Just before Thanksgiving, Mayor George Hernandez and Donna Johnson of GrantWorks handed over the keys to five new brick homes with all new appliances built by a HOME Housing Rehabilitation Assistance Grant through Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Geronimo Jaramillo, Julia and Albert Menchaca, Mary Veselka, Juanita “Janie” Flores and Carl Arnold have settled into their new homes.
Productive, hard-working wage-earners, each one of the Woodsboro residents, did all the right things – they owned their homes and they paid their taxes.
Each one made ends meet, but as their aging homes began to need repairs, they were never financially able.
“This is my county and I still consider it home,” Johnson said. “I want to do everything possible to make this happen. I don’t go after grants I can’t get.”
The common denominator among all the families in their new homes is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the gift that no one expected.
Geronimo Jaramillo was born with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Upon graduation from Woodsboro High School in 1994, he went to work at the Golden Chick in Refugio where he continues to work today. He worked his way up to a manager position.
Sixteen years ago, Geronimo purchased his first home. The older home fit his budget and he was proud to be a homeowner.
Recently, scoliosis forced Geronimo to reduce the hours of his shift. Eventually, he had to give up on full-time employment. Despite his medical problems, he fiercely holds on to his part-time job.
“I was a manager but I had to give that up. I still want to work,” he said.
Restricted from heavy lifting or extended time on his feet because of the scoliosis, Geronimo faced an economic downturn because of the reduction of his work hours. With a budget squeezed down to necessities, roof repairs were simply unaffordable.
When his sister Delia asked if she and her 2-year-old son Gabriel could move in, Geronimo worried about the repairs he could not afford.
When he read about the HOME Grant Program, he applied, hoping to obtain help with repairs.
“All I wanted was a little help to repair my home and fix it up so my sister, who fell on hard times, could come live here,” he said.
The town of Woodsboro, through Johnson’s work to obtain a grant, were able to give Jaramillo and four others, a brand-new home instead.
“If the homes are more costly to repair up to meeting all the codes than to build a new one, then it is more feasible to build a new one,” Johnson said.
Johnson went even further.
“I was able to furnish the homes with all new appliances because we came in under budget... that was a surprise to the homeowners,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t sure we had enough to do it, so that was kept secret.”
Emotion overtook Geronimo when he walked into his new home.
“This is so much more than I ever expected,” he said. “Every morning I wake up and it’s like a dream. I keep waiting for someone to wake me up.”
In his wildest imagination, Geronimo said he never thought he’d ever live in a new brick home.
“It’s beautiful and better than I ever imagined in my head. It’s just a blessing for me,” he said.
In the tradition of his faith, Father Andrew Hejdek, pastor of St. Therese Catholic Church, blessed his home.
“My family will all be coming for Christmas,” he said. “My little nephew has his own room. My home is comfortable and living here is amazing. I never get tired of the doorbell; every time it rings, I smile.”
Julia & Albert’s story
Looking around her home, Julia Menchaca exclaims, “Muy bien! Que bueno.”
Julia slips gently from English to Spanish, a more comfortable language in which to praise her new home.
Her husband, Albert, was a cowboy on the Lambert and O’Connor Ranches where he worked for $2 a day as a young man before moving to town and starting a family
“I was born in Vidauri,” said Albert, now 77. “We lived in old rent houses before I bought this old place from Mr. Jordan. Then I worked for Kenneth Gillepie as a builder.”
Albert enjoyed working both as a cowboy and then as a carpenter to provide for his family. He earned a respectable living and purchased the home he could afford.
Now on Social Security living in an aging home, repairs were impossible on his earnings.
“All this – everything – came as a surprise,” Albert said.
“We don’t have to worry about being hot or cold any more,” Julia said. “My daughter Rachael said she was going to bring us a big Christmas tree. My other daughter Mary Alice is very happy for us, too.”
She spent the morning in her new kitchen making empanadas, a Spanish pumpkin dessert.
Albert said there was only one downfall — the couple had to pay $560 per month in rent while the home was being built.
Mary Veselka inherited her Villarreal family home after her brother became ill and it was passed to her.
Throughout her life, she cleaned other people’s homes, a satisfactory if not lucrative living.
“When I applied to have my home repaired, I looked at it like a lottery ticket,” Mary said. “If I’m lucky enough to get a new home, that would be great. I told myself, if I didn’t get one, I was going to be happy for everyone who did.”
When she was 5 years old in 1942 and living with her parents, Mary was content in the shotgun home with single walls, despite being cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
“It was bad but we were always happy,” she said.
Her sons, their wives and children, Rick and Donna McMahan and Kelly and Vicky Veselka, always returned to the modest home-place for Thanksgiving. The family overflowed onto a screened-in porch.
“At first I was lost with all the extra room,” she said. “I love it; it’s fantastic. Everybody sat at the table at Thanksgiving.”
For the first time, she has a spare bedroom which she designated as a sewing and ironing room. In the first week, Mary began sorting through all the boxes of older belongings accumulated through the years.
“I’m getting rid of a lot of my stuff,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to belong and I don’t want to deal with clutter in my new home.”
Her oldest son delivered a new flat-screen television and a recliner to his mother.
“They said I didn’t need a raggedy TV and recliner,” she chuckled.
Widowed from her husband since 2010, Mary says she believes her parents would be very proud.
Juanita “Janie” Flores inherited her family home after her brothers died and she returned to Woodsboro with her daughter Christina and her son Ruben to help care for her mother.
“My mother’s home was very small so we added two rooms,” she said.
In addition to caring for her aging mother, Janie worked in various restaurants around town. More recently, she worked in home health care until she suffered a stroke two years ago.
Currently, both of her knees are too painful for her to work outside the home. To make ends meet, she baby-sits for children that don’t require lifting or carrying.
“I’d like to get my knees fixed so I can work again,” she said.
Because her daughter Christina is in college and her grandsons live with her along with her two sons, one who is in college and another still in high school, she applied to obtain help for repairs.
A new efficient home with central heat and air, new refrigerator, range, microwave, washer and dryer, dishwasher and walk-in shower with benches was the last thing she was expecting to have.
“My favorite thing is the kitchen but I love it all and the central heat and air conditioning,” she said. “We’ve never lived in a home with that.”
The floor plan is efficient and perfect for her family. She’s planning a big Christmas.
As a young man with a college degree, Carl Arnold worked with small towns in the Valley and held several jobs, including city secretary and city water manager.
His father, who kept bees, died suddenly after being stung by a bee on his carotid artery. Carl came home to Woodsboro to help care for his aunts and mother.
Not long afterward, his mother became ill and was placed on a ventilator which became a three-year ordeal.
Caring for his mother and aunts, Arnold’s life savings saw him through.
Still young enough to be a wage earner, Arnold was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and forced into early retirement. A heart condition also prevented him from working.
Over the years, the repairs needed for his family home were more than he could afford.
“I had enough savings to see me through but now I live on Social Security, which isn’t much,” Arnold says. “I don’t regret caring for my family because they were all good to me when I was growing up — they were all good people. Now, I live by myself.”
He was surprised, not just getting the new home, but the generosity of his friends and neighbors.
“They gave me a new couch and chairs,” he said. “They’ve given me quite a few things.”
For the first time in many years, his home is comfortable and life is easier.
More homes qualify
Johnson is now working to qualify other homeowners. Most of the towns in the county are working with Johnson.
To qualify, residents must own and occupy their homes, meet the income requirements and have all their taxes paid up and current, according to Johnson.
“Ten more homeowners houses are currently under construction,” Johnson said.
Citizens may call Caley at 512-420-0303, ext. 306, to be put on an information mailing list.