Local Eagle County teacher gets a life-altering surprise: A Habitat for Humanity home

Early childhood educator and mother of five gets the news that she is the program's latest recipient

Little Jack Michlitsch may not know the particulars of the celebration, but he is plainly pleased that "Miss Perla" is so happy about the news that she will be the next local Habitat homeowner.
Pam Boyd/

GYPSUM — Halfway through her Thursday morning training session with Eagle County Schools early childhood educators, Perla Gurrola’s life was turned upside down.

Toting signs that declared “Felicidades,” “Por Tu Nueva,” “Casa de Habitat” and “Home Sweet Home Miss Perla” a group of kids, parents, construction workers and Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley representatives delivered some life-altering news — Gurrola is the latest recipient of the local Habitat homeownership program.

Initially stunned by the crowd’s appearance, Gurrola’s glee was apparent even through the mandated mask that obscured her face. She let out an excited squeal and raised her arms in celebration.

“This is amazing,” she declared. “I have been waiting and waiting to hear and having this feeling is worth it all.”

Gurrola is a single mom with five kids. She graduated from Red Canyon high school and since 2012 she has worked for Eagle County Schools as an early childhood educator. She is currently working at June Creek Elementary School, which is transitioning into an early childhood center.

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“She is exactlytly the type of person the Habitat program is designed for,” said Eagle County Director of Early Childhood Education Shelly Smith.

He didn’t say so himself, but Jack Michlitsch’s grin showed that he agreed. One of Gurrola’s students, Jack plainly loved being part of a presentation that made “Miss Perla” so happy.

Back in business

COVID-19 restrictions in Eagle County has sidelined the local Habitat homebuilding program this spring. Because Thursday’s announcement marked a return to action, it was a happy morning for lots of people.

“Despite all the craziness happening around us these days, here at Habitat we know that the need for affordable housing is more critical than ever before,” said Julie Kapala, marketing and communications director for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley. “Home makes all the difference during these times of social distancing and we aren’t going to let a global pandemic stop us from furthering our mission to partner with local families to build homes, communities and hope.”

Kapala noted that last year, the local Habitat program received 70 applications from homeowner hopefuls for six available residences. There is a scored qualification process for a Habitat home and before they can be awarded a residence, candidates must demonstrate need and qualify for a mortgage. Then, they have to commit themselves to help actually construct the home they will be living in.

Gurrola began her Habitat paperwork more than a year ago and construction on her residence will start this summer. Her family will make their home at one of the new Habitat residences being built near Red Hill Elementary School in Gypsum.

“The foundation is being poured now and construction work will begin in two weeks,” Kapala sad. “From there it takes nine months to a year to move in. Right now we are so thankful we can start building homes again.”

And right now, Gurrola is so thankful that her home will be first in line as the Habitat work begins again.

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