Meet Aretha

Meet Aretha 1200 800 habitatdetroit

Wide doors and hallways, low cabinets, railings in the bathroom, a ramp on the front porch. For Aretha, the accessibility features in her Habitat for Humanity Detroit home “make a big difference” for her and her two children, 21-year-old Devin and 20-year-old Zacaya.

Aretha has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, and Devin and Zacaya both have a rare degenerative muscular condition that requires them to use wheelchairs. Their four-bedroom home gives the family the space and independence to thrive, but it wasn’t always that way.

Before partnering with Habitat Detroit, they were renting a small two-bedroom apartment unfit for a family with mobility challenges. Though Devin and Zacaya used walkers then, frequent elevator outages forced the family to climb several flights of stairs to reach their third-story apartment. Aretha feared the day when Devin and Zacava would need to use wheelchairs and be unable to access the apartment.

“I was able to show my children that they can do anything. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t get it done.”
— Aretha, Habitat homeowner

Aretha was searching for a larger, ground-level apartment to rent when a friend suggested she explore homeownership opportunities with Habitat Detroit. Soon after she was accepted into the program, she began building her house alongside volunteers who traveled from as far as Texas and Florida to support her dream of homeownership.

Aretha says she was overcome with emotion and pride when she and her kids first opened the door to their very own home in 2011. “It was the best feeling in the world. “I was able to show my children that they can do anything. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t get it done.”

The family’s Habitat home was designed with accessibility top of mind. The kitchen is spacious and has low, easy-to-reach cabinets. The bathroom is wide and equipped with hand railings near the toilet and shower. Each family member has their own bedroom. A smooth ramp leads up to their front door. The home also has no carpet, allowing Aretha, Devin and Zacaya to freely maneuver their wheelchairs and walkers from room to room.

The home’s adaptability and space offer the family more independence. Aretha says from the day they moved in Devin and Zacaya have loved having their rooms. It’s their own space for Zacaya to paint and Devin to play video games — hobbies they’re passionate about that also improve their motor functions.

If she hadn’t partnered with Habitat Detroit, Aretha says they likely would have moved in with family members and potentially sacrificed accessibility for affordability. Instead, Aretha pays an affordable mortgage for a comfortable, accessible home in a Morningside neighborhood she adores.

“Here, they can be independent,” Aretha says. “They can be more mobile. They can go outside. They can use the restroom on their own. This home is the key to independence and freedom for my children and me.”

Meet Jessica

Meet Jessica 1200 800 habitatdetroit

For Jessica, there has never been anything more important than providing a safe and secure home for her children, 15-year-old Amiyah and 1-year-old Noa. But the single mom struggled to find decent and affordable housing in her native Detroit.

The family’s rental had a leaking roof, an unstable foundation and mice. “We were living in a house that was basically uninhabitable,” Jessica says. Their street had dilapidated homes, empty lots, few neighbors and crime.

It was after Noa was born that Jessica decided to make a change. “I think that was a pivotal moment for me, when I thought about this baby crawling in these conditions and putting things in his mouth,” Jessica says. “That was my breaking point where I said, ‘I need to make a move,’ and Habitat was that move.”

Once Jessica was accepted into Habitat for Humanity Detroit’s homeownership program, she and her children temporarily moved into her mother’s apartment so they could be in a safer environment.

While preparing to become a homeowner, Jessica enjoyed meeting future neighbors while working on the build site and found great value in Habitat’s homebuyer education classes. She can’t wait to apply what she learned in her new home. “I’ve had classes on budgeting, and I’ve had classes on home repairs and learning how to maintain your home,” she says. “I just feel like all those things are useful for someone like me who’s never owned a home before. I’m going to need those resources.”

A loving community

When she first walked through the front door of her Habitat home with Amiyah by her side, it felt like a whole new beginning. “I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Jessica says. “To see such happiness on my daughter’s face. She deserves it all.”

Amiyah is excited to finally have space to spread out and to be able to invite friends over. “To have my own room, my own privacy. Somewhere I can relax, just vibe and get stuff off my mind. Have friends come and sleep over. Everything a teenager usually would do,” she says.

Jessica is looking forward to having space to continue studying for her nursing degree, decorating her home, and hosting friends and family. Her new neighbors have already started reaching out and welcoming her into the community. “We’ve never had neighborhood gatherings and get-togethers,” she says. “I can definitely foresee those things happening here in this community.”

A safe place to grow

The stability and security that their new home provides means the world to Jessica.“This house, it’s everything to my family,” she says. “It’s the glue.”

Jessica hopes her experience with Habitat helps her children understand the importance of building generational wealth through homeownership and inspires them to reach toward their dreams, too. “To be able to show my daughter that it’s possible and to make her proud of me, that’s the biggest thing for me,” Jessica says. “The baby doesn’t have many memories, but this is what he’ll know. He’ll always know that mom was a homeowner. That’s all he’ll know, and that’s a good thing, too.”

