Habitat for Humanity has shown that building homes does more than put a roof over someone’s head. In clean, decent, stable housing:
Families can provide stability for their children.
A family’s sense of dignity and pride grows.
Health, physical safety, and security improve.
Educational and job prospects increase.
The stories which follow demonstrate how the lives of hardworking families are enhanced and strengthened once they are able to own a home they can afford. Click on a homeowner’s name below to read more about them.
Can you imagine raising four boys in a neighborhood where gangs and gunfire are commonplace? Neither can we. Regrettably, this is the reality for far too many, including Stacey Goods and her four sons. Just this past April, there were two shootings on the very same block they call home.
And yet, when a former co-worker emailed Stacey an application for homeownership from Morris Habitat for Humanity, she was hesitant to apply. Stacey was sure the financial difficulties she had been having since she was laid off from her last job made the idea of owning a home too remote to even consider.
But her youngest son, 15-year-old KyJuan, encouraged her to attend a Morris Habitat homeowner orientation. He said, “Mom, you never know what can happen!”
KyJuan sees how hard his mother is working to regain her financial stability now that she’s found a new job. He understands just how difficult it has been for him, his mom, and his three older brothers – Marquise, Faakhir and Sean – to squeeze into a cramped two-bedroom attic apartment. They have been working hard, going to school and trying to make the best of the situation. But the truth remains that “on any given day, at any given time, you can hear gun shots as if that’s normal.”
The good news is KyJuan’s optimism has paid off. As a new Morris Habitat Homeowner in Progress, Stacey and her family will help build their own three-bedroom home on Monmouth Avenue in Dover.
Ran Andrade and his wife, Gladis, came from Guatemala legally seventeen years ago for the promise of a better life for their children in the United States. Ran works fifteen hours a day at two cleaning and maintenance jobs, while Gladis cares for their two school-aged children. Ten-year-old Kevin has an autoimmune disorder, which can lead to excessive bleeding and requires his mother’s watchful eye at home.
Since coming to America, the Andrades have tried to save for a place of their own, but the combination of low wages paid by Ran’s employers and Kevin’s medical needs have kept them in abysmal living conditions. The family crams into a single bedroom in an old, moldy four-room apartment in Morristown, which they share with three other families and a host of cockroaches, rats and bed bugs. There’s no privacy, and they’re forced to plan kitchen and bathroom usage around the other boarders’ schedules.
Their dreams will come true in a new home.
Amanda Brown/For Morris Habitat for Humanity
But all this is changing now for the Andrades. Together with generous donors like you, we will make Ran’s dream for his family come true. Early in 2018, the Andrades will be in their brand new home on Willow Street in Morristown.
Finally, ten-year-old Jocelyn will be able to play without the worry of strange boarders being around. Kevin will have access to a clean, private bathroom any time he needs it. And Ran and Gladis will get to enjoy their own private bedroom for the first time since becoming parents.
The one wish Ran has had for his family since coming to America will finally come true during holiday seasons. They will have a safe, healthy place to call home. Their home will be full of love, laughter and family. A kitchen will be all their own, with the scent of holiday baking filling the air. In this home, his children will run and play freely. Most sobering of all, their new home will have a bathroom that is always available to his ailing son when he is sick.
As a child in Morristown, I remember sleeping on a cot in a gymnasium and living in church shelters with my mother and three siblings. We never really had a home.
And when I was a young single mom, with two very young kids, we were homeless for eleven months. My kids don’t remember much about that time, but I do. I remember the three of us cramming into one room at the shelter. And I remember feeling depressed and overwhelmed.
After that, I made a vow to myself and my children that I would make a change. I vowed to end my family’s cycle of homelessness. And now, with your support, I have.
I am the first member of my family to make this dream of owning a home come true.
Our new house on Martin Luther King Avenue in Morristown is bright, beautiful and safe. But its most important feature can’t be seen from the street. My home is affordable. My mortgage payment is about $300 less than what I once paid in rent. Finally, I will not have to juggle two jobs to provide for my family.
