June is National Homeownership Month, so HFHC is honoring Habitat Homeowners by telling their stories! See how being a homeowner has impacted Denise’s life:
Habitat homeowner Denise is a thin, short woman with bright blue eyes and a handshake that tells you she means business. She also talks with her hands, sweeping and waving them around to add emphasis to her stories…a trick she learned, no doubt, in her role as a Kindergarten teacher. When you hear Denise talk, it’s easy to get caught up in the grandiose hand gestures — and the smiles and sparkle that accompany her life story. But what Denise remembers, and what you won’t soon forget, is that without Habitat, her life would have been entirely different.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Denise says, “I just knew it, in the core of me, that this is what I wanted to do. I was on the right track, but things got derailed, and I found myself divorced—alone with a one and two-year old to raise, and suddenly that dream got moved to the back burner because I knew I needed to work to provide for my family.”
So Denise found a job at the local hospital, which she was grateful to have, but it barely paid the bills.
“Thankfully, I found an income-based rental unit, but I still could barely make ends meet or feel safe letting my kids play outside. My kids had to be in daycare while I worked, and I would charge that expense to my credit card, and then work extra hours the rest of the year to pay it off,” Denise said.
Her job did play a role in her Habitat journey, though. A co-worker was considering applying for a Habitat home, but had too high of an income to qualify. Knowing Denise and her situation, she gave her the application with a week left until deadline, and Denise filled it out that night. Like all of the other applicants, Denise was interviewed and had to attend an orientation. She was encouraged to set her expectations appropriately, and to understand that Habitat houses were simple, safe and decent. “It’s basically a box with a door!” a Habitat Board member had joked, but either way Denise waited, hoping to hear back from Habitat and knowing how much she needed this opportunity.
“I remember being in my apartment right before Thanksgiving. The kids were in bed and it was dark outside, when through the silence I heard a knock at the door. Ordinarily, in my neighborhood, I never would have answered it, but through the peephole I saw one face that I recognized, but the rest were strangers with big smiles on their faces and, I don’t know, I just knew I had to open it.”
Denise was greeted with the news that she had been selected as a Habitat partner family, and was handed three bright yellow hard hats—one of her and each of her two children.
“I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock. I just stood there like a stone. But if I knew what this moment would mean to me now…I would have been dancing!”
To say that Denise worked hard for her house would be an understatement. As a single parent, she put in over 500 hours working on her own home – 2 years of Saturdays in the sun, snow, rain and sleet. She knew every inch of her home and, even now, she looks back on those construction days with fondness.
“I can tell you who built every part of my home. I can tell you which corners are a little crooked, which volunteers hung which doors. I was there every step of the way and I’m very proud of that.”
When her home was finally complete, Denise couldn’t have been more excited or proud. Her kids were thrilled to have their own rooms, to have a place to call their own, and to be able to play outside without fear or worry. Denise’s daughter spent the first few days of move-in dancing in the living room because it felt so big “it was like her very own studio!”
Everything had changed for the better, and with the newfound time (after all, she wasn’t building every Saturday anymore) and financial stability, Denise went back to school to get her Masters in Education and, after completing that, she accepted her dream job as a Kindergarten teacher with Poudre School District.
This fall marks her 16th year as a teacher, and she loves every day of it. But she stands firm that everything would have been different – her job, her house, her kids, if not for Habitat.
“Not only did Habitat provide me with an opportunity to pursue my dream career, but it also taught me and my kids a lot about the value of hard work, time management, and the good in the community. I was worried what would happen to my kids before Habitat came along, but now I know that the cycle of worrying about jobs and where to live has been broken because of Habitat. My kids are doing great and I’m very proud.”
20 years after she bought her Habitat home, Denise still walks into her classroom and smiles. Her kids are grown up with lives of their own, and even they will always remember the impact of Habitat and their strong single-mother who showed them that you CAN achieve your dreams.
“Recently, my son received a promotion at his construction job, and I told him ‘That’s wonderful, I know how hard you worked to get to this point,’ and he said, ‘Everything I know about hard work and reaching goals I learned from you, Mom.'”