New York family’s greatest gift: Having a home for Christmas and their son’s holiday joy

After Silvia and Henry Merlo were married in August 2015, they moved in with Silvia’s parents — sharing a single room in the home even after welcoming their first-born child, Brayden, into the world.

“It was very crowded, but we made it work,” said Henry, who is thankful for the generosity of his in-laws but longed for a place that he and Silvia could call their own and raise Brayden in security and comfort.

Earlier this month, that dream came true after they partnered with The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City to renovate a three-bedroom property — once vacant, dilapidated and considered a “zombie house” — in Yonkers, N.Y., and make it a home of their own. In fact, they were able to move in before Christmas, giving them a place not only to celebrate the holidays with their own little family but also with their extended family.

“It was a beautiful thing,” said Henry, who noted they welcomed about 20 members of his and his wife’s families into the home over the holidays. “This year we hosted Christmas for the first time in our new house. Having family over and sharing our home with them was a huge blessing.”

“The greatest gift we received this year was not found under the Christmas tree — it is our beautiful three-bedroom, single-family home where our Christmas tree stands,” Silvia added. “As we were getting ready to host our first Christmas Day in our new home, we felt so many emotions within our hearts. Seeing my son’s face really enjoy decorating the house with Christmas lights is far too valuable.”

The Merlos began partnering with The Fuller Center on this home back in September, but Silvia and Henry had long been volunteers with the organization before that. Their volunteerism was sandwiched around Silvia’s work managing a clothing store and Henry’s job as a technician with a home security company.

“We’ve volunteered on a lot of houses,” said Henry, who worked with his wife alongside many volunteers on their new home. “When we finally found our about the house that was going to become ours, we definitely put all of our sweat into it. We did a lot of work on this house.”

Though their sweat equity is complete on their new home, the Merlos plan to continue volunteering with and supporting the work of The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City, which transitioned to The Fuller Center for Housing in the fall of this year after being previously affiliated with another affordable housing nonprofit. Henry said that Executive Director Jim Killoran and his group are doing much-needed work.

“Affordable housing here is not easy to find from what I’ve seen,” Henry said. “But Jim and his crew are doing an awesome job!”

As for Christmas, the Merlos now have even more appreciation for the holiday and their faith.

“To me, Christmas means love, joy, laughter,” Silvia said. “It is a time of God showing His great love for us by sending His son Jesus to be born. God loves us so much He blessed us with a place of our own this year — a place we will forever be grateful for, a place where everlasting memories will be created. Thank you, Fuller Center, for believing in us and helping us achieve our dream of owning a beautiful home. This is the true meaning of Christmas — hope, love, joy.”

VIDEO — Tears flow as the Merlos tour their new home on dedication day:

PHOTO GALLERY:

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