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Habitat transforms drug house into home for Sudanese family

Three years ago, 452 Fargo Ave. was home only to drug dealers -- a crumbling eyesore that seemed like another defeat for a struggling West Side neighborhood.

But neighbors and supporters of Habitat for Humanity gathered there Sunday afternoon to celebrate its return to what 452 Fargo was always intended to be -- a real home to a real family.

And the fact that the Deng family had escaped war-torn South Sudan a decade ago to find a new home in America made it all the better.

"I'm happy for my kids; I have a new house today," said Sudanese refugee Gabryal Deng.

"When I came here, I did not know I would live in a house like this," added his wife, Anwar. "God bless all of you, and God bless America."

The Sunday gathering seemed to underscore all the good that came out of a bad situation. After the FBI seized the property in 2008 and arrested its occupants for selling drugs, it was turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office. As part of a program in which the federal government now collaborates with Habitat for Humanity, the forlorn building was then rehabilitated by the charity group into a sparkling new home.

U.S. Attorney William C. Hochul Jr. seemed to take special pride in seeing the transformation.

"I see this as nowadays becoming more and more important -- part of our job," he said before the ceremony welcoming the Dengs. "We don't want vacant houses here; we want families like the Dengs living the American dream."

Indeed, Gabryal and Anwar Deng acknowledge that life is far different now for them and their five children. Anwar Deng said several members of her family were killed in the civil war that raged there for years, but the survivors hoped for a new life in America after an odyssey that included a refugee camp in Egypt.

Now she has a job at Tyson Foods in Buffalo, while her husband also hopes to find work here.

Ron Talboys, president of Habitat for Humanity of Buffalo, pointed out to about 30 people celebrating the transformation that the Deng family has helped to earn their new home. In return for the gleaming new place, they put in 500 hours of work themselves in the reconstruction. They have also learned about finance, home repairs, fire safety and other basics of homeownership.

He is happy that his group was able to contribute -- with more to come.

"We're fortunate and very glad to be able to help rebuild the neighborhood and help a family," he said, noting that 452 Fargo represents Habitat for Humanity's 214th rehabilitated home in the last 25 years in the Buffalo area.

An appreciative Deng family received house-warming gifts from several church and community groups, while the pastor of nearby Holy Cross Catholic Church, Monsignor David M. Gallivan, blessed the house and its residents.

Other federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development were also involved.

"The reclamation of this house helps build sustainable neighborhoods," said HUD's Joan Stillman. "We hope the Deng family is happy here and stays a long time."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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