For Latiska Whitlock and her three children, Christmas brings an especially exciting gift.
The family of four will move into their new Rock Hill home today, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of York County, a non-profit, Christian-based housing ministry.As of this month, Habitat has built 41 homes in York County in the past several years, and Whitlock's is the newest.
Whitlock and her girls - Labresha Whitlock, 13, Armonie Hicks, 8, and Sakari Hicks, 5 - attended the dedication of their new home Monday evening on Soft Winds Village Drive.
The cold weather didn't take away the big smiles as they stood inside their new home and received the Bible, bread, candle and the house key - symbolic gifts typically given during a Habitat dedication.
"This is truly a great day for me and my family," Whitlock said. "We have accomplished something that we once thought was impossible, and now I am the owner of my own home."She said they plan to have Christmas in their new home.
"The Christmas tree will be the first thing that goes up," she said, laughing. "It's a wonderful Christmas gift."The 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home has been in the works since Sept. 10.
Whitlock and her children had been living on Shurley Street in Rock Hill, but after hearing about the Habitat home-building program, she decided to apply.
"A month or two later, they called and said I was approved," she said. "I was excited. The girls are very excited."
For applicants to qualify, they must have the need for decent housing, the ability to pay the no-interest mortgage and the will to complete 250 hours of "sweat equity" and 12 homeowner-in-progress classes, said Lori Ochsner, a family services volunteer.
During the homeowner-in-progress classes, future homeowners learn about budgeting, mortgages, insurance, escrow accounts and more.
"The focus is to help them become independent and self-sufficient homeowners," she said.
Habitat has helped four families get into homes this year, and Ochsner said they have all been receptive.
"She works very hard," she said of Whitlock, who works at a nursing home. "She understands what a great opportunity it is to get a home.
"As part of the "sweat equity," Whitlock has spent every Saturday since September at the site of her new home, helping put up the walls and siding and doing some carpentry work.
"I learned a lot of stuff," she said. "It was my first time with carpentry work and a lot of things I've never done. ... It's exciting. We met a lot of different people who came in, and it's amazing."
Numerous volunteers worked on Whitlock's home, including Tom Luke, who served as one of the site construction leaders. Luke has been volunteering with Habitat for about 10 years.
"It's just the accomplishment of doing something for somebody and helping provide them with a nice home," he said of why he continues to volunteer.
Workers didn't encounter any obstacles during construction of the Whitlock home, he said.
And any time a volunteer stops in, the construction crew will take the time to teach them how to do a job.
"We've got a great group that work together, and we've been together so long we just rib and kid each other about a lot of stuff," Luke said. "We help teach the folks that show up to volunteer who don't have the skills needed for that day. We teach them what to know first, and then they build."
Robby Moody, construction coordinator with Habitat, said it's been a joy to work on the home.
"Latiska always has a smile on her face," he said, "and it's going to light up this house for a long time."
Whitlock was grateful for the volunteers who helped her Christmas wish come true.
"I just want to thank everyone," she said. "It wouldn't be possible without them."