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If I Can Do It, You Can Too: James' Story

If I Can Do It, You Can Too: James' Story

“Shh…can you hear that peace?”

Sitting in James Hargon’s home, you can’t tell it’s in the middle of Minneapolis. It’s quiet. The space is bright and airy. On the front porch, you’ll find the four noble truths and eightfold path from Buddhism written out on signs. Behind his house there’s a pond where you can see all kinds of wildlife. And James, wearing a chain with a smiley face on it and a big smile on his face to match, makes you feel at home right away.

James’ life wasn’t always this peaceful. But with the cards stacked against him – a single dad with two kids, two jobs, and no financial help from family – James became a homeowner with Habitat. He set goals, worked hard, and changed his family’s life forever.

“I want people to know that if I can do it, you can do it too.”

James smiling on his front porch

Finding Peace

James didn’t always have a peaceful place to call home growing up. His family moved from Chicago to Minneapolis when he was 14.

“We had to stay in shelters. Stay on people’s floors. Stay in a one-bedroom apartment. Stay in hotels,” James remembers. “The state of not knowing where you’re going to go or having no outlook on where you’re going to stay—that is traumatizing! That is one of the worst feelings, and I felt that many times.”

Eventually, James’ grandma was able to buy their family a home.

“To go from being basically homeless to actually having a home—that’s what I wanted for my kids,” James says, smiling. “The feeling of having the stairs to come down on Christmas. The joy of not being in the state of ‘I don’t know where I’m going to go.’”

James continued living with his mom as he grew into adulthood; he went out on his own in 2008 when his first son, James Jr., was born. James was married during this time, and his stepdaughter was living with them too. James’ daughter Destiny was born a few years later. Not long after that, James and his wife separated, and he ended up with full custody of James Jr. and Destiny.

“I was in the state at one point with my divorce and everything felt like ‘Why me?’ You know, I was sitting around disliking life. One day I saw something on TV and decided to sit down and meditate. And it hit me—James the Great was created.”

For James, meditation and Buddhism led him to be dedicated to himself. He decided he was going to be great—he told himself he was great, and when other people asked how he was he said “I’m great! I’m extraordinary!” He completely changed his life, and his family’s life, for the better.

“You are what you say you are,” James says, “and nobody can take that away from you. Life is beautiful when you open your eyes and see it.

 

Persistence Pays Off

James put his kids first. He worked multiple jobs and found an apartment with a great landlord who kept his rent flat for many years. But his next apartment was more expensive, and each year his rent was hiked up at least $200 a month. It was James’ first experience with skyrocketing rents—an affordability crisis that has been devastating for Twin Cities families. James wasn’t sure what his next move would be.

“One day I got off work and I was coming into the house—there was a vacant lot next to my home, and they had finished building a new home. And there was a sign that said Habitat for Humanity and it had a number to call. I remember this very clearly – and it gives me goosebumps – I saw it and I said ‘I’m gonna call. I’m gonna give it a try.’

The next day during his lunch break, James called Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. After sharing his story – how he had been grinding, saving his money, saving every paystub, never missing a day of work – James’ application was accepted right away.

James soaked up all the information in Habitat’s homeownership education classes like a sponge.

“I use what I learned all the time,” James remembers. He learned he could add more money on his mortgage payments to pay down the principal faster. He learned how to try fixing things himself first before calling someone. And by volunteering on someone else’s Habitat home, he learned the best technique for painting a room.

By deciding he was going to be great, by being persistent and being his own biggest cheerleader, James flew through Habitat’s homeownership program. Soon, that closing date was on the calendar.

“If you be persistent and don’t give up – even when times call for giving up – man, you can make it through anything.”

James will never forget the feeling he had after closing on his home.

“The first time we came to see the house, the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I deserve this.’ And my baby Destiny – and this was so beautiful because she was so small – said ‘WE deserve this, Dad! WE deserve this!” James laughs as he remembers. “That was like my hard dedication and hard work paid off…it was overwhelming.”

James Hargon family on the front path

Base Camp

It’s been five years since James bought his home. He has what he needs, but not a lot extra. Because for James, his home isn’t a place to burrow in and forget the outside world. Rather, it’s a base camp, where his family can rest and recharge before going back out into the world.

There’s not a lot on James’ walls but hanging in the dining room is a large map of the United States. It’s filled with stickers, each representing a place his family has traveled to.

“We’ve been places I couldn’t have dreamed of going to,” James says, pointing out stickers on the map. “Disneyland and the Sequoias, from Winnipeg down to Cancun…from Key West to Hawaii. Having a base, having a home, that’s what does it for you.”

James Hargon family with map

James’ home can be a base camp for others, too. When his big sister was in a bad situation that she needed to get out of, he invited her into his home.

“[My home] was actually beneficial not only for my family, but I was the person that could say ‘You come stay with me.’” His sister and her kids ended up staying for a year. Now, she’s thriving in Miami.

When James is asked about his vision for the future, the answer comes quickly: “Generational wealth.” Whether James’ kids eventually live in the home or decide to sell it one day, he wants them to have more peace of mind than he grew up with. And James wants to make his ancestors proud.

“My grandma owned her property. My grandpa owned his property. So I come from ownership…they showed me what I need to do—and I think let me step in and do it a little bit better.

James has certainly done better for his family, and he hopes his story inspires others to give homeownership with Habitat a try too—because, according to James, “If I can do it, you can do it too.

 

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