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STANWOOD, Wash. -- Low-income families in Stanwood moved into homes they helped build Thursday, but one of the people who helped them wasn't there for the big day.
"Tree stand goes in first cause its Christmas time!" joked Chris Turner as he unloaded a truck at his new house, made possible by the Housing Hope program.
The program for low-income residents helps people build their way to home ownership. With a baby on the way, its something that even a year ago didn't seem possible for Chris and Tia.
"To be able to buy a home...and to build a home by 24...unbelievable!" said Chris.
The Turner's are just one of five families who received the keys to their new homes in the Stanwood subdivision. Built with sweat equity and the help of a special woman, Toni Wiegand, a loan counselor and recruiter for Housing Hope.
"Even after we qualified for the program she was still there giving us support, and rooting us on as we were building," said Tia. "She's just such a wonderful person."
Toni died three weeks ago after battling ovarian cancer for years. Even in her last year, Chris and Tia were able to draw strength from her.
"You've got that somebody saying, 'Look at what you've accomplished,'...to be that rock for you," said Tia.
Colleagues say her commitment to the families helped ease her pain and even extend her life.
"If you had Toni on your side, Toni never took no for an answer," said Program Director Ron Peterson. "It was 'I don't want to hear no, I want to hear how,' and that's how she lived."
"She would hand me these five or six people and say, 'These are my babies, these are my children, take good care of them,'" said construction supervisor Bruce Hahn.
Toni's fighting spirit won't be forgotten on the Turner's street. Five white ash trees were planted in her memory.
"I'll always be able to look out at that tree and remember her," said Chris.
Housing Hope is aiming to raise enough money for 30 more trees, so that a tribute to Toni can stand in front of every home in the subdivision. To contribute or volunteer, please call 425-347-6556.