Women Build 2020 Homebuyer Shelita Gordon

“When there’s something special going on, I always wanna get out there and do it.”

Shelita Gordon is a mother of one, a medical assistant working at a clinic for Ochsner, a life-long New Orleanian, and New Orleans Habitat’s Women Build 2020 homebuyer. Through her time in the program, she has found many opportunities to be part of special events. Now, she will be at the center of the biggest build of the year.

“When [my case manager] called, I thought I’d done something wrong. And then she told me I was chosen for Women Build,” she said. “I didn’t expect that at all. It was the best moment [in the homeownership program].”

She worked some of her 350 hours sweat equity (which she is working in lieu of a financial down payment on her home) at Women Build last year and knew what it was like.

“I thought it was cool that all women would build a house,” she said. “It was different. You felt a sense of empowerment, because it was all women building. It makes you feel you can do anything. I just brag on it so much. There’s gonna be 400 women building my house. To see all these women from different walks of life come out, it’s amazing.”

At Ochsner, Shelita works with many younger women. Like many Habitat homebuyers, she often tells others about the program, explaining that the program provides the opportunity to buy a home with a 0% interest mortgage and low monthly payments.

“The younger group [at work], they have kids. A lot of them are single parents. I tell them Habitat is gonna work with you,” she said. “It’s something great to be a part of. It’s a very good opportunity for you to start off young. If I knew what I know now when I was their age, I think I would have had a whole different path. Owning a home is possible at a young age. You just have to know what to do and how to do it. I try to teach them, because it’s something that needs to be given.”

As part of the Habitat program, Shelita has taken first-time homebuyer classes, and she has shared what she learned there as well.

“It was really enlightening about what to expect after you close,” she said, “what to do to prepare yourself to live in your house. For me, when I was younger, knowing if I’m gonna have a home to live in at this part of my life, that wasn’t important. If you have kids, you realize you need some stability for them. If I had known then that stability was important, I would have made that move [to own a home] a long time ago.”

She wants to give the same message to her 3-year-old daughter Madison.

“I always said when I had kids, I wanted to do things that mom my wasn’t able to do financially,” she said. “Giving her a home that is hers, where she can paint the walls if she wants to, where she can do whatever it is she wants to do in there, I’m trying to set a foundation and structure for her. When she gets older, she has something to live by, something to say, ‘this is where I come from, so this is what I’m supposed to do.’ It’s very important for her to have a foundation. I will bring her [to Women Build] just to show her, ‘this is gonna be for you.'”

For now, Shelita is staying with her sister while working her way through the homeownership program. She moved out of her previous apartment to find somewhere better for Madison.

“The apartment I just moved out of it, it wasn’t a safe environment,” she said. “First, I had money come up missing, then her tablet came up missing. I called the police out. I’d had enough. I didn’t want her exposed to it. I moved when the lease was up, but it’s still kinda crowded.”

Though she grew up in New Orleans, Shelita has briefly lived elsewhere, including for a short period after Hurricane Katrina.

“Luckily, I stayed on the West Bank,” she said. “We all made it out alive, and we didn’t lose too much of anything. We were really blessed. The hardest part was to be displaced. They opened up Jefferson Parish a little bit earlier than the rest of them, so I came home within a month’s time. I hated [being gone]. I was in San Antonio. It was too busy. It’s a whole different type of busy.”

Fifteen years later, she is becoming a homeowner in her home city.

“It makes it special,” she said. “I stayed in Baton Rouge. I stayed in Charlotte, San Antonio, Atlanta. My brother passed in 2003, and I went to Ohio to get a fresh start. There is no place like this place right here. If you’re from here, you’re rooted here. Something brings you back here. It’s home to me. I can’t see myself living in any other state, any other city. New Orleans is just it. We have too much culture here, too much goodness here. I don’t understand leaving.”

Shelita learned about the program through her grandmother, Miss Rosie, and her uncle Melvin, who own a Habitat home together on the West Bank. Melvin has become a core volunteer at the ReStore since finishing his sweat equity hours in the program. Working her first 100 sweat equity hours at the ReStore, she got to see a new side to her uncle.

“Everybody seems to love him, and he loves everybody here,” she said. “This is just his comfort zone. It was just a different Uncle Melvin.”

After she completed her hours in the ReStore, she began working on Habitat build sites.

“When I got out to the construction site, that was most definitely different. It taught me a lot of stuff,” she said. “My sister is trying to remodel stuff. I was told her, ‘Girl, look, we could do these floors, It’s nothing to do these floors. It’s so easy, you’d be surprised.’ I’m the type of person that would fix things myself. [Building on site] gives you knowledge of different things you weren’t used to doing. It gives you a sense of ‘oh I can do it.'”

She’s near the end of her time in the program, with most of her last hours being saved for Women Build.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride for me,” she said. “On a roller coaster, you take off slow and then you hit the highest peak and then you come down. When you’re going up, that’s the outside part, the working in the heat part. Getting through the hours is one of the hardest parts, but the outcome of it will be very amazing. ”

Working on site, she has met people from around the world, which has been one of the best parts of the program for her.

“I’m looking forward to meet all the people who come out to help at Women Build,” she said. “It’s always good to meet new people from different walks of life, people you might not talk to on a normal basis. When you talk to them when they’re out of their professional clothes, and they’re just in everyday clothes, to me, you get a different feel for people when they’re at their chill moment.”

Her home will be in a quiet part of the Lower Ninth Ward, not far form a cluster of other Habitat homes. She is still planning how to make it her own.

“I just felt the comfort in that area,” she said. “I drove around morning, noon, on the weekend, all hours. I just felt the sense of calm. That’s how I chose. I didn’t choose because of location. I love painting. Painting is therapeutic. It gives me a sense of calm. [To decorate my home], I like the thought of cream and gold, but Madison would not allow the cream to be untouched. My favorite color is purple, but hers seems to be blue. So I’m still deciding the colors I’m gonna go with. I know one wall in her room is gonna have glitter. Maybe the ceiling. I love to do arts and crafts stuff, so I’ll probably use the third room for that.

“It means to me, safe havens. It means that it’s mine. I don’t have to worry about someone coming along and taking it. If something happens to it, it’s because of me. It means a safe haven. I’ll praise God [when I move in]. I’ll have a praise moment. I know everything happens for a reason, I know God set this up, but this is my time. This is supposed to happen.”