Her 6-year-old son at her side, Ashley Cruz took the microphone and got to the task of thanking the dozens of people gathered in her new backyard.
Six months ago, Cruz said, she "didn't even know how to work a hammer."
These days, the 25-year-old single mom is more than adept at hammering a nail into a wall.
After 225 hours of "sweat equity," Cruz is the new owner of a beautifully rehabilitated two-bedroom house in York City.
The house at 37 W. Jackson St. is the 108th home completed by Habitat for Humanity in York County. The group dedicated the home Tuesday for Cruz and her son, Oundre.
Cruz said she spent part of her childhood in Connecticut and moved to York with her family in 1993.
She'd lived in public housing all her life.
At 19, she became pregnant with Oundre. Hoping to make a better life for her son, Cruz said she pursued training to become a certified phone technician.
That drive to build a better future is also what inspired her to approach Habitat for Humanity, Cruz said.
After seven years of renting, Cruz said she can finally build a stable future for Oundre.
"I do everything for him," she said.
Cruz has always been a go-getter, said her mom, Rosie Torres.
"Whatever she wants, she fights for it," Torres said.
Habitat for Humanity partnered with York College to rehabilitate the house at 37 W. Jackson St. The two groups had also collaborated on a home across the street.
The college's Habitat chapter fundraised and solicited in-kind donations. York College paid for the property at a cost of about $32,000, said Debbie Krout-Althoff, York Habitat's executive director.
The arrangement is dually beneficial, allowing the college to protect campus-adjacent properties from being bought up by landlords who pack students in like sardines, Krout-Althoff said.
But economic realities have made fundraising especially difficult lately, she said.
Kinsley Construction came through in the final months of the project by securing in-kind donations worth nearly $50,000 from smaller companies, Krout-Althoff said.
Cruz said she's grateful for the help from York College and Habitat for Humanity.
"They accepted me with open arms," she said.
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.