Imagine a family of five living in a two bedroom apartment. Imagine sharing the thin walls of your dining room with strangers, and one night an arrow piercing through it. For Penny Sanchez and Sergio Pedraza, this chaos was a reality.
But three months ago, all of that changed. With the help of Habitat for Humanity, the Pedraza family moved into a four bedroom home with a two car garage and big yard.
“We went from being all the way at the bottom,” Penny says about her family’s experience with Habitat.
Broadly, Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit, Christian organization which combats impoverished housing and homelessness by building sound and affordable housing. At a very micro level, Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity administers the organization’s services for Allegan and Ottawa counties.
The need in the Lakeshore area is great, with the percentage of people living below the poverty level in the City of Holland higher than both state and national averages. This is largely in part to high rent prices in the area and a dramatic shortage of affordable housing, which force low income families into cramped and desolate living environments.
At any given time, Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity has over fifty families on their waiting list for new builds and more recently, home repairs. This is a new feature to Lakeshore that ranges from repainting a home to installing new insulation or even redoing a kitchen. (More on the home build process: Building a House to Create a Home)
“We are a hand up, NOT a hand out.” Judi Hill says quoting one of the organization’s slogans. Hill is the Homeowner Services Manager at the Lakeshore branch. She emphasizes that relationships with Habitat families are a partnership, a two-way street. In fact, to even qualify for a home, families must be able to contribute to the down payment of the home, within a specified income bracket and able to put in physical labor toward the project.
Each adult in the household must put in 250+ hours worth of work into their home or a home for other Habitat families called sweat equity hours. This consists of informative and hands on classes, put on by Community Action House, to build homeowner skills such from budgeting to changing a lock. The homeowners must also spend a certain amount on site during the construction of the home working alongside volunteers that make this dream a reality.
Both Penny and her husband Sergio went over their sweat equity requirement, while each maintaining their respective jobs. Working his real job on 3rd shift, Sergeo took part in the building process as much as possible. (It takes place during normal business hours). He was there when volunteers carved the ground to lay the foundation and when the final nail went in the frames.
Meanwhile, Penny contributed in the non-profit’s office and with Lakeshore Habitat’s ReStore which helps fund the builds. (Read Five Reasons You Should Donate to Holland Restore)
Making house home
“We build the house, but the family makes it home.” Hill says. And home means something different to each family.
For the Perdaza’s home means family, first, but also permanence. They used to move from rental to rental, an unstable journey that was reflected in their son’s grades. Since acquiring the Habitat home at the new year, his grades have improved dramatically – a result they feel they can only attribute to this one last move. Their children are happier to come home to the same place every night.
The Pedraza home was built among four other Habitat homes in their Holland neighborhood, and roughly around the same time, which has created a sense of community like most Habitat families have never known.
“We went through all the steps together,” Penny says, adding that this builds the idea stability for her family and that knowing their neighbors makes her children feel safe.
Although the Pedrazas are officially homeowners and their sweat equity hours are completed, the experience has inspired them to pay it forward. Penny continues to assist with Lakeshore Habitat as a Spanish interpreter, when needed, and Sergio has been known to swing a hammer with other Habitat builds.
“We can’t give you monetary help, but we can help put a wall up or put in some sweat equity!” Penny says. “We’re more than happy to help. It’s the least we can do.”