On my path to becoming a homeowner, I’ve learned how to install a light switch and fix a leaky faucet. But I also learned how to make and stick to a budget. And I’m doing it!
I now have a financial cushion. I no longer live paycheck to paycheck, worrying and chasing bills. Our home provides financial independence and ends the uncertainty and fear that I will not be able to provide for my family.
And financial security will also do something else – something bigger. My affordable home will allow me to help my children with their education. My daughter is attending County College of Morris, studying criminal justice. My son will graduate from Morristown High School and would like to become a veterinarian. I am so proud of them, and I can’t tell you what it means to me to be able to help my children reach their dreams.
My kids and I worked hard for what we have, but we could not have done it without your partnership. My children will always have a home… and that is everything. Thank you!
Owning a home is a dream come true for many, but for Dahiana Marte, it took months after moving into her new Habitat home before she grasped the reality. “I would leave the lights on all night because I’d wake up thinking ‘did it really happen… to me?’ and I would look around and be reassured that I was truly in my own house,” Dahiana said.
Dahiana and her three sons moved into their Harding Avenue home in Dover just before the holidays in 2017. It was the greatest gift of all. “I cried tears of joy that first Christmas. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us.”
It was a magical time for the young family, and a departure from living with Dahiana’s mother and multiple family members, squeezed into a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Although she was working two jobs, one as a payroll clerk and one at a YMCA, Dahiana couldn’t afford her own place to live.
Then Morris Habitat came into her life and changed things forever. Even though she worked six days a week, Dahiana put in her 300 hours of sweat equity on Saturdays, swinging a hammer and a pickaxe, working on her future home until she was exhausted, yet exhilarated.
The journey to home ownership was transformational on many levels. “I’m a different person than I was a year ago,” said Dahiana, who explained that, with the financial security of a home, she feels safe and more confident. That confidence has led to a promotion at work, allowing for more savings and the beginning of a college fund for her sons.
Giving Back with a Grateful Heart
And now, with deep appreciation and a grateful heart, Dahiana is already giving back. She is serving as a volunteer family support mentor for three homeowners in progress at the largest project in Morris Habitat’s history—a complex of 12 condominium on Main Street in the Succasunna section of Roxbury Township. She is also the mentor for a homeowner in progress at the Randall Avenue project in Mine Hill. Dahiana will serve as a role model and liaison for these families, assisting them at every step of the homeowner process as they complete sweat equity hours and educational seminars on budgeting, finance and neighbor relations.
Edward Sartorius planned to be an Army lifer – just like his father. He first joined the military in 1983 and was in the Battle of 73 Easting in Desert Storm, the first American invasion of Iraq. “I was in the biggest tank battle since World War II,” Sartorius said of the American victory that all but destroyed Iraq’s armored vehicle force in 1991.
Almost 20 years later, he fought in another war in the Middle East. While stationed in Afghanistan, he drove an armored vehicle with a gun mount, escorting supply trucks to outposts near the Pakistan border. “We got attacked by sniper fire, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,” said Sartorius, who was never injured.
After all that, like many veterans, he still couldn’t afford to buy a house! A 2013 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition said 5 million veteran households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and 1.5 million of those were severely cost-burdened, meaning that 50 percent or more of their household income is used to pay for housing. In New Jersey, 8 out of 10 veteran households fall into that severely-burdened category.
“It’s kind of hard to get ahead around here,” said Sartorius. He was unemployed for 18 months after being medically discharged with the onset of diabetes. He then found part-time work with Morris County in its transportation garage, and was hired full-time recently. He is fifty years old and earns $14 an hour. The monthly rent for his two-bedroom garden apartment is $1,450, meaning it eats up $17,400 of his $29,120 yearly wages.
