When Rachel was interviewed for this piece, she shared so beautifully and eloquently that we felt it was not only best, but necessary, to keep this story in her own words. Here is Rachel’s story of her journey as a homeowner.
We started in a place where I didn’t have big dreams.
When I bought my house in 2004, I was a single mom with two little kids. We were living in a public housing development. I knew that I wanted a better life for my kids, but I thought that would just mean saving up enough to rent a little place to get out of the projects.
The extent of my dreams was that I wanted my kids safe. I wanted them to grow up. Buying a home wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t even think it was a possibility. I didn’t know anybody who owned a home. Nobody, nobody, in my family was a homeowner. I didn’t even feel like I was allowed to dream that big.
I casually attended a seminar about Habitat for Humanity, but I didn’t go into it even fully understanding what it was, and I was a little shocked when I realized I could be eligible to buy a house. I remember that I came to the office, and I found out I was approved. It slowly sunk in that I was actually buying my own home. I went back to our apartment, and me and my kids fell to the floor and started bawling and praying and just thanking God for this gift. It was amazing.
I realized then that our life was going to change. And it did. It did.
The house was instantly a safe oasis, but still, it took a little while for my mindset to change. For the first five years, I didn’t even feel like I could paint a wall. It’s hard to break that old mentality!
I can actually put a nail in?!
I can actually plant things in the yard?!
I can actually make changes and nobody’s going to say anything!?
You’re talking about generations of that mindset. That’s a cycle. So after five years, yeah, my walls were still white. But then I remember a friend came over one day, and she exclaimed: “Why haven’t you done anything with your walls?!” And after I realized that I had the power to make that decision, I just filled it with color! That was a big shift, because filling it with color in turn filled me with pride.
After that shift, I wanted to walk around with a banner that said: “Good morning! I’m a homeowner!” My kids joked that they were going to put it on my tombstone: RACHEL: A HOMEOWNER. I just felt like I was God’s chosen child to own this home.
One change led to another. It was this feeling of: if we can put color on the walls, what else can we do??
So we took up the carpeting and put down tile throughout. I wanted to see the pretty tile on the stairs better, so we took out a wall to open up the staircase. We painted trim. We put a backsplash on the walls. We just made it ours.
And what I found was that as I changed the house aesthetically, it changed me too. It made me realize strength I never knew I had. That’s the real power of being a homeowner— it trickles out into every aspect of your life. I felt so accomplished in every way.
Then, about ten years after buying my house, I encountered life-threatening complications from Diabetes. I was in stage five kidney failure. I almost lost my life. My kids and I were preparing for it. I survived, however, after a pancreatic and kidney transplant, but what I did lose was my eyesight.
I fell into a really low place with a lot of anxiety, fear, and sadness. I was cooped up in the house, and I was starting to associate the house with medicine and sickness. All I could do was sleep and cry. But the one place I could go was my backyard. If I could do nothing else in a day, I could step into my yard to get fresh air, sun, peace. I got the idea that maybe I could start planting things, start growing things from seed. We made a raised bed in the corner of the yard where I could garden. As I dug my hands into the dirt, I was rediscovering that same sense of accomplishment and pride that I had found years before when I first painted my walls. In that way, my living space once again started to give me a sense of purpose, because I didn’t want my plants to wilt or die. And the stronger and better my plants grew, the stronger and better I started to feel.
That period of finding solace in my yard inspired me to do more exterior work on the house, and in 2018, I applied for a grant from Habitat for Humanity to spruce it up. Volunteers came and did some landscaping and small repairs, and the biggest project was that they built us a little patio. My husband, who I married a couple years after I bought my house, and I plan to renew our wedding vows on that patio as soon as the pandemic will allow.
In 2019, I took advantage of yet another opportunity from Habitat for Humanity, and I applied for and received a scholarship from their program to go back to school. I am now at Rockford University to become a Social Worker. I know I want to help people, because every time I ‘ve needed help, there has been somewhere there to help me. I will be completing my degree around my 20th year in my home.
When I look back on these last sixteen years, and everything that has happened in these walls, my biggest takeaway is still that my kids grew up here. This house gave us pride, purpose, healing. But more than anything, it gave us stability. Before we bought this house, we had moved 12 times. You lose so much during every move. There’s a lot that’s left behind, literally and figuratively. And every move took money we didn’t have. And we weren’t able to make any connections because we were in constant motion. Things so easily could have continued on that way, but thanks to this house, my kids grew up in the neighborhood schools. They both graduated from East High School. They knew all the kids in the neighborhood for years. If we would have kept moving, it would have been so much harder for them to stay focused. It would have been harder for them to even graduate from high school. I just wanted to remove as many barriers for them as I could, and this house was a huge part of that.
My son, who was 6 or 7 when we moved in here, just bought his first home in California, and that makes me so proud, because I know I broke the cycle. It started with me. I showed him what’s possible. And even though they’re growing up so strong, I’m happy to know that my kids can still come back to a place that will always be home. It’s going to be here way after I’m gone. It will be left to my children, and hopefully one day it will be left to my grandchildren.
I just want people to know that I don’t feel like I’m anybody special, so this can be a reality for anybody no matter where you find yourself at in life. I didn’t think I had these possibilities. I didn’t have anyone pushing me to do it. I just took a blind leap of faith and filled out an application. If I wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. If you changed that one little moment in my life, you would change everything that follows. Habitat for Humanity didn’t just hand me the keys to my home; it changed the course of our lives. I own my home, and nobody can take that away from me. My home impacted every aspect of my life. It affected me as a person. It gave me the strength to say I can do anything..
Because of this house I was able to dream bigger. Because of this house, I was able to become somebody I never knew I could be.