By Kelsey Thalhofer The Register-Guard
EUGENE, Ore. — Ron Griffith and Katherine Hoye weren’t concerned about a little rain on their wedding day nor by the noise of nearby construction.
As the two exchanged vows among family and friends at Opportunity Village on Thursday, a few of their neighbors worked away on future dwellings at the complex, which provides temporary housing to homeless people. In a way, everyone there was building a new life together.
“It’s so right and perfect,” Griffith, 45, said of his bride and their wedding day at the village, where they have lived since August. “This is a good place to start over.”
While many couples spend their engagement securing the ideal wedding venue and fussing over food and decorations, Griffith and Hoye’s past six months were filled with more somber tasks.
They’d been together seven years when Hoye, the couple’s sole income earner, lost her job last spring.
In April, Hoye’s mother died, and in May, with their home about to be foreclosed on, they moved from North Carolina to Eugene, in part to care for Griffith’s mother, who is in poor health.
And though they found welcome refuge at the Eugene Mission, living in separate men’s and women’s quarters put an added strain on their financial and emotional burdens.
So in August, they were ecstatic to be among the first residents chosen for Opportunity Village, the new homeless housing pilot project on Garfield Street, where they moved in together in a 64-square-foot wooden bungalow.
As for that “perfect” wedding venue — the couple had no trouble deciding where to begin their new life.
“It’s a great start for the village, as well as for this couple,” said Dan Bryant, president of the village’s board of directors and senior minister at First Christian Church, who officiated the Halloween Day ceremony clad in a costume of shepherd’s robes.
The bride and groom dressed up as well for the outdoor ceremony — she donned gray angel wings over the back of her gray floor-length gown, and he wore a gray button-up shirt, a rare departure from his usual rock band T-shirts.
The 20 or so guests, some in costume, hummed the notes of the bridal processional as the retired Rev. Wayne Martin escorted the giggling bride down the aisle and gave her away with a kiss on the cheek.
The bride’s flowers were made from tissue paper and the stand-in rings were purchased at nearby accessory stores, but the tears that filled the couple’s eyes as they exchanged their vows were real.
“I was waiting for that special lady,” said Griffith, who has never been previously married. “She’s kind, she’s caring, she’s loving … and she’s beautiful.”
Hoye, who plans to take Griffith’s surname, said a tough relationship with her previous husband had made her nervous to get married again, but Griffith’s persistence and assurance eventually won her over.
“Your love has allowed me to see the world in a different way,” she told Griffith in her vows. “I see myself through your eyes, colored by your love.”
For those who had long advocated for Opportunity Village, the wedding was a sign of hope for the local homeless community.
“They’re really an important foundation for the village, because they model love,” said Martin, who serves on the village’s steering committee. “It puts more than a face on homeless; it puts a soul on homelessness. Everybody here is a real person and we do real-life things.”
The bride and groom are among a handful of couples living at the complex alongside single adults. The two recently moved into a new 80-square-foot structure designed for couples on the property.
The village, modeled after Portland’s Dignity Village, will eventually provide temporary housing for 30 to 40 homeless residents who pledge to be clean and sober, and willing to live in a cordial community.
Hoye, 43, said sharing a home with Griffith at Opportunity Village made all the difference during a trying season in their relationship. “A place like this, where couples can be together, helps couples stay together,” she said.
The village also gave the couple a community they could count on — most of their wedding guests were people they’d met in their first few months on the property. “These are our family now,” Hoye said.
Hoye hopes she can someday take business administration classes online or at a community college — she discovered a passion for administrative work while helping out at the village’s office.
The couple is in the process of becoming official caregivers for Griffith’s ill mother, Juanita Griffith. In the next few months, they might move out of the village to care for her in her home full time.
Juanita Griffith attended Thursday’s ceremony and stood in for Hoye’s mother to give her daughter-in-law away.
“Love is a gift from God,” she told the couple. “Hold onto what you have and feel.”