His wife, Maria, works as a custodian to help keep them and their 12-year-old daughter afloat. The cost of home ownership in a Morris Habitat home will be $621 a month, including taxes. That drops their housing cost from 60% of Edward’s income down to 26%. “It will give us a little breathing room,” Sartorius said.
Morris Habitat is currently building two homes for veterans on Harding Avenue in Dover, NJ, and looks to expand the Veterans Build program to serve more veterans.
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.
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.
Weathering the storms
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.”
She was right. Jessica was selected. Since 2016, 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.”
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!”
My name is Junior Rondon. My whole life, I watched my parents, Gregorio and Gleny Rondon, work hard to provide a better life for their children than what they had. My father worked two jobs. He would leave the house at 6:00 a.m. and work until midnight. For eight years, I only saw my dad on weekends. During this time, my mother worked in housekeeping at Morristown Memorial Hospital, then at a child care center that allowed her to take my newborn brother with her to work. This is what they did to make ends meet in America; it was our only chance at a better life after they fled the Dominican Republic.
My father came here first, in 1994, and my mother arrived in 2001. They waited ten years for their green cards and permanent resident status, and then became American citizens five years after arriving in the US. Like all immigrant families here in America, they hoped to achieve the American dream of owning a home.
Struggling to save for a home.
For years, we squeezed into a small apartment in Morristown, while they saved every penny they earned toward a down payment. I remember my parents’ frustration as home prices escalated. “When, when, when are we going to get out of here?” my mother would say to my father. Even when homes prices dropped, my parents weren’t any closer to their dream. Instead, they struggled to pay bills and makes ends meet. They worried about our safety in the neighborhood, where drugs were around us every day.
Then, my mother heard of Habitat for Humanity. We applied to start the process, and, in 2014, our prayers were answered. We were going be home owners! My brother would grow up in a safe neighborhood. When construction of our new home began, my parents – true to their work ethic – put in much more than the required 400 hours of “sweat equity.” They couldn’t stay away, because this was going to be our home. And now it is.
The things many people take for granted, we hold dear.
My mother has a dishwasher. My father has a parking space, a place where he can safely put his car after a hard day’s work. And, on Thanksgiving, we invited our extended family to the first of many holidays and celebrations we will enjoy in our new home in Morris Township.
For my younger brother Justin, our new home means he has a room of his own and has a quiet place to study and do his homework. He can play outside without being afraid. And he feels proud inviting friends over. He’s just ten, so Justin will grow up here.
As for me, I may be leaving soon for college, but I won’t go far. I have earned a full academic scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University. I’m not sure yet if it will include room and board, but, if not, I have the option to go home to a clean and safe place.
This home is the foundation on which my family can build our dreams. I will be the first in my family to graduate from college. My brother will certainly follow. We now have the same future as generation upon generation of other legal immigrants, and we are prepared to give back. I have learned that this great country only fulfills its promise of the American dream when everyone has a stake in it. I pledge to be generous with what I attain so that the next family can build the foundation to achieve their dreams. My father is now a regular at other construction sites, applying his Habitat-learned building skills to other people’s homes. He is also on the Morris Habitat Homeowner Relations Committee and acts as a mentor for new families.
My name is Akirah Farrell. I am one of Morris Habitat’s newest homeowners. My 7-year-old daughter, Imani, and I moved into our home in Morristown early in 2016. It’s a pretty, yellow two-family house on a quiet street — and we love it.
For the first time, I’m experiencing true independence, and I have my own roof over my head. That is a great feeling.
Temporary Housing with a Relative
Before I found Morris Habitat, Imani and I lived with my mom in a two-bedroom apartment in Newark. I had no choice. I simply could not afford an apartment on my own. Of course, I was thankful for my mom’s help. But it was frustrating, too. I have a good job working full-time in customer service for a cable company, and I was going to school to earn my master’s in business management. I was working hard to provide a good life for Imani. But I could not make ends meet on my own.
