Jessica Esteves, her husband Luis and their four children spent the better part of the last decade being chased from their homes by natural disasters.
Weathering the storms
First was the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene in August of 2011, followed by the Halloween nor’easter two months later.
Emergency evacuations were ordered from Jessica’s low-lying neighborhood in Sayreville in August. The family’s rental unit and many of their possessions were destroyed. They settled again in Sayreville, but the early-season nor’easter added 32 inches of snow to the already flood-soaked region. Once again, dangerously rising water forced them from their home.
At the time, Jessica was a full-time student and had a full-time job while Luis took care of their growing family. The only housing the family could afford was rentals in the flood zones.
Exactly one year later, disaster struck again when Hurricane Sandy roared into the state in 2012, bringing unprecedented storm surges along the Atlantic Coast and Raritan Bay.
After emergency evacuation from their new rental, they were moved into longer-term housing in the Rutgers Athletic Center with hundreds of other people. Jessica helped the other homeless families log into FEMA websites to file claims or look for housing. There she met a Rutgers volunteer who befriended her.
“She was amazing,” Jessica said. “Did all sorts of things to help us. One day she came around and collected all our socks and washed them at her house. It was those little things that really helped.”
The volunteer cut out a newspaper article about new Habitat for Humanity homes in Highland Park and gave it to Jessica, telling her, “You should apply for this. I have a good feeling about it. I think you’ll get it.”
A Morris Habitat home helps the Esteves family
She was right. Jessica was selected. For six years now, she has lived with her family in Highland Park, high enough from the flood zones of the Raritan River to feel safe and secure, even as Hurricane Ida devastated the area in 2021.
“Morris Habitat gave us the American dream,” she said. “We’re homeowners now, and that gives our children opportunities for stability and to excel and succeed.”
While Jessica’s disaster-wrought story may be more dramatic than the stories of other Morris Habitat recipients, all have similar stories of adversity and hardship as they struggle to find affordable housing in one of the nation’s highest-priced home markets.
The Esteves family today
Now that the kids are older, Luis doesn’t have as much “daddy stuff” to do and has returned to work. After graduation from Rutgers, Jessica now works as an office administrator.
Jessica routinely gives back and is an active member of the Morris Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors. “People ask me for advice on how they could live the American dream and I guide them on how to apply.”
The kids are busy with their lives, but still take part in family celebrations. One of their favorite Christmas traditions is making Puerto Rican pasteles with green plantains and banana leaves. Jessica said, “We usually hand them out as gifts!”
Your gift makes a difference.
Contributions to Morris Habitat give hard-working families a chance to find stability, security and pride in home ownership, keeping them safe and on higher and solid ground during life’s unexpected rainy days. We can only do this with your help.
Please give generously this season! We are appealing to you today to continue this legacy for the next generations of families needing a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.