OREM — Twelve-year-old Eric Kuester spent a restless night Sunday, anticipating the early morning razing of his family's home.
"I couldn't get to sleep last night because I couldn't wait for it to be destroyed," Eric said. "I am excited for this because we are going to get a new house."
Monday, Eric and his family, joined by dozens of neighbors and volunteers, cheered as Jazz Bear climbed behind the controls of a backhoe to knock down the walls of the central Orem house the Kuesters called home until it was damaged in an electrical fire on Dec. 16.
The fire capped one of the worst years ever for the Kuesters. Two months earlier, on Oct. 17, the Kuesters' 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, complained about not feeling well. She went inside to lie down to rest and suffered a seizure. She was dead from complications from the H1N1 flu before the ambulance arrived.
The seven surviving family members spent Christmas without a home, packed temporarily into a two-bedroom house operated by Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
Then in late March, the family learned that the Heart 2 Home Foundation, a volunteer organization that renovates homes for families in need, would build them a new house where the old one had stood.
Over the next 11 days, volunteers will clear away the old structure, pour a new foundation and erect a new home. On Friday, April 23, at 6 p.m., the Kuesters are to be given the keys to their new house, said Greg Adamson, founder of Heart 2 Home.
For the Kuesters, the demolition of the old house was seen as an act of renewal.
"It's a new beginning," Rick Kuester said. "It will help us get rid of all the bad memories we have had this last year and start making new ones. It's overwhelming to see the care everyone has had for us."
For his wife, Jennifer, the moment was bittersweet. The old house was built by her grandfather and his brother in 1950 and has been home for family members ever since. Her parents, Steve and Caline Kitchen, live next door in another home built by Caline Kitchen's father.
"It's sad, but it is also a good change. I think it's time for a change," Jennifer Kuester said.
Adamson said the project had its share of hiccups. After the fire, inspectors found that the walls of the home had been covered years before with a paint-texture mix containing asbestos, which becomes toxic when disturbed.
The house was covered in a giant tarp while Eagle Environmental stripped the potentially harmful material from the interior and exterior walls, clearing the way for Monday's demolition.
Monday morning was the last time members of both the Kuester and Kitchen families would be allowed near the two homes until the makeover project is completed.
When the two families come home again on April 23, both will be surprised, because in addition to building a new house for the Kuesters, Heart 2 Home plans to remodel the Kitchen house next door to accommodate Steve Kitchen's motorized wheelchair.
Steve Kitchen, who owns both of the homes, has been confined to the wheelchair since January 2009, when he became paralyzed because of a back injury. So even as volunteers are building the Kuesters a new home, other volunteers will be working next door widening halls and doorways to make the Kitchens' home more accessible.
Adamson said combining the projects works because it gives people who want to help something to do during times when work slows down in one of the homes.
"We get so many volunteers, it's nice to have another project we can send them to," Adamson said.
People interested in helping with the Kuester and Kitchen homes can get more information at www.heart2homefoundation.org.
How to help
To get more information on helping with the Kuester and Kitchen homes, go to www.heart2homefoundation.org