During a time that feels like another lifetime ago, I spent many a Saturday working on construction sites in Omaha, Nebraska. I was joined by many friends and family, and while my grandparents kept my oldest (at the time, just a little guy) I climbed up a ladder to lay shingles, or hang gutters. I used muscles I didn't know existed when I painted walls and placed new drywall and refinished hardwood floors.
Just a couple of years prior, I had I moved out of my mother's home when I was sixteen. My pride (and her wisdom) determined that I would never move back in. I hustled several jobs and landed a duplex with five other people. Our varied lifestyles and alternate work schedules meant that our house was in constant chaos. We had parties (crazy parties that no one needs to know the details of) and some months we barely managed to pay our rent. There were many times that I regretted my stubborn decision to move out, but at the same time, I was generally happy to be on my own (except for the moments that my environment was toxic, or during the situations where I was endangering myself or teetering on the edge of really stupid behavior).
I found myself pregnant at 17 and delivered my (who has turned out to be as equally as stubborn as I am) oldest child the winter after I turned 18 years old. After I found out I was pregnant, I moved in with my grandparents, and then shortly after my oldest was born, relocated to live with a family friend. Everything was fine, and even though I was a young single mother with no support from my son's father, I had an incredible support system with my family and was fortunate to have landed a phenomenal job. I was not faced with the immediate threat of bottoming out or living a life on the edge. However, I did still need a hand up and assistance getting my foot firmly out the door of the house of "being one paycheck away from the poverty line".
Enter Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity allowed me to get a new start on life. They offered me a fresh opportunity to get firmly planted and on the right track towards success.
Sweat Equity is an ingenious way to bridge the gap between empowered homeowners and future success. Habitat homeowners literally invest hours upon hours of labor on their homes and the homes of other homeowners. Not only is a homeowner's sweat earning hours towards future ownership, but it is also an investment of time into their own self-improvement, self-confidence and self-worth. The sweat equity hours provides a savings to the organization because it reduces the number of volunteers that are needed to get a house ready and safe to move into. Finally, these sweat equity hours instill many lessons about basic building and home-maintenance skills that are necessary for homeownership.
I put in my Sweat Equity hours years ago ... and we flourished in the home those hours earned my little family - my son and I. We lived there for approximately six years before I got married and we moved away from Nebraska. So many memories in that house, so many growth moments and scary times. So many struggles yet so many successes. It seemed of so little consequence at the time, but it was quite possibly one of the reasons I stayed far away from the scary place that poverty is.
Fast forward to today. When we move, we often purge our household belongings and chose the Habitat for Humanity : Restore for most of our donations. I've also participated in a Women Build Orlando - which was a 'from the ground up' build! The construction team was filled with women from all walks of life, including women working on their own sweat equity hours.
I've been learning more and more lately about the cycle of poverty and what it looks like here in the United States. I feel I got a big eye-opening look into what poverty looks like in India, but it is here as well and it's not pretty. One of the things I've decided I can do is give back by coming full circle.
I am committed to getting more involved in homeownership here in Omaha - on a community level. It's time for me - again - to put in some sweat equity hours.