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Finally home: Talent families who lost rentals in Almeda Fire become homeowners

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The Garcia and Diaz families are given handmade comforters outside their new home in Talent Saturday at a Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony. The two families lost rental homes in the Almeda fire, and are now homeowners with help from the nonprofit. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Maria Garicia holds up the keys to her new Talent home Saturday next to her husband Miguel and three children. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
The Diaz family receive the keys to their new home on Arnos Road in Talent Saturday morning. The family is the first of two to benefit from Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Almeda Home Ownership Program. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

After years of lengthy commutes and cramped quarters — not to mention plenty of sweat equity over the past 10 months — the Garcia family can call Talent home again.

Maria and Miguel Garcia got the keys to the Talent home they helped build Saturday morning on Arnos Street. They’re among the first to benefit from a Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity program helping displaced Almeda Fire survivors.

“I love everything about my house,” Maria said with the help of a translator. What she loves most is that her children Lizbeth, 18, Angel, 15, and Kelly, 10, have a secure place close to school to call home.

“She doesn’t want them to go from one place to another,” the translator said, speaking for Maria. “She wants stability.”

With the exception of some spare clothes they packed and their lapdog, Nala, the Garcias lost everything inside their Talent apartment on Sept. 8, 2020.

The Garcias spent 20 years in Talent leading up to the fire, but over the last two years they’ve moved around Southern Oregon staying with family members, renting a small studio, and most recently finding an upstairs apartment in Central Point — all less-than-optimal situations considering the needs of three kids, a lapdog named Nala and Maria's medical conditions making stairs a challenge.

Miguel thanked the volunteers at the dedication ceremony as he reflected on his long, costly drives from Central Point to the Ashland area just to pick up his children from school. Kelly is now a fifth-grader at Talent Elementary School, Angel is a sophomore at Phoenix High School and Lizbeth is a freshman at Southern Oregon University.

“We’re very happy because now we have our home,” Miguel said.

Among numerous others, Maria thanked her daughter for encouraging her to apply for the Almeda Home Ownership Program, a Habitat for Humanity program that utilized an outpouring of donations to the nonprofit in the wake of the Labor Day 2020 fires.

“We waited so long for this moment,” Maria Garcia said. “But I believe things happen when they’re supposed to.”

Brandon Thoms, programs and operations director for Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity said each of the families have a zero-percent mortgage, but the new homeowners each pay the same market rates for property taxes and must pay their own homeowners insurance. Further, the families each contributed hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in the construction of their homes and in volunteer hours at the nonprofit’s ReStore.

Thoms reflected on dark times and a newfound optimism as he helped families in the Almeda Home Ownership Program.

“Before the fire, COVID was a part of life for us for many, many months and it took me to a very dark place,” Thoms said. “And then the fires happened and gave me reason again to be thankful and that gave me an opportunity to help some incredible people.”

The Garcia’s duplex home shares a wall with Sara and Lorenzo Diaz, who've lived in Southern Oregon since 2013. The Garcias said they’ve known the family for years because they go to the same church, Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in Ashland.

The Diazes lost their Talent rental home on South Pacific Highway during the 2020 fire. Afterwards, they stayed in hotels and most recently lived in a fifth-wheel trailer in the Applegate.

Sara Diaz broke down in tears as she thanked “every single volunteer” who helped build her home.

“They have made our dream come true as a family,” Diaz said with the help of a translator.

“She wishes to multiply the blessings,” her translator added.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.