When it comes to building with Legos or blocks, Marisol’s young son likes to look the part as he puts on a plastic hard hat and joins the other children at his daycare for some creative construction. He’s clearly the happiest, she says with pride, whenever he’s building something and exploring his creative abilities.
Someday when he’s ready for a family history lesson, Marisol will tell him how he comes from a long line of builders and blue-collar workers in the family – people who faced challenges head on and proved again and again they could overcome obstacles and get the job done.
Like his grandmother, who raised 5 children in Mexico and took on multiple jobs in their small village – kindergarten teacher, nurse, clothing-maker, baker and cook – to provide for her children.
Like his grandfather, who traveled to the Chicago area and worked many years and many jobs in the restaurant and construction fields until he could save enough money to bring his family to America.
And like his mother, who went from being a homeless single-parent to a prospective homeowner after dedicating herself to an intense and rigorous program designed to ensure a brighter future for them. It would have been easy to wallow in heartbreak and fear when she faced being homeless, but Marisol chose to be more resourceful, more disciplined, and more resilient.
“My mom she taught me that you do whatever you can to survive,” Marisol explained. “She had to be resourceful and make some money on her own. She did whatever she could. She taught herself how to sew and make clothes. And my dad worked nonstop until he could bring us here. He worked hard.”
Fear was a huge motivator for Marisol as well. Fear that she could only afford a tiny apartment in the worst neighborhood with a struggling school system for her son. Fear that they would move from apartment to apartment year after year. Fear that they would never break that cycle.
But, armed a strong work ethic and unrivaled determination, Marisol discovered two organizations – the Fellowship Housing program in Chicago, and Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley – that were willing to disrupt that cycle and help her gain the education, expertise, tools and resources she would need to fulfill her dream of owning a home.
Later this year, Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley expects to break ground in Carpentersville on a duplex that Marisol and her son will call home. They’ll live next door to another single mom with a young child who also has worked hard to turn her life around. While Marisol looks forward to volunteering at the build site and can’t wait to witness her son’s reaction to the construction of their new home, she’s also very mindful of the sacrifices and help she has received on her journey.
Fellowship Housing, a nonprofit transitioning program for single moms, provided her with a safe and clean apartment as Marisol was trained in how to take control of her finances, reduce her debt and save for the future. Its staff later introduced her to Habitat to complete the two-year transition to permanent housing.
As Habitat workers and volunteers know, building a home takes dedication and careful planning to successfully manage budgets and materials on site. Marisol needed that same process in her life, and in one year’s time she has eliminated her debt, created a monthly savings plan and reduced her spending. Along the way, she received a raise from her fulltime daycare employer by earning her state certification. To help qualify for Habitat, she also took on a part-time weekend job with a previous restaurant employer.
Now, more confident than ever that she can provide for her son, she marvels at the transition she has made. “I basically was going to be homeless at one point. I had nowhere to go,” she said. “Now I literally have no debt at this time, and I’m working on building up my savings.”
Although Marisol expects to return to her jobs when the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the home’s construction gets under way, she also knows she can handle whatever life throws at her.
“I’ll do anything for a job. It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m OK. I’m fortunate because I’m not going to lose the roof over my head. I can still pay my monthly fee and I have money in the bank to buy groceries.”
Many others, she knows, are not so fortunate. Which is why she also volunteers to help with the set up and clean up at a local food bank where she and many other families can get meals.
“They’re helping us, so I want to do my part,” she said. “I may not have a lot of time with two jobs, but I have to give back.”
Marisol will tap into that same spirit and attitude as she completes her volunteer commitment with Habitat. “I can’t wait for my son to watch the process (of building a Habitat home),” she said. “Having a home is huge. I didn’t want him moving from apartment to apartment. I know how nice it is to grow up in a home you own. I want that for him.”
For now, there are only trees spread across the vacant lot. Soon there will be a groundbreaking for the foundation, walls will be raised, and lives will be changed as two families eagerly move into the new duplex. And follow in the family tradition of building a brighter future.