Friends and family gathered in the living room of Tiffany Smith’s new house in Covington on Dec. 13, holding hands in prayer as the Rev. Earl Robinson, of Doughty Chapel AME, blessed the home, dedicating it to “happiness and joy … an abode of light and love.”

Smith’s heart was certainly full of happiness and joy, light and love as she looked around her new three-bedroom home, complete with a Christmas wreath on the door and a decorated tree on the porch.

“I love it!” she said. “This is such a blessing.”

Smith, a toll taker for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, was among four new homeowners who celebrated Christmas blessings on Dec. 13 as Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West held a dedication ceremony for the Women Build homes that had been completed in Groves at Mile Branch development.

The other families include Connie Campell; Candice Slaughter and her son, Freddie; and Wesley and Lauren Vinson and their daughter, Rory.

“It’s exciting for me and my son,” Slaughter said of the move into her new home in the Groves at Mile Branch.

Slaughter has been living with her family in Bogalusa and commuting to a job in Covington. Now she will be much closer to work.

“I had to do 300 sweat hours, painting and working on siding,” she said, adding that the work was a blessing. “That’s what I really like about Habitat — it’s hands on.”

More than 292 volunteers contributed 1,655 hours of labor during the October Women Build to help build the four homes. The volunteers, mostly female, worked alongside the partner families as they completed their “sweat equity” hours and worked toward their dream of home ownership.

The Women Build was chaired by Karen Slaton and Darnell Shuart.

A key part of the Women Build project is the WATCH program, which was co-chaired by Maurer van Voorthuysen and C.J. Ladner. An acronym for Women Accepting The Challenge of Housing, WATCH it is made up of women who annually donate $1,000 to ensure the success of Women Build. or call (985) 898-0642.“Our WATCH members are essential to the Women Build program,” van Voorthuysen said.

Even so, she added, the success of the Women Build and all Habitat projects rely on the efforts of the whole community.

“This is not something done by any one person,” she said. “It is a fabulous team.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Jeff St. Romain, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West.

“It takes a community to do this,” he said. “We are limited in government funds; we need to engage volunteers to build. … It is wonderful to see the community coming together.”

The dedication ceremony included the traditional Habitat presentation of a Bible and hammer to each new homeowner.

Terry Gage, vice president of programs for Habitat St. Tammany West, said the Bible and hammer help tell the story, mission and history of Habitat, which is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to building decent, affordable housing.

In the case of the four families gathered in Covington on Dec. 13, the Bible and hammer were icing on the cake.

Earlier in the week, St. Romain said, he was there when each family closed on its home. When the keys were handed over, “I saw faces of joy. They have worked for 12 months for this, put in sweat equity … and now they will be home before Christmas.”

They were indeed home for Christmas, in homes built with love and furnished with gifts from the community, including quilts from the Ozone Layers Quilt Guild, Christmas trees and wreaths from an anonymous donor and painted birdhouses from Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville.

For information on Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West, visit http://www.habitat

Karen Baker writes about St. Tammany Parish. Send her news and events two weeks in advance at