Kathy (pictured with her daughter Tracy) is one of our most loyal volunteers, along with her entire family. She is a recent immigrant from West Africa, a refugee who by grace and will came to Los Angeles with her children to escape her war-torn country. She then arranged for her sister’s children to follow. Most recently, her disabled sister was able to make her way out and join the family. Kathy works at the Motion Picture Home for the Aged and cares for seniors as many hours as possible, often working double shifts four or five days a week to make ends meet. Despite their busy schedules, the entire family shows up most weekends to help Habitat build new homes for deserving families.
Ask why and Kathy will tell you she has been blessed to be able to find a safe haven for her family in Los Angeles. When Kathy heard that Habitat was about to select families for its next 17 homes, she was anxious to apply. Knowing that only 17 homes were available, Kathy still wanted to spread the word. Habitat received numerous applications from staff of the Motion Picture Home as a result of Kathy’s efforts to hand out flyers before and after her shifts. She wanted to make sure a home went to the most needy in our community. She was awestruck to hear 355 people applied on just one night.
Kathy has long since completed the 500 hours of Sweat Equity required to qualify for the home she moved into just before Christmas 2009, but she still volunteers for Habitat with a heart full of hope–hope for herself, her family and Los Angeles, the City that gave her family safety and good reason to believe that, working together, Habitat for Humanity and our community can build homes for all those in need.
The Enriquez Twins
“Family’s Home Built with Sweat and Heart”
by Dennis McCarthy, published in the Daily News, Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009
Sometimes all it takes is a leg up, not a handout.
The Enriquez family in Pacoima earned their leg up five years ago with their own sweat
and commitment. After waiting four long years, they were the first low-income family to move into homes they helped build in a project with the organization Habitat for Humanity in Pacoima. Three children and two adults went from living in a cramped, one-bedroom mobile home to a new three-bedroom home with wall-to-wall carpeting. It’s the first thing the girls remember as they walked into their first real home feeling like a couple of princesses living a dream, the Enriquez sisters said Friday.
“There was carpeting on the floor. We thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is where we are going to live,”‘ Gennessis said. Her parents named her after the first book of the Old Testament, and her sister, Geminnis — her identical twin — was named after the zodiac sign. They were both honor students in the San Fernando High School Magnet program and are both freshmen at UCLA now — on academic scholarships. How they got there from such humble beginnings has a lot to do with not only their own personal drive and two strong parents stressing education, but that leg up I was talking about.
When he got the chance, Nicolas Enriquez, their father, took it. During the week he worked in the receiving department for a company that makes audio speakers. On weekends, he picked up a hammer and nails, and joined the Habitat for Humanity volunteers who build the homes for low-income families. Families who got lucky and qualified through a lottery drawing.
They had to make a small down payment, repay an interest-free mortgage loan, and promise to volunteer 500 hours on weekends helping build the homes. Sweat equity it was called, and it’s still the best idea I’ve heard of — giving low-income people a leg up, not a handout. ”There were 20 different units being built and we worked on all of them every weekend,” Nicholas said. “When the girls were old enough, about 16, they joined me every weekend with a hammer and nails, and during the week, after school, they did volunteer work in the San Fernando community.” The lesson Nicholas and Marlene Enriquez were teaching their kids was simple. If someone gives you a leg up in life — a chance you would have never had otherwise — you grab it, work hard, and crack the school books to repay it.
“We were both raised to take education to the max,” Gennessis said after a class at UCLA on Friday.
She is majoring in microbiology and wants to be a doctor one day who helps beat cancer. Her twin sister wants to be a psychologist. ”Our parents came from Mexico with no chance for schooling like we had. Education was everything in our house, and we weren’t going to let them down.” It made a big difference having that house to study in, the girls say. Instead of sharing a desk in the cramped living room of their mobile home, studying next to a playpen with a crying baby sister in it, they now had their own rooms.
It may not sound like much to kids who have always had their own room, but to a couple of identical twins growing up in a low-income family and trying to make their parents proud, it really did make them feel like a couple of princesses in a dream. Real carpeting and their own space!
The Enriquez family was the first family to move into the housing project and is its first real success story, says Donna Deutchman, president and CEO of the San Fernando Valley-Santa Clarita chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Twenty homes have already been built. Eleven more families will be moving into their sweat equity homes by Thanksgiving, and another six by Christmas, she says. In all, 61 homes will be built.
“The fact is that in our community there are some incredibly hard-working people who do the jobs that are the backbone of our everyday life,” Deutchman said.
“We can’t forget to give them the dignity they are owed. This family is just one example of the work ethic and commitment these families have. We should support and welcome them.”
Give them a leg up, not a handout.
The Magana Family
Martha and Manuel have nine children, six still at home. Four are foster children, one a young girl adopted by Martha and Manuel seven years ago.
One day while Martha and Manuel attended church it was announced that three young boys need foster parents. They were brothers and social services was trying its best to keep them together, but it appeared the boys would be separated if no one came forward. Martha stepped up to care for them all. After the mother of the boys was released from jail, she was deported to Mexico. Unfit, the mother didn’t want the children. Martha was given the choice to let the mother take the boys back to Mexico not knowing what would happen to them or to adopt them. Martha’s family acted very quickly and adopted the boys.
These choices were made despite the very meager income the family had to support all these children. Martha works a housekeeper with a cleaning company. Manuel is disabled and has had three strokes in the past three years. The family lived in Lancaster California in a small rented house in a high crime area. They had very little furniture, no washer and dryer to keep up with the family’s laundry.
Juggling her job and care for her children and husband, Martha was still able to contribute over 500 hours of sweat equity to help to build their new home with Habitat for Humanity SF/SCV. The family was given the keys just before Christmas 2009. They received old furniture from their friends and were given an old washer and dryer to wash their clothes. The family is having a hard time financially but they do the best they can with what they have and celebrate that it is so much more than they had before. They so happy and thankful for their new home where the children can go outside and play and feel safe.