Margaret Macias and her sister, Delia Amador, were hoping for a miracle when they submitted an application to Habitat for Humanity, Stanislaus County.
The two single mothers are overcoming addiction problems, and have nine children between them. They've lived in a four-bedroom house for three years. To say their home is crowded is an understatement.
The house is a rental property with leaky pipes, no air conditioning and not enough space for growing children. It sits between orchards in a rural area just north of Modesto that's full of wolf spiders, mice and rats.
In addition, these families might be displaced to make room for road expansions on Highway 219 between Salida and Riverbank.
The prayers of Macias and Amador were answered when Habitat officials announced recently that they and two other families would be moving into newly renovated homes in Modesto's airport neighborhood in the next few months.
"My kids deserve this," Amador said, tears running down her cheeks moments after the announcement. "They deserve to be blessed this way."
The dream of homeownership will become a reality for these families, but not until they've contributed 500 hours of "sweat equity" to help renovate their new homes.
"We're giving you the opportunity for you to work harder than you've ever worked in your life," said Anita Hellam, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, Stanislaus County.
The families went to a recent meeting expecting to meet more Habitat officials and discuss details about the organization as part of the application process. They had no idea they would be starting a partnership with Habitat to own their first homes.
"I'm shocked; I didn't know they were ready to build," Amador said.
Amador, 33, and Macias, 36, love their children, but both mothers said they spent years addicted to methamphetamine, neglecting their kids' lives in the process.
But that changed after they spent two years each in a recovery program. Once Macias and Amador were clean and sober, they decided to move in together with their children.
"We knew we couldn't do it on our own," Macias said. "We stay together and stay strong."
With spiritual guidance from First Baptist Church in Modesto, the sisters are doing well. They are clean, sober and hold steady jobs.
"Now I focus on my children instead of escaping my children," Amador said.
She works as a certified nursing aide at Garden City Health Care Center in Modesto. Macias works in Modesto at Inter-Faith Ministries, which provides free food and clothing for poor families and operates a thrift store.
Life at home, however, can be tough with so many people in a cramped space. Sometimes, Macias said, small issues are exacerbated when there is nowhere to go for quiet time alone. Outside is not an option with crawling critters and the heavily traveled road in front of the house.
It's not relaxing staying inside either, especially in the summer.
"We can't get no relief from the heat," Amador said in her living room, where the couch doubles as a bedroom for Macias' eldest son, Arturo, 17.
The families will move into a home in Modesto's airport neighborhood, which is known for criminal and drug activity. Amador wants to improve the neighborhood to create a safe haven for her children.
"I don't want my children to struggle there," she said as she wiped tears from her face. "If I can help clean up that area, I'm going to do it. I'm not afraid of nobody."
While the sisters are getting a second chance at life, other families getting new homes are just starting out.
Erendira Aguilar, 23, husband Manuel, 24, and their three children sleep in one bedroom at Manuel's parents' home. The young family's limited budget makes moving into a new home nearly impossible, they said.
"Finally, we're going to get a house," Erendira said. "Living with his parents is crowded. The kids don't have a lot to play with because everything is in boxes. We don't have space. We really need a house."
Bobby and Tina Gantt, both 22, are in the same situation. The couple and their son, 15-month-old Isaiah, live with Tina's parents. They were all smiles moments after signing an agreement with Habitat officials to own their first home.
"Now, he's going to have a house to grow up in," Tina Gantt said of her toddler.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.