A Homeowner and a Volunteer

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For five years, Youlanda Carey has been joining students from Huntington High School Habitat for Humanity Club in volunteering with NOAHH for five years. The club, from Huntington, NY, has been volunteering with NOAHH since Hurricane Katrina and regularly helps in other areas affected by disasters or in need of volunteers. Youlanda, a security guard at the school, started out as another volunteer, but a little over a year ago, after talking with a partner family in Birmingham, AL, she realized she, too, could be a homeowner.

She applied with Suffolk County Habitat for Humanity and was accepted, and now she is several hours into her sweat equity. Returning to NOAHH as a volunteer and a partner family (albeit with another affiliate) has changed her perspective.

“I tell the kids never to have an attitude that it will be ‘all right,'” she said. “Always ask, ‘what if this were my home?’ What you do now will matter for the homeowner in ten years.”

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The kids, as she calls them, are students at Huntington High School who are club members. They raise money throughout the year for their high school affiliate club through events like bake sales and each individual works to raise the money for their trips to other affiliates to help build. Many of the students are returning volunteers, having come every year during which they were eligible (NOAHH volunteers must be 16 years or older). The bond between her and the students goes beyond her role as security guard and fellow volunteer, however. Upon learning that she had been accepted into the Suffolk County Habitat program, the kids worked together and raised $20,000 toward her new home.

“I cried. It was a shock. I can’t even imagine,” she said. “The kids worked so hard for that money, and that is a lot of money. To see my name on the same line as $20,000–my favorite color is pink. They made a check and painted it pink. They presented it to me. It was so beautiful.”

During her current trip, she has found herself working on America Street, the site of last year’s Build-A-Thon, during which NOAHH and Habitat AmeriCorps members from all over the country built ten homes in ten days. Youlanda offered insights from her perspective as a future homeowner into what it would mean to be a part of a close-knit Habitat neighborhood.

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“It would be awesome to have a Habitat community because everyone would appreciate their homes,” she said. “When you have the home and you watch it go up and it’s yours, you appreciate it a whole lot more than if somebody else built it. Knowing that you did it and everyone around you is the same, it takes more pride in your neighborhood when you have a Habitat neighborhood.”

She also spoke with future NOAHH homeowners and compared programs. All Habitat affiliates have slight variations in how their programs work, even if our missions are all the same. Some have fewer sweat equity hours to work, while others take slightly different classes on financing and maintenance. All NOAHH homeowners do 100 hours of sweat equity in the ReStore before doing the rest of their 350 hours building homes, while in Suffolk, partner families work their hours on site first–it’s all in the small details of the program. At the heart of it, every Habitat homeowner around the world is working toward homeownership with the support of volunteers, staff, and sponsors. Because she volunteered before becoming a partner family, Youlanda brings to her sweat equity a little more expertise than some homeowners might have. Still, she says she has learned a lot in her short time in the program.

“They do help you out a lot to get started,” she said. “I haven’t seen any program like this on the civilian side, as I call it. Habitat really takes care of people that apply. Not just in giving you a home, but when they teach you about the home. How to maintain it, financially maintain it, how to even with little repairs. It gives you that discipline of being a good homeowner. It’s almost impossible to fail. If you apply everything you learn throughout the program, you’re going to be a successful homeowner.

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“When I tell people about it, I think I can give them more of an insight of what to expect, because sometimes, you go into things and you fear the unknown. Knowing makes it a lot easier. Not that it’s hard. It’s really not! I think it’s an awesome program. The sweat equity is nothing. You learn more about your house. You save so much money with the things you learn. If somebody puts a hole in my wall, I know how to spackle. I know how to put up drywall so I can fix it and patch the hole instead of calling somebody in, charging me hundreds of dollars.”

Her time volunteering with and helping “the kids” at school has had a clear impact on her vision of her new home as well.

“It’s mine. It’s me. It’s an expression of me. When people come in, I want them to feel welcome, and it’s going to reflect me. I collect a lot of art from the kids at the school, and I want it throughout my house. I have pieces that are amazing, and I just want it to represent me. That home is going to be so welcoming. I want to share it with everyone and tell everybody about Habitat.”