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he first thing you notice when you pull up to the Nicolas house is the blue-grey aluminum siding, bright against the green grass. Next you notice the matching shed in the backyard, and then the well-kept gardens in the front. It’s a beautiful house, but it’s also more than that; it’s a home. Emiliano and Maria Teresa, along with their daughter Margarita, have lived in this house in Acton since it was built in 2010. Their journey home began with an auspicious recommendation from a friend who had seen a newspaper column advertising Habitat for Humanity Halton.

At the time, the Nicolas family was living in a small apartment but were dreaming of owning their own home. Maria Teresa was working on the night of the Habitat orientation, but Emiliano and a young Margarita attended. “We went there and sat down and there were several people there,” Emiliano recalled. “We filled out the application form and then we just waited. Then we had a call.”

"We were waiting for that call, 'OK, you can move in.'"

“We didn’t even expect that we were going to be the chosen family,” Maria Teresa said.

After finding out that they had been selected to be Habitat homeowners, “We were very excited and happy,” Emiliano said. Maria Teresa had been living in Canada since 2003 and, in 2008, she sponsored her husband and daughter to come to Canada from the Philippines. “It was surprising to get a home (so) fast,” Emiliano remarked. “We were really fortunate.”

Habitat homeowners are required to complete 500 hours of “sweat equity” during the process of building their home. Excitement over moving into their very own home mounted as Maria Teresa and Emiliano volunteered during their house’s assembly. “We were working on it, and (we knew) as soon as it was finished, we were going to live in it,” Emiliano explained. “That was very exciting for us. We were just waiting for that call, ‘OK, you can move. This is the key.’”

When that day finally came, the Nicolas family had a housewarming ceremony. “We are Catholic so we invited a priest and then the priest blessed the house. It’s what we do in the Philippines. We invited friends to help us, and our neighbours; so it was a big party, and they congratulated us and we were really happy,” Emiliano said.

Slide the vertical bar to see the progress on the house.

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ow, seven years after the Nicolas’ moved into their Habitat home, that happiness continues. Margarita is graduating high school this year and will be studying science at Western University in the fall. Maria Teresa is working as a Personal Support Worker and at Tim Hortons, which is within walking distance from her home. Emiliano works at Camatech, which is also within walking distance of the home.

The house’s location in central Acton has many benefits for the family. “This is the heart of Acton,” Emiliano said. “If we want to go shopping, there’s Shopper’s, Sobey’s, and now there’s No Frills and Giant Tiger. The church is over there too. We can just walk! It’s really a perfect location for us.” The town is quiet, too, which the family loves.

“It’s a small community. You know each other,” Maria Teresa said.

“It’s like Sesame Street,” Emiliano added, laughing.

The quietness and close-knit community in Acton generates feelings of safety as well. Maria Teresa said she doesn’t worry about her daughter walking alone. Margarita echoed that sentiment, saying that Acton is a nicer neighbourhood than the family’s old apartment.

"Everything starts in the house."

The house has a “happier atmosphere” than the apartment, Emiliano said. “You can see through the window and see outside, and you have a backyard, compared to an apartment with small windows. (In an apartment) if you want to go out you have to open your door, walk the hallway, open the other door and then the main door.”

Maria Teresa noted that in the old apartment, you couldn’t have a garden — just a small pot.

“The most important thing is that it’s more secure, happier. You feel like more opportunity would come if you’re happy (in a house), and then your family is getting closer and closer,” Emiliano said.

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he family said they are endlessly thankful to the Habitat staff and volunteers who helped with them achieve their dream of owning a home. “They picked us out of several families; so we’re lucky and thankful for that. All those volunteers who helped us, I couldn’t thank them enough for helping. It’s not even their house, but they helped anyways. We will never get tired of thanking them,” Emiliano said.

Ultimately, Emiliano said that when things are going well at home, it bleeds into other areas of life. “Everything starts in the house,” he said.

And in the Nicolas’ house, that “everything” means a lot of things. It means safety and security; it means happiness and success. But above all, it means family and togetherness. And it all started in this house — this home — thanks to Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga.