Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Habitat for Humanity's two newest partner families are both headed by single mothers, each with a teenage son.

Annette Castanon and Dayna Harvey will occupy the next duplex at Parrotts Ferry Village in Columbia. Both women work at Walmart and have become good friends, said Betsy Harden, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County chapter. Now they will be neighbors.

"What strikes me most about these women is that, once they made a decision to get out of bad situations for their sons' sakes, they have both made steady progress, even when it was very hard," said Harden.

Castanon, who recently was promoted to furniture department manager at Walmart and also works as an on-call housekeeper at Avalon Care Center, said being approved for a Habitat home is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

She has been living in substandard housing, Harden said, with a lot of mold, doors that wouldn't close and heat that didn't always work.

"But even with that reality, her house was impeccably clean," Harden said.

Harvey was living in a decent place, Harden said, but she was spending more than 50 percent of her gross income on housing.

"That's one of the things people need to know," Harden said. "Even if they live in decent housing, if they can't pay the rent and still put food on the table, it's not decent, affordable housing."

Harden said that although all of the units at Parrotts Ferry Village have three bedrooms, smaller families will be accepted.

"Even if you are single," she said, "if you are the most qualified and have the most need, we won't discriminate against you just because you don't have a family."

Castanon and Harvey went through a rigorous selection process that included credit reports, mortgage applications, interviews and home visits.

They will also be required to perform 500 hours of "sweat equity," helping to build their homes. When the homes are finished, they will pay zero-interest mortgage payments based on what is affordable for them.

The mortgage payments go back into the program to be spent building more houses. Volunteer labor, fundraising efforts and donations from the community help keep building costs low.

Parrotts Ferry Village subdivision was bought by Habitat to build 35 single-family townhomes over a period of five to six years, and it is right on track, Harden said.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity or to ask about participating in a Habitat project, contact the local Habitat office at 536-0970, e-mail betsyharden@habitattuolumne.org, or go online to www.habitattuolumne.org.

Harvey summed up her experience in one sentence:

"I have never won anything in my entire life, and I know now that the reason was, God was paving the road for this miracle."