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Empowering Women Through Homeownership and Volunteering

April 23, 2015

Habitat_for_Humanity_buildA home is more than just the bricks, mortar, and lumber used to build it. It’s an investment that many families make to lay the groundwork for a more prosperous future. Yet even as the housing market continues to improve, many low-income families, particularly those headed by single mothers, struggle to provide a stable, safe, and healthy home environment for their children.

“It all comes down to giving people in this country [a shot at success], and the single most important shot is a place to live securely,” said Vice President Joe Biden at a forum in April co-hosted by Habitat for Humanity International at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they have a base and a foundation and an opportunity. All they are asking for is a chance, a chance to raise their families and build their dreams.”

Millions of women across the country are hoping to become homeowners one day and lift their families out of poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 18 million women were living in poverty in 2013, an all-time high. Single mothers and their children are particularly vulnerable, with nearly six in ten poor children living in families headed by women.

In Lynwood, California, single mother Nikki Payton and her three daughters currently live with family members, sharing a room in a small two-bedroom house. Because all three daughters have health issues and suffer from asthma, Payton applied to purchase a Habitat for Humanity home so her family could live in a healthier environment. In Detroit, Marketta Jackson, a single mother of six, lives with her family in housing in desperate need of repairs. It’s also difficult for her mother, who uses a wheelchair. Jackson looks forward to some day having a home where her mother can get around easily and her family feels safe and secure. 

Women like Payton and Jackson are the reasons Habitat’s Women Build program exists. Women Build is about recruiting, educating, and empowering women to build simple, decent homes in their communities. To spotlight the homeownership challenges faced by women, Habitat partnered with Lowe’s in 2008 to launch the first annual National Women Build Week. Since then, through National Women Build Week projects, more than sixty-two thousand female volunteers have helped build twenty-three hundred Habitat for Humanity homes across the U.S.

The Women Build program does more than provide safe, healthy homes for families. Working on a Habitat home can boost a woman’s confidence and positively impact her life. Tara Young’s life was transformed when she moved into a Habitat home in August 2014. The single mother from Long Beach works as a preschool teacher. Before moving into her Habitat home, Young and her two kids were sharing a room in a family member’s house. Young describes the feeling of owning her own home as “priceless.” “It’s been a really great experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” she says. “If I think about what I’ve accomplished, just the whole experience, it brings tears to my eyes. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to purchase the home without Habitat.”

But the new owners of Habitat homes are not the only ones empowered by the Women Build program. Young has continued to volunteer with the organization and this year will be joined by her daughter, Ajhanae, in giving other Habitat families in Los Angeles the same “hand-up” they received.

This year, from May 2-10, more than fifteen thousand volunteers across the U.S. will participate in National Women Build Week. In Pittsburgh, Noreen Gramm and her two daughters will help rehab a home in partnership with a low-income family. The Gramms have participated in two previous Women Build projects and have learned how to cut, measure, and hang drywall; use various power tools; sand and paint walls; and do landscaping. Gramm said she enjoys working side-by-side with her daughters and believes they’ve greatly benefited from their volunteer experience, gaining the confidence to try new things on their own.

Lisa_marie_nickerson_for_PhilanTopicThese women exemplify the determination and commitment of Habitat homeowners and volunteers. Thanks to them and thousands more, we’re able to continue building homes, community, and hope — in the U.S. and around the world. Join us in our efforts to create opportunities and a path out of poverty for women and their families.

Learn more about Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program.

Lisa Marie Nickerson is associate director of the Women Build program at Habitat for Humanity International.

 

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