Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed their Bay St. Louis, Miss., trailer home more than two years ago, Robin Leitz and her 17-year-old daughter, Danielle Leitz, have lived in a cramped FEMA trailer. But now — just in time for the holidays — the Leitzes moved into their brand new home, which Habitat for Humanity volunteers helped build for them.
"It's been a long, tough road," Robin said. "But with all these people who have helped me, who I really appreciate helping me and Danielle get into this house, it's a major blessing."
The women lighted up at the sheer thought of how they would decorate their new home, which the charity provided for them free of charge. Danielle said she planned to decorate her bedroom with butterfly wallpaper because butterflies are free.
The Leitzes applied last spring for one the many homes that volunteers planned to build in Bay St. Louis.
"Two months later, I found out I qualified," Robin said. "[I] celebrated that day."
After losing nearly everything they owned in Katrina and the storm's aftermath, the women's emotions remain raw.
"There was like five-and-a half feet of water in the trailer when we got home. And things were still floating around," Robin said. "It was just very ugly."
The idea of moving from what they saw merely as shelter to a place they could call home had massive appeal for the Leitzes.
"These campers will never be anybody's home, I don't think," Robin said.
But she said their new house, which they helped build from the ground up along with several volunteers, felt like home even before they put in the first piece of furniture.
"I see a home. But I also see Mary and Holly and Misty and Dan and everybody that worked here on my home," she said.
The volunteers spent months crafting the residence, including a volunteer named Holly, who had spent a year and a half on the project and put together 50 homes during that time.
"You can home and say, 'Wow. I really made a difference in this world ... I gave someone a home,'" said another volunteer named Christine.
The volunteers' charity has touched the Leitzes' hearts.
"It was cool. My house got built," Danielle said.