10 years and she is employed at FivePine Lodge and Conference Center.

"Today we will create the exterior box that will become a home," Walker said.

Walker gathered the students and other supporters together, making sure everyone had hard hats and gave step-by-step directions for raising the walls. Within 20 minutes, all exterior walls were up and a loud "YouthBuild" cheer was heard.