Dustin and Danielle Gray walked through the door of their new home Friday morning, trailing daughter Cameron, 10, and son Shane, 6, who led the way. The kids were eager to show off their new rooms and their plans for decorating, squeals and screams soaring over their shoulders as they dashed up the stairs.
The Grays move into their new home, built by the newly merged Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery and Delaware Counties, on Monday, just in time for the kids' first day at school.
Dustin Gray, 30, is a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan until 2014; he suffered a traumatic brain injury in battle and is dealing with PTSD. His wife works as a bus driver in the Colonial School District, and for now he works at getting better. His days are filled with therapy sessions and doctor appointments.
That didn't stop him from getting his hands dirty in the building process, which kicked off in January, putting in well over the 200 hours of "sweat equity" that Habitat requires from its soon-to-be homeowners.
"He was a rock star," said Elizabeth Hefner, a spokeswoman for the chapter. He "took charge, led volunteers, taught them how to do stuff."
The former soldier is visibly uncomfortable taking credit.
"I think they gave me more credit than they should," Gray said. "I just swing hammers and say thank you."
But he admits he enjoyed being a part of the process of building his own home.
"I've done 200 [hours] six months ago," Gray said. "I just come because I like it."
Their new home is one of four townhouses in Bridgeport going to families who have demonstrated both need and an ability to pay for their discounted homes. Dedicated on Friday afternoon, the homes are the 83rd through 86th homes the chapter has built in the area, including those constructed before the merging last month of the Montgomery and Delaware Counties chapters.
The Grays have been living just a short hop away in Conshohocken as they prepare for the final move.
Danielle Gray said she's excited to see the brick accent wall Dustin plans to build in the family room, learned from experience he gained from years of flipping houses with his father. Cameron wants her name decorated across the wall in her room. And Shane has a Brock Lesnar theme in mind for his new digs.
"He's from wrestling," Shane explained, gazing out the window in a room slightly bigger than his older sister's.
Cameron's gracious about the room-size thing; she said she likes the view from her room anyway.
"He has a lot of toys," she added. "so this is probably the best room for Shane."
One of Dustin's immediate plans once the last box is unpacked? A man cave. "It's been a while," he said.
Steve Weber, the site supervisor for the project, spoke of the satisfaction that comes with building homes with the chapter.
"It's a great mission," Weber said. "Even if it's a bad day, you're still contributing toward a good cause and getting these families off on a good foot and contributing to the kids."
The market appraisal for their new home is $230,000, according to the chapter's executive director, Marianne Lynch. The Grays will be making payments on a mortgage of $125,000, with a zero percent interest loan.
For Lynch, the satisfaction of seeing a home completed never gets old.
"It's the best feeling in the entire world," she said. "Once you get to the point where you are giving away those keys to that family, you know that in that moment, their life has changed forever. And there is nothing like that feeling — it is just so powerful and so emotional, and you just feel like you're putting good back in the world."
On the receiving end, Danielle Gray agreed. "This feels like a dream," she said.
Dustin Gray is ready to settle down and live.