Meet Donyelle

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.

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