Today I wanted to take a moment and share my Habitat story with you. I wanted you to know why I am so passionate about everything we do here at Habitat. Our three pillars are strength, stability, and self-reliance; this is what they mean to me.
Strength might be considered the easiest but it is also very complex. Strength is not just muscle mass, it’s that force within us that we tap into when we have to dig down deep to find the strength to keep going.
My Grandpa DeBacker used to always tell the story about the time he took my older sister and I to the store. At the checkout counter the clerk asked me how old I was, my sister interjected “She no talk, she just grunts. I’m this many” and held up three fingers. You see, despite being 2, I was nonverbal. I had a severe speech impediment and was in speech therapy from the age of 2 until the end of fifth grade. To this day I am still very thoughtful in my word choices, I think about the formation and sound of each word before I speak, with the occasional struggle with the proper articulation.
Despite the struggle, this is where I learned what strength truly meant. It is having the feelings of doubt be outweighed by the determination to keep trying. It was God’s love that set me down my current path. He spoke to me when I was around 8. I was preparing for my first communion and the nuns had us in the pew, praying to ask God if we were ready and worthy to accept Holy Eucharist. I had felt so broken and unworthy in that moment, I couldn’t even pronounce my own name correctly. My teacher had told me I was incompetent and would never learn anything, and I believed her.
It is when we are at our most broken state, that if you listen hard with an open heart, you will hear and feel God’s love for you. God told me that I was going to speak for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. At that moment, I was terrified, how was I ever going to be able to speak for others when I couldn’t even speak for myself?
It is because I know the meaning of stability.
I have always struggled to answer the question of "where did you grow up?" Most people respond with their childhood address or neighborhood, but for me, I didn't have that type of stability at home. When I was 3 my younger sister was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This was in 1988, when insurance companies were allowed to deny or cancel coverage for children with “pre-existing conditions.” Between the hospital stays, the ambulance rides and the prescription costs, my parents were soon underwater with medical debt. They found insurance cover
age, for just my sister, with the hefty price tag of $1200 per month. It was three times their mortgage at the time.
Within five years, our house was foreclosed upon and it would be 20 years before I truly felt like I had a stable home again. You see, with the foreclosure came rental after rental.
Every year moving from one place to another, just trying to afford the rent.
Growing up you begin to think it is normal to move every year. Never unpacking or personalizing your space, always knowing it's temporary. As an adult I continued this behavior, not realizing it is easier to stay in one place for five years then five places in five years.
The constant stable element in my life was Grand Island. No matter where I lived as a child or adult, Grand Island felt like home, it felt safe, always welcoming me back. The street where my Grandparents' lived was always the same, the park down the street or my aunt and uncle living just a couple of blocks away. It always brought peace to my life and I am grateful to live here once more.
As an adult I realized I needed to break the cycle of instability. It was Habitat for Humanity who taught me how to find safe, decent, affordable housing. They taught Robert and I self-reliance and how to become successful homeowners.
We were able to attend financial management classes and together we learned how to seize control of our financial
situation. We became first time homeowners because they invited
us to attend their Homebuyer Education classes and we took the knowledge they empowered us with to buy a house with a traditional mortgage. They could have simply denied us for their program and sent us on our way but instead they taught us to be empowered to achieve decent affordable housing. With the understanding that the pillar of self-reliance isn’t about doing it on your own but about leaning on your community for support and love.
Habitat taught me how to work hard because strength, stability, and self-reliance will provide shelter.
Last spring when I had the opportunity to interview for my current position, I knew this was my opportunity to not only speak for others who have been in my same situation, but to also repay Habitat for everything they gave to me. At the time, shame kept me from speaking my full story. It can be embarrassing to ask for help, to admit you don’t have all of the answers or somewhere along the way you struggled. But it is only together that we can build shelter through strength, stability, and self-reliance.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my Habitat story with you. and for your support of our organization.