Meet Donyelle

Meet Donyelle 1200 800 habitatdetroit

As an employee of Detroit Public Schools in Michigan for 36 years, Donyelle understands the importance of education. She has worked tirelessly to instill a desire for learning in each of her five children, but working a full-time job while being a widowed mother left little time for Donyelle to pursue her own higher education. To support her two girls and three boys, she dropped out of community college.

Finding a decent, affordable place to call home was an ongoing challenge. Donyelle and her children were priced out of a townhome when the rent started increasing every three months. In search of affordable housing, the family moved across town, but their two-bedroom rental was small and had mice. “We were really in need of better housing,” Donyelle says.

Pushing off going back to school, Donyelle feared that she’d fail to leave anything behind for her children.

A friend introduced Donyelle to Habitat for Humanity Detroit, and she was soon building her house alongside her future neighbors in Morningside. She relished the time building her dream home — and building lasting friendships that would root her in her new neighborhood on Detroit’s east side.

Donyelle and her three boys — her two oldest daughters had already left home — moved into their Habitat house in June 2009. She said she felt “pure bliss” walking through her door for the first time.

In August 2022, three months after her youngest son, Chance, graduated from Michigan State University, Donyelle returned to school, earning her associate’s degree in general studies from a local community college.

Donyelle says homeownership was a catalyst for finishing her degree. “I wouldn’t have completed my education if I was not a homeowner,” she says. “I really feel that me being a homeowner, me being stable, me having a foundation was the basis for me being able to go back and complete my education and get my degree.”

Achieving homeownership, navigating a financial crisis that was particularly devastating for Detroit, returning to college — all three speak to Donyelle’s resilience, and she says these lessons have not been lost on her children.

“I think that it’s important that my children know that I’ve worked very hard all my life. To have a stable job, to have a stable home, it means a lot. It can take you far. It can give you advantages.”

Donyelle has remarried, and her husband has three children of his own. The couple love hosting their big, blended family. Donyelle, who calls herself a “fun grandmother,” finds unmatched pleasure in watching her six grandchildren play in her living room. It’s even sweeter knowing that she will be able to pass down the home that has been their key to a more secure future.

Donyelle says her home has provided the family with “a sense of pride and belonging.” Even as her children have grown up and built homes and families of their own, they know that the doors of their mother’s two-story Habitat house — where the words “Practice Kindness” adorn the front porch — will always be open.

“It’s a place where, no matter where they go in the world, they know they could always come home,” Donyelle says.

Habitat Detroit to Celebrate Home Dedication

Habitat Detroit to Celebrate Home Dedication 1200 797 habitatdetroit

Grayson Wilson is excited to make their dream of homeownership a reality

Habitat for Humanity Detroit is proud to welcome Grayson Wilson to its list of homeowners.  The home dedication will take place on Tuesday, May 9th at 4 pm at 14017 Auburn, Detroit, MI 48223.

Grayson Wilson, along with his mother, Anne Grenion migrated to the US from Guyana South America in search of a better life. They faced many challenges and setbacks as they learned a new culture and way of life but thrived, nonetheless. In his younger days, Grayson was extremely active in sports and loved being on a team. His love for teamwork, leadership, and connectedness lead Grayson to a successful 7-year career in the Army.

A little over a year ago Grayson connected with Habitat Detroit and joined the Weekend Warriors, knowing he very much wanted to be a homeowner himself.  Understanding he needed to get a few financial ducks in a row first, he began to attend HomeEd webinars. Over the next year, he helped in several home builds and attended webinars all in order to learn the skills needed to be a successful homeowner. During this time he discovered that the Habitat Detroit culture at its core is “genuine care”.

“In February Grayson officially applied for and was approved to be Habitat Detroit Homeowner. That same week he viewed the Auburn house,” says Stephanie Osterland, Habitat Detroit’s Executive Director, “After careful consideration, he accepted the house on February 13, 2023. He looks forward to his relationship with Habitat Detroit developing even further, and we could not be more excited for the partnership we have established.”

“I have an innate desire to serve others and to see their lives fulfilled. Volunteering with Habitat Detroit for over a year and a half, I’ve seen other’s homeownership dreams come true. I’ve learned new skills relating to home renovation and home maintenance,” say Wilson.

The Habitat Detroit Homeownership program was established to help build wealth, assets, and opportunities for the next generation of Detroit citizens. Grayson is the latest example of the program in action.

Wilson continued, “Now that homeownership is a reality for me, I am grateful to have this experience. Working with Habitat Detroit offers me peace – They continue to equip me with the knowledge, skills, and access to resources to make my homeownership lifecycle sustainable.”

“We look forward to welcoming our newest Homeowner to the Habitat for Humanity Detroit family and for the partnership that is to follow,” says Osterland.

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