Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity
Improving a family's housing situation increases their chances for success
By Annette Paanajen
"Marilyn" was a single mother with a preteen daughter and four teenage sons, one of whom - "Alex" -- had cerebral palsy (CP). Her hands were as full as her house. They were all packed into a two-bedroom house that was in poor repair. At night, the mother and daughter slept in the living room, while two of the sons slept in one bedroom and the son closest in age to Alex would sleep in the same bedroom to make sure he didn't fall out of bed.
Alex was in high school much of the day, but needed constant care while he was at home. Since the halls weren't wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair, Marilyn or one of his brothers would carry him around the house so he could be with the family. He weighed only around 100 pounds but was still growing, and the constant spasms of his limbs meant it took a lot of effort to move him. Lifting him into and out of the bathtub was particularly difficult and dangerous.
Family members were working hard in many ways to get ahead. Marilyn was taking one course each semester at New Mexico State University with a goal of getting her teaching degree to help educate children with disabilities. The oldest son was a freshman at NMSU. But all of them spent most of their free time helping care for Alex, money was tight and their poor housing situation complicated their lives quite a bit.
The family was accepted into the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity program and -- with help from family members and friends, along with the assistance of Habitat staff and volunteers - had a five-bedroom house built. The hallways were wide enough to accommodate Alex's wheelchair so he could be more independent at home. In addition, the bathroom was designed to be wheelchair accessible, with a large roll-in shower that had grab bars and a flexible water spray. Bathing him was much easier and safer. Life became just that much easier for the close-knit family, none of which would have been possible without the advantage of decent and appropriate housing for them.
Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry seeking to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity, the local affiliate, serves the Greater Las Cruces area. It has given a hand up (rather than a hand out) to 73 new home owners in the community.
Each partner family is required to invest at least 500 "sweat equity" hours into the construction of Habitat homes and other Habitat activities that are needed to make the homes a reality. Volunteer labor, funds, and building materials are donated by individuals, churches, businesses, community organizations, Collegiate Challenge groups and RV Care-a-Vanners visiting the community. The homes are then sold to the partner families through no-profit, no-interest mortgages. The house payments the families make are then "recycled" to build more homes for others in need.