Meanwhile, the apartment we shared with my mom was getting cluttered and crowded. Imani was getting bigger, and I wanted her to have her own space, her own room. I wanted her to experience having her own yard and a place where she could ride her bike.
It was time for us to move out on our own, but I couldn’t see a way to make it work financially. Then my mom heard about Morris Habitat, and I applied.
Helping Build My Own Home
I couldn’t believe it when I learned I was going to become a Morris Habitat homeowner! I continued to work during the day and took my graduate classes at night. As part of my 300 hours of “sweat equity” contribution to build my home, I volunteered in the ReStore donations department.
In 2013, we broke ground on my house. I didn’t know anything about construction at the beginning, but the volunteers who worked on my home were amazing and helped me learn. Building a home is intimidating, but it’s gratifying, too.
When I walk in my front door at the end of the day, my home is serenity. And I helped build it.
Stability in a Habitat Home
Today Imani and I are focused on the future. I have already seen changes in my daughter. She has always been a great student. But now she has a new level of confidence. We’ve also been learning about Morristown and our new community. There are many activities available for Imani, and I am excited about the opportunities for her.
For me, I am starting to explore new career options. I have finished my MBA, and I am thinking of returning to school to focus on human resources. The affordability of our home will make working and going to school a little easier for me. This home has changed our lives, and I only expect great things to happen.
So … thank you! With your help, I purchased a house I can afford, which provides independence, stability and peace of mind. With your help, Imani has a yard and a neighborhood where she can stretch out, ride her bike and be a kid. With your help, I have been able to provide not just a roof over our heads, but a home, where Imani and I can make a life together. I can’t tell you what that means to us.
David Gavasheli and his wife, Nino Tsereteli, have been refugees of war two times. In 1993, David was a professor of design at a college in Tbilisi, a city in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. An ethnic and political civil war raged around the couple and their infant son, Luka. One night it came to their doorstep. “Five armed guys came to our house with machine guns, hit me on the forehead, and took everything,” David said. “I had no money to buy milk for my 10-month-old son.”
Escaping from Violence
The next year, David and his family fled from their homeland to Haifa, Israel, where they would live for a decade. David worked as a stained glass artist, while Nino taught art. Soon they welcomed their second son, Matthew. But again, they lived amidst escalating violence in the tumultuous Middle East. A bus was bombed near their home. Gunfire pierced the night. “I was really afraid for my children,” David said.
David and Nino once again sought a safe place to raise their sons. The Gavashelis tried for three years to immigrate to the United States and become permanent residents. The night before they learned they won the green card lottery, Nino saw a white dove flying outside their window. The family hoped the bird was a sign that they would one day find a peaceful home. A year later, the Gavasheli family was living in subsidized housing in Madison, New Jersey. David found work as a stained glass artist and interior designer, while Nino was a library assistant in Madison. Even with two salaries, however, the Gavashelis struggled financially. Their dream of owning a home seemed impossible.
A Safe Place to Raise Their Sons in Peace
In 2013, David and Nino partnered with Morris Habitat to build the safe and secure home they could barely imagine on a terrible night in Georgia twenty years earlier. Alongside hundreds of volunteers, the family of four framed walls, hung Sheetrock, installed roofing and painted. “We did it with our own hands,” David said. “My older son, he knows almost everything about how to build a house.”
One day during construction, Nino saw a white dove flying between the home’s open beams. The Gavashelis were in awe. It was as if the bird of peace they first saw in Israel had followed them to their new home. “It’s difficult to believe,” David said. “We see it as a sign for us. We had to put this sign on our house. It means hope and peacefulness for the future.” Just above the entrance to his Morris Habitat home in Madison, David Gavasheli created a stunning stained glass window of a white dove resting among branches. The bird is a symbol of hope, endurance and peace, and a daily reminder of their journey – spanning more than twenty years and three continents – to find a safe home for their family.
