SCARBOROUGH — Sam Newcomb wakes up every morning asking if it’s time to go to Scarborough.

Every day, his parents tell him it’s almost time.

Sam has watched and waited for nearly a year as land and a bare foundation were transformed into a blue, cape-style house with a front porch and large grassy yard. It’s a far cry from the second-floor apartment with a postage stamp-sized yard where he lives in Portland.

For Sam, the move means a new bedroom, a new school and a short drive to his favorite beach. For his parents, Jay and Betsy Newcomb, it’s the realization of a dream that they thought was out of reach, and a chance to give their 15-year-old son, who has autism, a home with space to thrive.

“It has always been a dream of ours to own a home,” Jay Newcomb said. “It just didn’t seem like that was a reality.”

This month, the Newcombs will move into a Habitat for Humanity house in Scarborough that they helped build. They have spent months envisioning how they’ll use the space in the house, from the art studio for her in the spare bedroom to his work bench in the basement. They know where they’ll put the electric fireplace that Jay Newcomb bought his wife as a housewarming gift and what colors they might paint the walls. But as always, their focus is on what Sam will think of it all.

For months, the Newcombs have made Scarborough part of their Sunday morning routine. They’d sleep in a little, head to The Holy Donut on Route 1 for breakfast and then over to Carpenter Court to check on the progress of their house. Every week, Sam wore a green Scarborough T-shirt that his mom found for him.

On a recent sunny Sunday morning, Sam hops out of the family SUV as soon as it rolls up in front of the house. He’s the first up the steps and onto the front porch.

“Let’s see what’s been done,” Betsy Newcomb says as she swings open the front door for her son. “What’s new?”

Sam bounds across the living room and up the stairs toward his room, but stops short when he notices the toilet and sink have been installed in the bathroom. He looks closely at each, then heads into the back bedroom. The window overlooks the backyard.

“This one,” he says. “My room.”

APPLYING WITH LOW EXPECTATIONS

How the Newcombs came to be a Habitat for Humanity family is pretty unremarkable, Jay Newcomb said. Someone – he can’t remember who – asked if he’d ever considered applying to buy a Habitat house. The Newcombs had not: Betsy had always thought they were for families with no income, not working families like hers.

“We thought, ‘What do we have to lose?’ We didn’t really expect much,” Jay Newcomb said.

Jay Newcomb hugs his son, Sam, at the site of their new home in Scarborough. The family visits the new home almost every Sunday morning to help Sam, who has autism, with the transition from life in Portland.

The idea of owning a house, especially one with a yard for Sam, appealed to the Newcombs, but being able to afford one seemed unlikely.

Jay Newcomb works as an EMT for a private ambulance service and wants to go back to school to study nursing. Betsy Newcomb, who attended the Maine College of Art for jewelry making and metal smithing, is partially disabled and works part time as a nanny.

The Newcombs were blown away when they found out they had been chosen to buy a 1,300-square-foot cape on Carpenter Court, where Habitat is involved with building 13 homes.

“We were so humbled and grateful for the opportunity,” Jay Newcomb said. “We can’t believe this is becoming a reality for us.”

Habitat homes are sold at the full appraised price – for the Scarborough homes that’s about $250,000. However, the organization helps cover that cost. Families are expected to contribute no more than 30 percent of their income. The rest of the purchase price is loaned to the family by Habitat for Humanity with no interest and no payments until they sell the house.

Future occupants also are required to log 275 hours helping to build their home, a process that takes many months.

LEARNING FROM VETERAN VOLUNTEERS

On a frigid Tuesday in February, Jay Newcomb shows up on Carpenter Court ready to work on his day off from North East Mobile Health Services. He volunteers at the build site most Tuesdays, and sometimes, when he’s in the area for work, he will drive past just to “salivate” over the house.

On this day, work is focused on the house next to the one to be owned by the Newcombs. Habitat homeowners often log hours working on other homes, depending on construction schedules.

“I can’t wait to get into my place and start working again,” he says, strapping on a tool belt.

Newcomb, whose smile comes quickly and easily, jokes around with the volunteers on the work crew. Many of the men on the Tuesday work crew are retirement age and have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for 15 to 20 years. Newcomb has construction experience – he has a small scar on his thumb from an accident while working with Habitat for Humanity years ago – but finds himself learning from them every week.

