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ARLINGTON -- A church congregation is taking a leap of faith and doing something its never done before; the church is raising money to build a home for someone near and dear to its heart.

Jo'Ann Smith is loved by the little ones at Shepherd of Life Lutheran Church in Arlington. For nine years, Smith has cared for the children at the church's preschool.

Now, though, it's Smith's turn to receive some loving care.

"She was my rock," Sarah Wolff said. "Having twin girls, it was kinda hard to drop them off with both of them crying. She always called them 'her little angels.'"

Wolff spearheading a fundraising effort to build the beloved preschool assistant director a new home.

The house Jo'ann and her husband, Jody, lived in for 35 years was destroyed when a huge tree fell on it. Damage from the tree and mold inside was so bad, the home had to be torn down.

The Smiths worried they would have to relocate.

"My fear was that I was going to have to quit my job, and my children are my life," Smith said, "and that was more hurt and pain than I could even bear."

So far, half of the $60,000 needed to build the Smiths a new, one-bedroom home has been raised. A custom homebuilder is volunteering his services, too.

"She is just such a great woman who does so much for the church and the community," said Todd Devilleneuve of Deville Custom Homes. "It is definitely such a great cause."

Smith couldn't believe it when she found out the church was going to build her a new home.

"When they announced on my birthday at church we got the house, it was just tears of joy," Smith said. "It was just unbelievable."

The vacant lot now holds promise for what once was, and for what will soon be again.

"How do you say thank you to everybody? They've changed our lives," Smith said. "They gave our lives back. It's a miracle."

To contribute to the Smiths' new home, go through the Shepherd of Life website

E-mail tfoster@wfaa.com

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