Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne County raised the first wall on its fourth duplex at Parrotts Ferry Village on Saturday morning, thanks to generous donations, volunteer labor and volunteer financial experts.

The two families that will occupy the homes were surprised with an announcement at the wall raising that they were the new owners. They had been told they were being given a tour of the subdivision.

Will Geer, 27, and Stacy Lindsey, 24, will occupy one of the homes with their sons, Malcolm, 2, and Scott, 1.

She is a baker at Black Oak Casino, and he is a cook at Applebee's in Sonora.

"This means everything," Lindsey said, shedding tears. "There will be so much less stress. Now we will feel secure and can focus on the kids and school."

Geer said he feels like the foundation of their Habitat home, on which they were standing when interviewed, stands for the foundation of their family moving forward.

The other new homeowner, Lori Bauer, 48, has two children, Katie, 14, and Colten, 6. She said her husband died of pancreatic cancer at age 42 in August, and she was having a hard time making it.

"I just kept muddling through," she said. "This will make an amazing difference in our lives."

Ted Michaud, chairman of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity, said Bauer's present housing is ramshackle, so he is anxious to see her new home completed.

Both families 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.

Michaud said there will eventually be 16 duplexes and two single-family, single-story houses in Parrotts Ferry Village, providing homes for 34 families.

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

Jeff Costello, of Sonora, representing Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, was one of the speakers. Thrivent committed $75,000 toward construction of the duplex, and local Thrivent chapter members were volunteer construction workers and provided lunch for all of Saturday's volunteer workers.

The three churches in the local chapter are Mountain Lutheran Church of Groveland, Mount Calvary Lutheran of Sugar Pine and St. Matthew's Lutheran of Sonora.

Michaud said Habitat for Humanity is raising the level of safety for children and families, and that will make Tuolumne County a better place to live for everyone.

Frank Smart, of Columbia, and Ruth Callahan, of Jamestown, founded Habitat for Humanity in late 1997, and they both attended Saturday's ceremony.

"I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to drive by here at night and see street lights and kids walking their dogs and playing," Smart said. "These are good people who needed help and got it. It validates my belief that Tuolumne County is the most generous place on the face of the earth."