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Building a Better Life

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2018 10:24 am

   The sheer logistics and energetic activity of a Habitat for Humanity “Blitz Build” is an impressive sight. The end result of changing lives of the new homeowners is even more so.   

   Ronetta Nichols works hard as a truck driver for Miami-Dade County. She hopes each day her seven-year-old son won’t go into crisis with his chronic kidney failure disease. The dialysis that should have helped had to be discontinued when he contracted a serious blood infection and spent a long time in the hospital. Desean takes medications instead, is monitored closely, and maintains remarkably good spirits despite his condition. Having a room of his own or a yard to play in would be nice. Mother and son have been sharing a room in the apartment of her mother and companion who sadly suffers from Alzheimer’s. Fulltime care in an appropriate facility will be needed in the not too distant future, and her mother has plans to relocate to Georgia. Nichols had been searching for a place she could afford. In the world of a working single mom, there seemed little chance of that becoming a reality.

   “A friend qualified for a house through Habitat for Humanity and she urged me to check into it. I went on-line and thought I could qualify. I sent in my application and went to visit my son in the hospital. I got the good news the day before Mother’s Day.”

   “A lot of people think we give away houses,” Mario Artecona of Habitat Miami said. “That’s not our program because what we give is, ‘a hand up, not hand out’. Each family has to qualify just as in a regular mortgage. The difference is no monetary down payment and it’s a zero-interest mortgage. The down payment is a requirement for 250 hours of labor on their own house and they put some of those hours into someone else’s house as well.”


   Help build a house? Don’t you have to know what you’re doing? Yes and no. For more than forty years, Habitat has partnered professionals and volunteers in building modest homes nationally and around the globe. They often have a “Blitz Build” which means multiple houses go up in a span of two-three weeks. Licensed contractors are used for designated tasks. Skilled, semi-skilled, and even novice volunteers are carefully orchestrated as bare lots turn into a neighborhood. In this case, Habitat Landings on SW 120th Avenue has been the site of other builds and the final ten houses brings the count to sixty-five.

   “It’s amazing to watch and be a part of building my own house,” Nichols said. “I come every day to help or just look around if the work has finished for the day. I bring my son sometimes and he’s so excited.”


   “I first volunteered when I was at University of Miami,” explained Victor Vincent, wearing his “Blitz Build 2013” tee shirt. “I got back into it through the priest at St Louis Church. I do have construction experience in my background, but it’s like with one of the volunteers from the Miami Coast Guard unit. She didn’t know how to cut drywall and wanted to learn. It didn’t take long to teach her.”

   “Requiring sweat equity serves more than one purpose,” Artecona pointed out. “It gives a significant sense of ownership and most of our applicants are tentative when they start. By the time they’ve finished, there is very often the realization if they can do something like this, there are other things they can accomplish. It could be going to college or taking specialized training to get a better job.”

   Vincent, who currently consults with major attractions like Parrot Jungle, agrees. “You meet such a great group of people on the builds and the staff from Habitat is here. They don’t sit in an office while others do the work. If you want a non-profit where you can trust how money is spent, it’s Habitat.”

   Of the ten families who received keys to their new homes Saturday, February 24th, Eillen Nieves Acevedo and her daughters no longer have to frequently move from staying with family member to family member.

   Diane Gilmore and the children she adopted can finally be away from dangerous neighborhoods. For the Fernandez-Ramos family, their toddler daughter will have a yard and a good school waiting when she’s older.

   Ronald Escobar and Ana Rodriguez’ three sons won’t have to share a single bedroom. Adrianne Jones knew better than to complain to her landlord who preferred to threaten eviction rather than fix problems. Jones did not initially qualify for a home, but she didn’t give up and can show her three daughters how perseverance does pay.

   Cathy Adside and Felton Steward will have a home for their family that is wheelchair accessible to accommodate Steward’s special needs.

   Ysabel Chavez and Lazardo Fernandez left the worsening conditions in Venezuela, to find they could only afford a small house in poor condition with constantly increasing rent. The new home is the dream they sought.

   Bertilde Ingraham could never feel safe with her two youngest sons routinely exposed to gang presence. Now, they can put that behind them.   

   Shantavia Coleman knows too well what it is like to crowd in with relatives or pay high rent for poor housing. She and her children at last have a home to call their own.

   The sheer logistics and energetic activity of a Habitat for Humanity “Blitz Build” is an impressive sight. The end result of changing lives of the new homeowners is even more so. To learn more, go to

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