Courtesy of Janine Zeitlin, The News-Press.
It’s tough to keep a 102-pound swing set secret.
But Jessica Olson is hoping her kids don’t figure out what’s inside the brown box blocking the hall of their cramped duplex until they open the gift in their new home.
The day before Christmas Eve, Olson, 27, hopes to move from her rental on a Lehigh Acres street, where gunshots and sirens are part of the landscape, into a Habitat for Humanity home on a quiet lot next to a church in LaBelle.
“They’ve never had a swing set. I’ve been waiting until I got a better place, my own place,” said Olson, who, with help from relatives, also bought a 140-pound trampoline she is hiding in her bedroom. “It’s stuff I always wanted as a kid.”
Olson is set to close on the home Dec. 20. Moving within three days won’t be easy. She works full-time at a phone support center and is mom to six children, ranging from 1 to 10 years old. It’s important to her to spend the holiday in their new four-bedroom because it is shelter she is proud to provide.
Finally, she has found home.
“It’s the best Christmas ever,” she said. “I’ve been waiting forever for this.”
It’s taken a decade. She couldn’t recall a present even from childhood that approached comparison. She has wanted to own a Habitat home since her 10-year-old was a baby but was denied three times.
One of Habitat’s criteria is that homeowners show they are able to pay the mortgage, said Becky Sanders Lucas, vice president for community outreach at Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. “The last thing we ever want to do is to select a family into the program that is not at the onset set up for success.”
Her need was established. Olson said the rental duplex is in disrepair: its cheap walls are crumbling, the stove and dryer don’t work properly and a hole has opened near the septic tank in the yard.
It’s not the kind of place a father would hope for his daughter and grandchildren. Olson’s father, Robert Olson, primarily raised her. He shared his disapproval before he died in 2013 at the age of 49 due to heart problems, Jessica said.
“He hated it. He didn’t like the area we moved into and condition of the place.”
His death motivated her to work harder to provide a better home.
“If he was here, he would have pushed me to get this,” said Olson. “I know he’d be so proud of me.”
Habitat requires homeowners put in 300 work hours and complete homeowner training classes. Olson met requirements by working on her days off.
“Every extra moment she had she devoted to finishing her requirements,” Sanders Lucas said. “She is not afraid of hard work and that really touched me. She knew she was going to sacrifice a lot to get this house.”
At the Lehigh rental, her daughter shares a room with two brothers. In the new home, the kids will have their own beds and her daughter will have a room of her own. They’ll have space for a table large enough to fit all the kids and her fiancé, the father of her two youngest.
Because she can’t afford furnishings just yet, they won’t have much furniture in their new place but for beds, so she expects her brood will cuddle on blankets on the living room floor to watch holiday specials on Christmas Eve.
Many of Olson’s dreams for their new home center in the yard. She imagines herself bouncing alongside her kids on the trampoline. The kids will have plenty of space to play. Maybe they’ll get a pool someday? Her father, too, will be there in spirit. She plans to spread some of his ashes in a patch of mulch shaped into a heart around a small palm tree.
“I wish he was here so he could see it and celebrate,” Olson said. “He didn’t get to see how happy I am and how far I’ve gotten.”