By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — 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 over a year, students from the Greater Lawrence Technical School toiled on the three-bedroom home, which was being constructed for the Andover Community Trust as an affordable home.
“We watched the house for a year,” said Vonne, 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 daycare 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.
On the back deck of the new house Tuesday evening, 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.
“These houses don’t fill themselves,” Stott said.
Johnson, in her remarks, noted that the 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 a name out of a hat.
“You were the lucky ones,” she said, as she handed them a huge, gold key.
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 GLTS, subcontractors and officials with the town of Andover.
“You have joined the Andover community,” he said, “but you have also joined the Andover Community Trust.”
Also in attendance were other homeowners who are now board members, including Raymonda Abouhamad and her daughter Brooke, who live at the group’s North Street property, and Sandra ‘Sindy’ Davila, who lives at 174 River Road. Also in attendance was Kellie Mahoney, who lives at the Cheever Circle house.
Davila, 32, originally from Lawrence, said she moved into 174 River Road seven years ago with her children, and that 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.”
Vonne’s mother, Carmen Rivera, said the new house was “perfect for them” 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.”
Ozzy, who works in manufacturing at Raytheon, said he and his wife are active in their church. He also is an assistant wrestling coach at Lawrence High School, helping lead the team to numerous wins in recent years.
When they found out they got the house, they were “shocked,” said Vonne, who works part-time in a dentist’s office.
“I get emotional when I talk about it,” she said, dabbing her eyes. “I just remember getting down on my knees and thanking God.”
As they looked around the property, which they hope to occupy in mid-September, she 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 number one thing is to get a gate right there.”
Just then, a train roared by on 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 are good luck, meaning that good news, usually wealth-related, would come to the occupants of the home the toad visits.
Seems like it already has.