I sit at a desk a lot, but getting out to the build site and meeting with homeowners really reminds me why I have to haul butt and top what I do daily. Without stories, donors don’t know where their money is going. For me though, it’s also about making sure the homeowners know we care. Sure Habitat’s built 500,000 homes, but I feel like each homeowner I’ve met is No. 1.
Each house has a unique story. Someone went through something to get them to a place where they filled out an application. I’ve yet to come across a story where I went, “Oh, yeah, you’re like so-and-so I interviewed last month.”
In May I traveled to Milwaukee to visit one of our AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon sites. I’ve never seen a work site like that in my life. In less than a week, five homes went from capped foundations to two-story homes with roofs, siding and interior work ready to take place. Five days!
I held court on a stoop of a nearby abandoned house. As volunteers and homeowners were ready for breaks, they’d stop by and tell me their story. I felt awful for being exhausted and getting a sunburn on my forehead from sitting.
In that week though, I met Marquitta. She’s taken the cat’s meow of all my Habitat stories so far. She’s a single mother of three, but her warm smile and the way she let me into her world for that five days was beyond anything any subject has ever done for me. It started with attending church on Mother’s Day with her. While juggling a toddler on a hip and hymnal in another hand, she still would lean over and tell me about different church members or brag about her pastor or make sure I was comfortable. After church she offered to drive me back to our AmeriCorps headquarters. As her children conked out, she just started driving around block after block in the Park West neighborhood. On one corner was where she sat with her stuff after her family was evicted, on another corner was where a rental home had burned down, two blocks over was where another home full of memories was torn to an empty lot. For an hour she just drove and peeled back the layers of her life that brought her to become a homeowner.
The whole time she kept her smile. She never blamed her parents for their lack of money management skills. She never blamed God for continuing to put her in situations where she had to battle to just keep living. And she never blamed herself for the setbacks she faced. She just kept smiling and being thankful.
Marquitta’s 27 years old. My age. It blows my mind that those could be my three children in my back seat and I could be using my vacation days to make sure a roof was over their heads.
I’m beyond blessed that God’s led me to a life of comfort and love and I don’t think I’ve ever smiled as big as Marquitta. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love my job. I love being reminded of “there I go but for the grace of God.” I love meeting people who don’t need me to tell their story, but want to share it because it may mean something to someone else. I love that this is where I’m supposed to be and that families like Marquitta keep reminding me that it really is a privilege to be invested in someone’s life – whether it’s for 30 minutes or a lifetime.