After 12 years, the Ratliffs rediscovered a sense of permanence on Saturday when they took the keys to a new home in Warsaw constructed by Habitat for Humanity of Kosciusko County and a slew of volunteers.
The journey of Lee and Gina Ratliff and their three children began after Lee broke his back at work in a recreational vehicle factory accident. They had owned a nice 3,000-square-foot home in Mentone, but the injury left Lee disabled and the family soon had to sell. That led to a series of moves from one apartment to another, often in less-than-suitable conditions.
In the past seven years, they moved seven times.
Much of the past two years was spent in an apartment that had a significant leak in the roof for eight months, mold in numerous rooms and a kitchen with miniscule counter space and two fridges that offered sporadic reliability. Rent, they said, was $800.
For the past month, they stayed at a home that is on the market through their pastor, John B. Lowe.
But everything changed on Saturday. The family will move into the home at 630 S. Columbia St., Warsaw, on Tuesday and their mortgage will be reduced by more than half.
The home was constructed at the end of South Columbia where a small wooded area once stood, now replaced by two Habitat homes and enough space for a third.
The Ratliff’s new 1,350-square-foot home includes two bathrooms and four bedrooms, which will allow the kids, 18-year-old Zack, 16-year-old Alex, and 13-year-old Chadoe, a chance to have their own rooms for the first time.
“The boys have been wanting that for years. There’s a big age difference – five years,” Gina Ratliff said.
“I’m just glad they have a place to call home and not have to be embarrassed to have their friends over,” she said.
The kitchen features an island with cupboards underneath, something Lee specifically asked to be included in the design plan.
Several dozen people attended the Saturday morning event under bright sunshine. Fresh dirt was added Friday to part of the front yard and still needs to be seeded.
During the ceremony, several prayers were offered including one from Lowe, the couple’s pastor, who blessed the house.
Both parents said Saturday’s event was “surreal.” Gina described it as “overwhelming.”
“Our hearts are overflowing with joy,” Lee said.
The project was headed up by the local Habitat chapter Executive Director Mickey Kaufman. Her husband, David Kaufman, served as the construction supervisor.
The Ratliffs first applied more than five years ago, shortly before a previous Habitat director left.
The property was donated by Garry and Connie Himes.