After living in a small apartment in the Garden Street area on St. Thomas, Celecia Hernadez, a single mother with seven children, looks forward to finally owning her own home.
"And I thank Habitat for Humanity Virgin Islands for giving me that opportunity," she said at a groundbreaking ceremony held on Adele Gade early Saturday morning.
"I can’t wait to put the key in the lock and open the door," she added, both smiling and crying with members of the organization and the large group of community residents in attendance.
With three of her children in tow, Hernandez helped to break ground on the project, located at No. 4 Adele Gade above the All Saints Cathedral School. The property, once owned by the Galiber family, was donated to Habitat for Humanity by Cecile deJongh as a tribute to her grandmother, the late Adele Louise Galiber.
While the long-empty building now lies in ruins, both deJongh and Hernandez said they hope it can be restored to its former state and once again filled with happy memories, music and laughter. The lot, which deJongh says occupies about four-tenths of an acre, will be developed over the next few months into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home which Hernandez will share with four of her children.
"When I inherited the property, I thought about building it back the way I remembered it used to be," deJongh said at Saturday’s groundbreaking ceremonies. "But we realized that it would just cost too much. So in a moment of pure insanity, we decided to donate it to Habitat for Humanity, as a tribute to my grandmother — who, much like Ms. Hernandez will be doing, raised six children in this house,
It was an emotional moment for deJongh and members of the Galiber family, who stood up and spoke about time spent in the house, recalling fond memories from their childhood. Dr. Andre Galiber Jr., deJongh’s brother, was the first of the family to speak, and took the crowd on a guided tour of the house, whose foundation was set into the hillside below him.
He traced each room carefully, describing them by events that had taken place in certain corners of the house, or by the people who had treaded across the carpets and passed through the doors. He said the downstairs was where "my father grew up," and spoke later of the view from the living-room window, and how one side of the building had a mysterious hallway with a "trap door."
Galiber also spoke extensively about his grandmother, a former music teacher whom he described as a "hurricane, distributing water throughout the community." "She touched so many lives," he said. "Whenever I play ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ I think of her."
Residents spoke throughout the day about the many contributions of Adele Louise Galiber, sentiments echoed by attorney Tom Bolt, President of Habitat for Humanity V.I.
"She taught music to so many Virgin Islanders for so many years," Bolt said. "And we hope that when we’re through with this project, the streets will be filled with music once again. Let us build upon the foundation of Mrs. Adele Louise Galiber, and bring back the idea of community, of neighborhood and of family."
Closing out his speech, Bolt selected a Bible passage from Isaiah 58:12, which he used to send a message to community members: "Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins, you will raise up the age-old foundations, and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets in which to dwell."
"I challenge you all to be repairers of the breach, and to bring the works of Habitat to all ends of the community," Bolt said. "Let us really reach out, and begin to rebuild the islands that we love."
As the ceremony wrapped up, a light dusting of rain swept over downtown Charlotte Amalie, producing a rainbow visible from the property. Stepping up to the podium with a vial of holy water in hand, the Rev. Ashton Brooks of All Saints Cathedral School laughed joyfully.
"I was going to bless the site with the holy water," he said. "But I guess I don’t need it anymore. What we’ve got is really a blessing from God."
Habitat officials expect construction on the building to begin in late November. And while the organization does have about 100 volunteers to assist with the project, Bolt said, Habitat is "always looking for extra sets of hands."
For more information on Habitat for Humanity V.I. or to become a volunteer, call 714- 5678 or visit Habitat online.