By 2016, the Gavashelis were settled in their home. Son Luka had graduated from college and embarked on a career as a graphic designer in New York City. Matthew attended Madison High School and shared the same artistic talent as his parents and brother. The mortgage on their Morris Habitat home is 25 percent less than their rental, enabling them to save each month and help Luka pay off his college loans. The home also includes a basement that David and Nino converted to a studio where they do their artwork.
But most importantly, each time they pass beneath the white dove that graces their front door, they are reminded of how their Morris Habitat home brought them peace. “When we came to the U.S., we came not just to find jobs, we came to become Americans,” David said. “Morris Habitat, and everyone who helped, they really changed the life of my family and of future generations of this family.”
Homeownership changes lives. It lifts families out of poverty housing and helps them achieve financial stability. Just as important, homeownership gives families security and the pride that comes from building and paying for their own homes. It is the foundation of strong, vibrant communities.
Our partner families tell us this time and time again—families like Charles and Veronica Moore, who moved into their Morris Habitat home in Peer Place in Denville in 2013. Veronica said homeownership has transformed their lives in countless ways.
Their three-bedroom townhome offers considerably more space than their cramped former apartment. They no longer have the constant inspections that come with living in a subsidized home. And there’s a basketball court out back where their 14-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son play while Mom keeps an eye on them from the house. To complete their 300 hours of required sweat equity, Charles, who has worked for the Morris County Mosquito Commission for 10 years, helped build their home every weekend. Veronica did clerical work for Morris Habitat.
The Moores were offered housing authority assistance to help pay for their home, but they turned it down, opting to pay their mortgage on their own. For the Moores, homeownership also has meant they have peace of mind and financial independence.
“Charles helped build his own home from the ground up,” Veronica said. “He’s very proud to be able to say that.”
The news that they were selected and Morris Habitat would build their home came at the worst moment for any parent. About six weeks earlier, they had learned that their daughter was seriously ill with leukemia.
While their home was being built, their daughter received intensive medical treatments and missed an entire year of school. Veronica oversaw her care, which included numerous hospital stays and doctor visits. Charles helped build the home every weekend to complete his sweat equity. Thankfully, the daughter has been in remission for a year.
“The most rewarding thing is to see how much joy our house brings my children,” Veronica said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction to hear them say, ‘This is my home.’ I’m so overly grateful that there are people out there who don’t mind taking the time to help other people. They’re amazing.”
Shortly after Ada completed a bachelor’s degree in law in the Dominican Republic, she fled from an abusive husband, leaving two young sons with her parents. Ada arrived in Dover, New Jersey, distraught and unable to speak English. She found work as a hairstylist and enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class.
Helar Lanchipa attended college in Peru for a degree in engineering telecommunications before dropping out to help his father in the family auto parts store. Helar had observed that even college graduates had a hard time finding employment in Peru. Figuring that life in the United States might offer him opportunities that would never present themselves at home, he also made his way to Dover, New Jersey. Without knowing English, he found Spanish-speaking friends and a provisional job in hospital maintenance. Most of Helar’s work could be done without English, except that he was always on call via a walkie-talkie. A friend advised him to answer every walkie-talkie call with the English words “Go ahead!” Although that led to some unfortunate results when he failed to attend to urgent maintenance requests, his excellent work earned him a permanent position on the staff.
Helar resolved to learn English. He sought out American friends, stopped watching Spanish TV, and enrolled in an ESL class where he noticed an earnest young woman named Ada. They became good friends, and the friendship led to marriage. The family quickly expanded with the birth of their daughter Ashley and the arrival of Ada’s sons German and Ryan from the Dominican Republic in 2001. Ada left her hairstyling position to care for the children. Two years later, Kevin was born.
