By a Kent County Habitat Home Owner
December 7 was the day. It was winter in Grand Rapids, and the cold from outside was creeping in through the walls of my rented kitchen. I couldn’t tell for sure, but the drafts always seemed to come from someplace down by the floor, making my feet cold.
The phone rang. I picked it up and heard a voice on the other end tell me the news. Afterward I was speechless. I knew that for my children and me, everything had just changed.
All my life, ‘home’ has been a place that belongs to somebody else. My mom gave birth to me, the first of her four kids, when she was a teenager—that was the start of our moving from place to place to place. My mom worked hard, but often the ends still didn’t meet. For the five of us, that meant we’d have to leave one home and try again somewhere else. We lived in a number of different neighborhoods when I was growing up, and I had to change schools several times. I hated changing schools. I wished that someday we would be able to afford a place of our own and stay there.
I carried this dream of homeownership with me into adulthood, but for a long time it seemed that a place of my own wouldn’t happen. Instead, the life I was building matched closely the one that had been modeled for me. I became a mom as a teenager too, and soon I had four children to care for on my own. I could afford only to rent, and even then some of the homes we lived in weren’t safe or were overcrowded. I was trying my best, but we were still moving regularly. It was like I had taken on my mom’s life as my blueprint.
In 2002, my kids and I were living in transitional housing in Grand Rapids, taking steps to have distance from the kids’ father. While we lived there, two important things happened for me. I learned the value of budgeting, credit, and saving money. I also learned about Habitat for Humanity, an organization that partners with communities to help low-income families with good credit become homeowners.
In the next five years I worked hard to pay all my bills, I began saving money, and I improved my credit score. A year ago, in 2007, I was ready to apply for a Habitat home. I completed the paperwork, and then I went to my application meeting in September. Habitat for Humanity had asked me to bring a credit report and receipts to show my living expenses for the previous month: gas, electric, water, phone, and rent receipts. There was a miscommunication though, so when I went to their office I brought not one month, but twelve months of statements.
They must’ve been impressed, because the next time I heard from Habitat for Humanity, it was that December 7 phone call—and the voice on the other end of the line told me that I, for the first time in my life, was going to have a home of my own.
Like I said before, I was speechless. But my kids were not. In fact, I think my four-year-old has told everyone he knows, all about our new place. When we got a blueprint of the house, he memorized the rooms, and now he explains the whole plan to anyone who’ll listen. “I’ll be here, Tay-tay will be here, Mom’s gonna be here…” And every day, he wakes up in the morning and asks me, “Are you goin’ to work on the house today? Can we move in yet?”
All three of my sons have been excited about our new home since the start. But in the beginning my daughter was a different story. She wasn’t looking forward to the house, and when I asked her why, she told me that she didn’t want to have to change schools again. She is seven and has already had to move four times. I was so glad that I could tell her this move will be the final move, that this will be the last time she’ll have to make all new friends.
My family won’t move in to our Habitat home until August 1, but in many ways we’re already living a different life because of it. We’ve seen that a community can come together to make our dream come true. We’ve worked side-by-side on the construction site with people who cared about us but had never met us before. I’ve learned how to build walls, put up vinyl siding, and hang insulation—I’ve learned that, with hard work, I can do it.
I can do it. Believing this has been life-changing for me. For the lives of all four of my children, it has been a brand new blueprint.
So now the dream of August and homeownership isn’t the only dream I’m believing. I’m dreaming that my family will be a healthy, supportive one, that we’ll share with each other and enjoy each other. I’m dreaming that my kids will do homework at the island in our kitchen, and that I can help them study while I’m cooking dinner. I’m dreaming that they’ll get an education and that they’ll get to do what they like to do. And I’m dreaming of going back to school myself, to get my degree. I’m dreaming that I could mentor teen moms, that one day my story could help make a difference for them and for their children.
Because of Habitat for Humanity and this community, my children and I are dreaming big dreams. Soon the walls, the roof, the floors, and the warmth in our home—our very own home—will be a daily reminder to the five of us that people care, that there is hope, and that not only can we dream big dreams; we can also watch them happen.
Editor's Note: This personal account was written by a Habitat for Humanity homeowner in Kent County, Michigan.