Jay Newcomb helps install hardwood floors at his future neighbor’s Habitat for Humanity home, part of the “sweat equity” required for anyone having a house built for them by the organization.

Upstairs, he kneels on the floor and watches closely as two volunteers piece together wooden floorboards and nail them into place. The rhythmic bang, bang of the nail gun echoes through the house as volunteer Bob Cuzner watches Jay Newcomb take over.

“We’ll make a carpenter out of you yet,” Cuzner says.

Jay Newcomb throws his head back and laughs, then places a nail gun against a board and whacks it with his mallet.

“I love doing this stuff,” he says.

During a coffee break, Jay Newcomb doesn’t seem to notice the biting cold as he stands outside gazing at his house next door. There’s no siding on the outside and no walls inside, but he’s already thinking about what it will be like to live there and sit on the front porch he’s always dreamed of having. Betsy Newcomb, between caring for Sam and her part-time job, spends hours on Pinterest looking at home decorating ideas and emailing her favorites to her husband.

“Now that I see it coming together, I just want to get in there and make it a home,” he says. “I feel like a kid at Christmas waiting to open my present.”

THE TRANSITION TO SCARBOROUGH

By June, still weeks away from their expected move-in day, it’s starting to feel like forever ago when Jay and Betsy Newcomb started their volunteer hours.

“The waiting is hard, but the work kept us busy,” she says.

All through the winter, Betsy Newcomb would go to the Habitat ReStore in Portland on Saturdays to volunteer. A back injury makes it difficult for her to do construction, so instead she and her mother worked side-by-side at the store cleaning and pricing appliances and other items that are donated to the organization and then sold to raise money for Habitat projects.

Betsy Newcomb says their friends and relatives also are excited for the family to move into their new home, especially her parents, Dick and Ginny Charron of Berwick. Together, they put in all of the 55 volunteer hours that Habitat asks family and friends to contribute. Dick Charron spent many Tuesdays at the job site with Jay Newcomb.

“We’re so excited for you,” Betsy Newcomb’s parents texted her the morning before a recent Sunday visit to the house.

Sam Newcomb, 15, plays in the dirt outside his family’s nearly completed new home in Scarborough. The move from an apartment to a bigger space “is going to be such a good thing for him,” says his father, Jay Newcomb. “That’s what I am really excited about.”

For the past few months, as the interior walls went up and the wood floors were installed, the Newcombs began transitioning their lives from Portland to Scarborough. Transitions are hard for Sam, and his parents want to do whatever they can to make it smoother.

They made arrangements for Sam to go to Scarborough High School and kept up the weekly Sunday morning trips to check on the house, always including time for Sam to dig in a pile of dirt left over from construction. One of the first things they’ll do when they move in is build a sandbox for Sam, probably in the shady side yard.

Inside the house, Sam checks on his bedroom, and then the family heads to the basement to look at the new lights and control box for solar panels that cover the roof. When they move in, they plan to turn the basement into an occupational therapy space for Sam. They never had the proper space for that in their small apartment.

“This is going to be such a good thing for him,” Jay Newcomb says. “That’s what I am really excited about.”

NEW PLACE FOR SAM TO CALL HOME

The inspection of the house continues, with Sam always in the lead. In the kitchen, they stop to look at the new cabinets that had just been installed. The appliances should arrive soon.

“See Bud, the sink is in,” Jay Newcomb says to his son.

“That’s where Mommy will be, hanging by the sink,” Betsy Newcomb adds as they head outside to check on the yard.

Sam makes a beeline for the back of the yard where the grass meets the trees at the edge of their property. He pokes at a small patch of sand while his dad chats with a neighbor, then makes his way for the big dirt pile out by the driveway. His mom walks nearby, pointing out where she plans to add gardens of native perennials and where she’d like to put a fire pit.

The sun is high in the sky as the Newcombs finish their weekly tour of the house and sit on the porch steps, coffee cups in hand. Betsy Newcomb rests her head on her husband’s shoulder as they watch their son play.

“Sam deserves it,” she says. “This is Sam’s house.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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