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UK volunteers make over Habitat house

"This is just a happy story," Ginny Ramsey said Friday while directing the arrangement of furniture and potting marigolds at a house on Seventh Street in Lexington.

With the addition of the marigolds and the removal of the last few boxes, the renovation of the house was complete.

It had started only hours before, when about 50 members of the University of Kentucky's Residence Life Senior Staff had shown up in old jeans and T-shirts to remove the previous resident's belongings and clean the house from top to bottom.

The square gray house belongs to Habitat for Humanity. After the previous owners had to be evicted, the Catholic Action Center (of which Ramsey is co-director) worked with Habitat to temporarily place Laura Floyd-Mack and her two children in the house.

This is the second year UK's Residence Life Senior Staff has started the school year with a community project.

"It's a chance for us to bond as a team," said Susan Wilton, assistant director of staff and student development at UK. "We're trying to get this house to look as nice as we can, because we're staging it for a family."

Floyd-Mack, 32, lost her job as a certified nursing assistant in the spring, and hasn't found work since. She didn't have enough money to pay the rent, and she was facing eviction within days from her apartment on Village Drive. Then the Catholic Action Center stepped in.

Floyd-Mack will stay in the Habitat for Humanity house for free until she can afford rent somewhere else. The Catholic Action Center will help pay for utilities, and its workers will help Floyd-Mack with her resume and job search.

By 1 p.m. Friday, the UK team had almost finished arranging all Floyd-Mack's furniture -- just in time. Floyd-Mack drove up to see a neat, scrubbed house. A little magnolia tree sat proudly in the middle of a newly mowed lawn.

Floyd-Mack and her girls De'Aura, 12, and De'Unna, 10, stood in the driveway slightly awed before racing up the front steps. Then the thanks began. Floyd-Mack hugged everyone in sight. De'Aura and De'Unna clutched Caramel, their hamster, while they explored their new rooms.

"I don't think I'm ever going to leave, it's so cute," Floyd-Mack said.

Floyd-Mack admitted that life had been hard for her since she lost her job.

"I felt I couldn't get any help," she said. "I don't do drugs, I don't drink, and I don't have AIDs, so no one was interested in me. But I wanted to teach my girls how to be women; I didn't want them to get to a hard place in their lives and know that I didn't make it when things got hard."

Floyd-Mack said her children motivated her to always keep trying.

"You want your kids to have more than you did," she said. "We always have fun together. When I used to get a paycheck, we would have our girl's night.

"We would go to O'Charley's, and I would teach them how to hold their little fingers out all fancy when they held a cup, and always to appreciate the waiters, because I think that's important."

The new house seemed to have given Floyd-Mack, who is naturally an animated person, even more optimism.

"I'm gonna have a job by Wednesday," she said.