The Lanchipas could not maintain their Dover apartment and family on one salary, so they moved to the Sussex Interfaith Shelter. There they began to receive help from the Housing Authority, including rent assistance for a house in Jefferson. In 2005 they applied unsuccessfully for a Morris Habitat for Humanity house. Undeterred, they applied again in 2007, and their names were drawn by lottery for the next house to be built—in Jefferson!
Helar wasted no time in starting the family’s required 300 hours of “sweat equity” by working on other Habitat homes under construction in Denville and Hopatcong. He especially enjoys roofing, framing, and window installation. Ada and the older sons are also contributing to the sweat equity hours. They’ve helped to take down trees at the site of their future home on Collins Avenue, and Ada volunteers at the Morris Habitat ReStore, where donated construction and household items are sold to the public at a fraction of their retail cost.
Helar now works as an electro-mechanical assembler for a medical testing equipment firm. It pays less than his former maintenance job but provides the experience he wants in electronics. He is pursuing an associate’s degree in electronics engineering at the County College of Morris. Ada keeps busy caring for the four children. German has a summer job in landscaping. He and Ryan are students at Jefferson Township High School, Ashley will begin first grade in September, and Kevin will attend preschool. Helar and Ada speak both Spanish and English with their children, who are all fluently bilingual.
The Lanchipas often reflect on the differences they find between the USA and their Latin American home countries. Ada misses the constant warm weather, Helar misses the ocean, and Ryan misses the animals on his grandparents’ farm. But here, Ada enjoys the security, Helar is grateful for the work opportunities, and Ryan loves the snow. All of them appreciate the help they’ve received on their journeys to and within the United States. “God has always blessed me, putting the right people—like angels—in my life,” says Ada. Morris Habitat for Humanity is the latest group of angels, helping the family to build a house and make it a home.
Twelve years ago, Heidi Gebhard became a Morris Habitat for Humanity homeowner, in hopes of giving her daughter Bianca a better life. At the time, Heidi was working nearly 80 hours a week, running from her full-time job during the day to two part-time jobs in the evenings, while six-year-old Bianca shuttled between family members and babysitters. Heidi had no choice. Most of her salary went toward her $1,400 a month rent for a dark, dank basement apartment. She and Bianca had briefly been homeless, and the single mom struggled to keep a roof over their heads.
Still, all of that working took a toll. “Everything I did was for Bianca, but I never saw her,” Heidi said. “I worried I wasn’t giving my daughter a real life.” Both mother and daughter were miserable. Bianca began having tantrums, crying inconsolably and acting out. Heidi was racked with guilt and worried constantly about her daughter.
Then Heidi partnered with Morris Habitat to build her own home, and their lives began to change. As part of Heidi’s homeowner application, Bianca drew a picture of a house with a simple request: “I just want a window in my room.” When they moved to their Morris Habitat home on Fairlawn Avenue in Randolph right before Christmas 2003, not only did Bianca get a bedroom with two windows, but she got her mom back.
“My mortgage is $500, about a third of what I had paid in rent. I was able to quit my two part-time jobs and give Bianca the childhood I wanted her to have,” Heidi said. She and Bianca spent time together. Bianca joined sports teams like other kids her age, and Heidi was the proud, cheering mom on the sidelines. Bianca began to blossom.
The affordability and stability of Heidi’s Habitat home also enabled her to go back to school. “It was a long road, but I finished college, earned my master’s degree in psychology and was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a board-certified behavior analyst in 2014,” Heidi said. “I work at a private school in Morris County for children with special needs.”
Bianca (pictured at right) is now 18 and loves lacrosse, basketball, track and field and cheerleading. She’s applying to college and hopes to study psychology – just like her mom! Her top choice is the University of Michigan.
For Heidi and Bianca, their Habitat home provided more than just shelter and security. “It gave me time with my daughter,” Heidi said. “I can’t put a value on that.” Like any kid, Bianca wanted a home where she felt safe — and even a little proud. “I like that I can bring friends over to my house. I love that I can decorate my own room the way I want,” Bianca said. “Knowing that I will always have a place of my own makes me feel completely comfortable.”
