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It Makes a Village
Angel Lane neighborhood portrait
 
"WELCOME TO ANGEL LANE!" proclaimed a banner above the brand-new cul-de-sac. Move-in day had arrived for 12 families—all survivors of hurricanes Katrina or Rita, all about to become Houston homeowners. Undaunted by the February chill, they posed, beaming, with Oprah Winfrey, agog to finally set foot in their new houses, built by Houston Habitat for Humanity with support from the Angel Network's Operation Katrina Homes and decorated by designer Nate Berkus.

But these families weren't just moving in to a suburban subdivision: This was a neighborhood. "Look around you at all the people here," Oprah told them. "You might have come in as strangers, but you'll all become neighbors."
A Habitat for Humanity construction team
 
Of course, mere bricks and mortar can't replace the famously tight-knit society of New Orleans. But a feeling of community can be encouraged by design. Nate, who had flown repeatedly to Houston during both the planning and the construction stages of Angel Lane, insisted, along with Oprah, that the houses have porches deep enough to hold a table and chairs, so that families would be encouraged to hang out with their neighbors.

And, importantly, Habitat requires the families—who are screened during a selection process—to put in 300 hours of labor in lieu of a down payment. The future neighbors worked side by side framing walls and installing windows, building friendships as well as houses.

This Habitat for Humanity construction team—including Nate Berkus (center) and soon-to-be-homeowner Nathan Thomas (far right)—raises one of the first framed walls on Angel Lane.
Nathan and Esther Thomas took a break from working on their future home
 
"We had the wonderful opportunity to know everyone before the place was built," said Nathan Thomas, a New Orleans art teacher and Katrina survivor. Nathan had been deeply homesick. He missed running into kids he'd taught at his elementary school; he missed the potluck studio parties, full of good food and conversation with local artists, thrown by his mentor, sculptor John T. Scott.

But like all the others, Nathan threw himself into his new community. He and his wife, Esther, logged 600 hours of labor—twice the basic requirement.

February 18—move-in day—was Esther's birthday!
Melissa Hurst and her sons, Torren and Earl
 
Melissa Hurst and her sons, Torren and Earl, took in their new home with Oprah and Nate. Melissa had remodeled her New Orleans house just two months before Katrina struck; afterward, there was nothing worth saving but her sons' basketball and a "#1 Mom" pendant.

Torren got his own room for the very first time.
Nate works on Angel Lane
 
Designer Nate Berkus oversaw everything from landscaping to lamps. "I wanted to create a warm, beautiful frame for their lives," he says.

To enhance the basic Habitat house, he and Oprah suggested cornices, crown molding, and double doors to conceal the washers and dryers that were—like the rest of the large appliances—supplied by Whirlpool through Lowe's.
The Cloud family's living room
 
Each Angel Lane house received an additional $20,000 worth of decorating and architectural details that Habitat for Humanity doesn't usually provide, such as upgraded windows and recessed lighting. Paneled doors replaced the flat, hollow type, and the floors were covered with wood laminate and stone rather than vinyl tile.

Here, in the Cloud family's living room, Storehouse supplied the curtains, lighting and rugs, as well as the furniture; the link-patterened throw is from Nate's Linens 'N Things line. The table is set with napkins from Bed Bath & Beyond and Target dinnerware.
An Angel Lane living room
 
A typical living room with a dining area on Angel Lane includes furniture from Storehouse, accessories from Bed Bath & Beyond and dishes from Target.
A kid's bedroom on Angel Lane
 
The kids' bedrooms were furnished by Young America, with a rug donated by JC Penney.
A bedroom on Angel Lane
 
The bedding is from Bed Bath & Beyond, and Benjamin Moore gave all the paint.
Nathan Thomas's portrait of his wife, Esther, was salvaged from their New Orleans apartment
 
With help from thousands of generous people like you, Angel Lane is full of families with new hopes and dreams. Yet memories of the past remain. Nathan Thomas's portrait of his wife, Esther, was salvaged from their New Orleans apartment, restored, and now hangs in their new home.

Thanks to all these companies that made move in day possible.