By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

Many people feel cheerful this time of year, but for Barbara Bennett and her family, the holiday season is much sweeter now that they have their own home.

Bennett was given the keys to her new home Saturday afternoon during a dedication ceremony in the living room. Having those keys in her hand gave her a feeling of joy, she said.

"Thank y'all," she said, flashing a wide smile.

Though her family and volunteers began moving items into the house immediately following the ceremony, Bennett said she would be spending Christmas at her mother's house instead.

The project started in March, when the owner of the property on Anna Lee Drive donated it to the Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity, said Gene Bauer, executive director of the organization. The former owner had rented out the home on the lot, but it burned down in February. The city tore down what was left of the building and construction started in June.

Volunteers came from across the community, including wives of recently deployed Fort Hood soldiers and more than 20 troops from the 62nd Engineer Battalion, 64th Corps Support Group, 13th Sustainment Command.

Suzy Gallego, wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Jay Gallego, senior noncommissioned officer of the 13th Sustainment Command's 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, volunteered to work on the house in June and quickly a good friend of Bennett's.

Gallego and Bennett have been almost inseparable, Gallego said. The two have gone to dinner, hung out at Gallego's house and picked out paint together, she said.

"It's awesome," Gallego said of her friend's new home. "She deserves to be in here. It was a long time coming."

Gallego and the other wives volunteered to help take their minds off of their husbands' deployments, she said, and they had a ball.

The soldier volunteers ranged from equipment operators to carpenters and mechanics, and Bennett gave them all a big "thumbs up" during the dedication ceremony.

The project helped the soldiers gain construction experience and allowed them to repay the community, said platoon leader 1st Lt. Tessa Hazlett. The community gives a lot to Fort Hood and volunteering was just one way of giving back, said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Yount, a platoon sergeant.

Hazlett said the soldiers enjoyed seeing each stage of construction and were involved with the project for five months – ever since the frame went up.

During the dedication ceremony, Bennett pointed out several volunteers who went above and beyond to help. She brought Gallego and Spc. Brian LaTore forward and put her arms around them as she talked about their contributions to the home.

LaTore, a general construction equipment operator, came to help during the unit's regular shifts, but volunteered on Saturdays.

"It's no big deal," he said Saturday afternoon while standing in Bennett's empty living room. Regardless, he would "rather do something constructive" on the weekends.

The project on Anna Lee Drive was part of Women Build, a Habitat for Humanity program that "encourages women and girls to have fun and make a difference by building homes and communities," according to its Web site.

Sponsors for the project include Lowe's, the Seawell Elam Foundation, United Way of the Greater Fort Hood Area, the City of Killeen HOME Program, Altrusa International Inc. of Temple and the 62nd Engineer Battalion.

Lowe's is the official sponsor of Women Build home projects, and donated $19,000 to Bennett's home. Bauer said the house would appraise at $76,000, but cost $38,000 to build.

Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity has begun construction on another home on Southside Drive in Killeen. The organization also is planning for another project to begin in January in Temple and has one slated to begin soon in Lampasas, Bauer said. Fort Hood Area Habitat for Humanity will build nine homes in the next year.

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