For Claudia Collazzo, every minute felt like forever while her husband, Michael, was deployed for the last 11 months.

While he was gone, she was hard at work putting in hours of "sweat equity" with the York Habitat for Humanity Veteran's Build.

The couple was approved as a Habitat homeowner family early this year, and construction on their home on Company Street in York City began on Memorial Day.

Claudia wasn't sure originally if Michael would be back in time for Veterans Day, when their half of the duplex was scheduled to be dedicated along with the other half, which will belong to Army veteran Donnell Ingram.

But on Friday, Michael returned from Afghanistan and was greeted at the Baltimore Washington International Airport by his wife and the couple's 4-year-old daughter, Emily.

The reunion was made even sweeter by the fact that he was able to see his family's new home for the first time before it was dedicated on Sunday.

"Amazing is an understatement," Michael Collazzo said, describing what it feels like to come home and to be a homeowner for the very first time.

"I can't find the words," he said.

An Army Reservist, Michael Collazzo deployed from Fort Bliss, Texas, last November with the 668th Engineering Company.

His wife sent him pictures of the progress on the house to keep him updated, but he wishes he could have helped with the project, especially because carpentry, masonry and plumbing are his main jobs in the Army.

Over and over again on Sunday he expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped.

Michael and Claudia, who are both 27, have been married for six years.

They found out about Habitat for Humanity through Michael's sister, who is also a Habitat homeowner.

While Michael was deployed, Claudia was busy working, attending classes at the York Technical Institute, caring for their daughter and completing her 225 hours of "sweat equity" required by Habitat.

Several veterans from York volunteered their time to complete Michael's 225 hours while he was deployed.

Jim O'Donnell, 66, of Shrewsbury worked on the home every Wednesday and Friday for the six months it took to complete the project.

O'Donnell served in Vietnam with the Navy and said he wanted to get involved with this Habitat project because it was for veterans' families.

"It's a worthy cause, and it gives friendship too," said O'Donnell. "You don't need any skills."

About 60 people worked on the houses for the Collazzo and Ingram families, and most of the volunteers were veterans, he said.

Donnell Ingram, 44, will move into the other half of the duplex with his youngest daughter, Renae, 9. He served in the Army for six years and in the National Guard for two years.

"I'm still pinching myself every day," Ingram said about owning the home.

He grinned and greeted people as they streamed into his new home on Sunday afternoon after the official dedication, for dinner and an open house.

"It's just a blessing," said Ingram. "You hear about crazy stuff happening in the world, but every day when I came here to work I felt good."

- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or