Guest Post by Lucinda Winter
Vera knows first-hand the benefits of growing up in a Habitat home. Vera, her mother Melo, and her sister Symphonie immigrated to the U.S. from Togo in 2003 when the girls were very young.
The family’s early years in Minnesota were tough. Melo enrolled her girls in Head Start, attended English language classes, and worked as a housekeeper. The growing family lived in a crowded two-bedroom apartment.
Vera outside of her mom's Habitat home in 2019.
“Including my dad there were six of us all together, and me and my sister shared a room and my mom, my dad, my little brother, and my little sister would all be in one room,” Vera recalled. “It was hard at times, you know—sometimes to come home and be really cramped—we couldn’t have our friends over and stuff like that.”
But Melo persevered. She attended Minneapolis Community & Technical College (MCTC) and started working at Head Start, all while focusing on her dream of buying her family a home. An instructor at MCTC suggested that Melo apply to the Habitat homeownership program. After working for several years to meet program qualifications, Melo’s dream came true when her application was approved in 2010. (Melo's home was part of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in the Twin Cities. You can read Melo's story here.)
Melo had the opportunity to work alongside President Jimmy Carter as she prepared for Habitat homeownership.
Vera and her family moved into their Habitat home in 2011 and life began to change for them immediately.
“I feel like there were a lot of changes moving from such a small place to a bigger space that we could customize and make our own," Vera said. “In our apartment we couldn't hang stuff up and paint the walls and stuff like that. But now we’re able to decorate how we want to decorate and just be more free.”
One of the spaces that Melo created in their new house was called the Peace Corner. Vera explained it: “When we were younger we would love to read, and that was a place where we would sit and where nobody could talk to us, just like our own personal space to read, to sit, to reflect, just be on our own. Just to be at peace with yourself.”
Vera believes the peace and freedom of having her own space were critical to her mother’s educational accomplishments, and her own. “She has had more time and more space to study for her degrees. And it just pushes her even harder to see how far has she come, and that's what pushes me also, is to see how far my mom came. If she can do it, I most definitely can too.”
Melo (center), Vera (left), and siblings gather at Melo's home in 2019.
In 2018, when she was in high school, Vera started a hair extension and braiding business, called Vera Lux Collection, from home. She says she was inspired by a visit to Africa and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people she met in the markets there.
Vera began taking courses at MCTC as a high school senior and was in her second year there, pursuing an associate degree in business, when COVID hit.
“With that degree I aspire— I want to own a lot of businesses,” she said. “I want to be a serial entrepreneur.”
In September, as COVID restrictions lifted, Vera moved into her own apartment. After completing her MCTC coursework online during the shutdown, Vera decided to take a semester off from school and concentrate on growing her small business. She recently rented a salon suite and opened Vera Lux Collection. She says business has been good and she’s excited about her future. (You can check out her website and follow Vera Lux Collection on Facebook and Instagram.)
“My mom, she is very proud of herself and proud of us, because that's one of the main reasons why she brought us here from Africa was to be successful. And Habitat has really helped us with that, to be successful within our own lives," Vera concluded.
“What I would say to anybody that supports Habitat is thank you so much, you're making people's dreams come true.”
You can help make more dreams come true with a donation to Habitat.