As she wipes away a tear, her husband Jacques reaches over to comfort her. "She does this every time," he says. "But it's true. It's all true." How hard are you willing to work to give your kids a good future? Juanita and Jacques asked themselves that question in 1994. At the time, they had two young sons, a third on the way, and a big St. Bernard.
They were renting in a cramped fourplex in Northeast Minneapolis. But they wanted to put down roots and provide their children with a permanent home where they could learn the values of hard work, respect, compassion, dignity and responsibility. Both parents were working, but keeping food on the table, paying all the bills, and putting aside enough money for the down payment on a home all at the same time wasn’t possible.
What they lacked in dollars, they made up for in grit, and they signed on to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program. Their partnership with Habitat required them to put in hundreds of hours of sweat equity rehabbing the abandoned home in North Minneapolis that they were going to buy. The home had original woodwork that was beautiful, but had been neglected and needed a lot of scraping, sanding, and refinishing. They worked evenings and long weekends to get it done. Jacques still lovingly remembers Habitat Site Supervisor Tony Beckstrom and the volunteers who showed up to help.
It took months and months to get all the required sweat equity hours completed. Then, just days before Christmas in 1995, the family signed their mortgage and moved into the home. They were even featured in the Star Tribune.
Their hard work didn’t stop after buying their home. They saved money diligently and paid off the home early. That was a blessing because by then they had five children growing up there.
Twenty years in a home can go fast when you fill it with loving memories. There are pictures from camping trips to the North Shore hanging in the living room. There’s a wall in the kitchen where two sons learned how to fix a brother-sized hole in drywall when roughhousing got out of hand. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper looks down at the dining room table where countless holidays, birthdays, and graduations have been celebrated over the years. It’s a packed house. But you can tell they like it that way.
Today the sons who patched the drywall have jobs in construction, another son is finishing his degree at Gustavus Adolphus College, their daughter earned a full scholarship to Lawrence University in Wisconsin, and the youngest son will graduate from Patrick Henry High School this spring. It’s a story about a strong family raising good kids in North Minneapolis. It happens every day. It rarely gets told.
Juanita finished her own degree after buying their Habitat home and now works at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center at the University of Minnesota. When thinking back on how far her family has come she is filled with emotion.
"Once you're chosen (for Habitat) and you have a home it's kind of like these doors open up," says Juanita. "It really does guarantee you that you have a place to call home and that you have a place for your babies that's safe."Twin Cities Habitat has helped more than 1,100 families buy homes with affordable mortgages over the past three decades. The foreclosure rate on these homes is dramatically lower than traditional lenders. And there is strong evidence that Habitat homeownership is tied to children doing better in school and families having to visit the doctor less. The vast majority of families say they’re more confident about paying for college, feel more connected to their community, and spend more time together as a family.
These facts probably aren’t surprising to the volunteers and financial donors who support Twin Cities Habitat. They see the impact firsthand when they work alongside families putting in their sweat equity hours or celebrating the finished house at a home dedication. If you are looking for a meaningful way to create positive change for families and our entire Twin Cities community – please join us in this mission.