Camille Allen’s home in Morristown was formerly the site of the neighborhood dump, a place to deposit leaves, glass bottles, and the occasional used tire. Then Morris Habitat for Humanity acquired the compact piece of property nestled in a corner of a development close to Speedwell Avenue. Today, the land bears no evidence of its junkyard past. A three-unit house sits on it enveloped by large trees. Allen lives with her two sons in the middle unit. All three units have a comfortable two-level floor plan with three bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, living room, and utility room downstairs.
Life was not always so good for Allen. Before she moved into her Habitat home in 2002, the 35-year old Jamaica native, who came to the U.S. eighteen years ago, lived in Morris Plains while working as a social worker with the Morris County Division of Human Services. Her older son, Sean, was in high school and her younger one, Fabian, was in elementary school.
For Allen, the financial burden of living in one of the most expensive counties in the country was proving to be too much. “I was paying 60% of my income for rent,” she said. “It was hard to make ends meet.”
And so when she found out that she had been chosen from among many applicants to become one of the homeowners in a three-family structure to be built in Morristown, Allen was overjoyed. “It was very emotional,” she said of the time. “We were really excited.”
Her circumstances, she feels, were symptomatic of the affordable housing crisis in Morris County, one that affects not just low-income individuals but those of moderate income as well. As an articulate and confident young woman with a college degree, she had “a decent job,” Allen said, but it was still a struggle to come up with the monthly rent payments.
Now free from the burden of writing large rent checks, this single mother can focus on the things that are important to her, like her sons’ education. Fabian, now a sixth grader, is on the Honor Roll at Freylinghuysen Middle School while Sean is a junior at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
She herself has her sights set on more than one goal. She currently holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology but intends to return to school for a master’s and eventually a doctoral degree in social work. In addition to her full-time job, she referees at soccer and lacrosse games, serves as the president of the area’s Interfaith Council for the Homeless, and often bakes for various local events.
How does she fit all this into a 24-hour day? “I don’t need much sleep,” Allen said with a smile, but she attributed part of this voluntary hyperactivity to being a Habitat homeowner. “When your financial situation changes, your entire life changes,” she said. “If your housing is unstable, you can’t focus on your goals.”
Eduardo Vargas was working two full-time jobs in maintenance and landscaping to support his wife, Aura, and their five daughters. They lived in a crowded two-bedroom apartment, where Eduardo was in constant fear of eviction.
“I was always afraid the landlord would come and say, ‘You have too many kids. You need to leave,'” Eduardo said. “That two-bedroom apartment was what I could afford.”
But, in 1998, the family partnered with Morris Habitat for Humanity and worked to renovate an abandoned four-bedroom house on Vail Place in Morristown, where there was room for everyone. The monthly mortgage payment on the house was half of what they were paying in rent, so they got twice the space for half the cost.
The affordability made day-to-day living easier and allowed them to save for their daughters’ educations. Today, all five Vargas daughters, who range in age from 22 to 37, have graduated from college and embarked on careers. Two are certified public accountants, one is a biologist, one works in research at Morristown Medical Center, and the youngest is a nurse.
“I praise God for Habitat. They made it affordable for us to have a home,” Eduardo said. “Because of the help they have provided us, I have been able to help my daughters succeed academically.”
Eduardo and Aura today have seven grandchildren, who have the run of a loving home where their mothers grew up.
“I have been able to realize some things that were just dreams back then with my family, with my daughters. My dreams were that my kids would grow up in a stable home. I will never be tired of being thankful to Habitat,” Eduardo said. “You changed our lives.”
It is that kind of family stability – which is the strength of our communities – that Morris Habitat for Humanity provides. A family is sheltered. A property is restored and back on the tax rolls. A neighborhood is improved. In the Vargas family’s case, a new Morris Habitat donor is found! The family gives each year to the cause that did so much to help them.