Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing

by Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing
Help Start Construction on Simple, Decent Housing

When Ricardo partnered with Habitat for Humanity to purchase a home in Southwest Portland in 2015, he began a new life as a homeowner. Six years later, he has found the stability and safety that he needed to weather through hardships like the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he has a brighter horizon with the opportunity to build equity in the home for his family’s future. 

Ricardo first found out about Habitat through an announcement made at his children’s school. Since then, he has purchased his own home and has become somewhat of an ambassador himself by spreading Habitat’s mission amongst his social circle.  

When he found out a coworker was in need of a home, he shared his experience of becoming a Habitat homeowner and pointed them in the right direction. With Ricardo’s help, his coworker’s family purchased a home to call their own.  

“I also like to be of that kind of service to others. It doesn’t take too much to explain the process, and sometimes people can buy their homes through Habitat,” said Ricardo. 

Before becoming a Habitat homeowner, Ricardo began his early life in Guatemala but moved to Mexico in his early teens to seek refuge from the Guerilla war. He lived in a refugee camp for a couple of years before finding shelter in the United States.  

He first experienced living in a home during his stay at his brother’s house in Southeast Portland. Years later, that memory sparked motivation to purchase his own home and find stability for his family.   

“Increasing rent prices made it difficult for us,” said Ricardo.  

Priced out of owning a home, his family lived in a small apartment where his children shared a room. Today, they have separate rooms and the space to flourish and build long-term relationships. 

Ricardo and his wife, Micaela, are happy to have a space where he and his family can regularly come together and share a meal and enjoy each other’s company. They love celebrating holidays together and decorating their home to represent who they are. Soon, a Christmas tree will be towering in the living room.   

Ricardo feels proud of how much he has been able to accomplish thus far. With the swing of a hammer and the dream to own a home, he built a foundation for stable living. 

“It’s good that I’m paying off the house and building equity,” said Ricardo.             

The same way Ricardo built up the framing on his home, he also built up a career as a welder and worked for a metal company for the last 15 years. Despite the shortage of jobs brought on by the pandemic, he never lacked work welding hospital beds and other medical appliances that helped in saving the lives of many during the pandemic surge.  

Just as he built up his own home from the ground up, Ricardo continues to pass on the positive impact to others by sharing his story and experiences. He and his family will continue to flourish and have a place where they can come together and create beautiful memories. 

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With the phone to her ear, she heard the voices on the other end of the phone call erupt in cheers. Aimee had just announced to her family that she had been accepted into Habitat’s homeownership program and would soon begin the journey to owning a stable and affordable home.

Just moments ago, she had gone to retrieve a package that sat snug in her mailbox. It was a package from Habitat and appeared thicker than any she had received before. On the front was Habitat’s logo — a roof over three human figures raising their arms out in joyous celebration right next to the words. Her mind raced as she rushed to open the package.

“I opened it, and what I think was one of the most memorable things was that there was a handwritten letter saying congratulations! I went back to the room and showed the kids the t-shirt (that came in the package), and they were so excited!”

After revealing the news to her family, she soaked in this life-changing news. This piece of ordinary paper contained a very extraordinary message. It gave her peace of mind; she would soon be the owner of a permanent and affordable place to grow, rest, and create new memories with her family.

Aimee had roots in homeownership before becoming a homebuyer. In her early years as a child, she grew up in an apartment before her parents purchased their own home by the time she was in third grade.

As she came of age and entered adulthood, she navigated through increasing rent rates, which pushed her to move to Vancouver, Washington. She lived there for two years before moving back to Oregon to be closer to her family. Life began to look brighter as her passion for doing hair and makeup led her to pursue a career in the beauty industry.

“All through middle school and high school, I was the one who was always doing my friend’s hair and makeup for school dances, prom, and all that stuff. I was always the last to get ready, but I always had so much fun doing all the other girls’ hair and makeup” said Aimee.

Aimee soon took a leap towards her passion and enrolled into beauty school. Soon after graduating, she found herself applying to work at a large-scale salon where the company quickly recognized her team leadership skills and hired her as a manager. Today, Aimee is one of the youngest managers at the two hair salon locations in Portland.

After settling into a well-fitted career, Aimee sought out an apartment in Southwest Portland. Renting became the norm throughout this period, and an apartment in downtown Portland would provide a roof over her head for the following year. However, a sudden change in her life would catapult her to pursue the stability found in owning a home.

In 2019, Aimee’s niece and nephew moved in to live with her. Stability for all of them became her main priority. Both her nephew, Diego, who is now 13 and in 7th grade, and her 11-year-old niece, Patricia, a 5th grader, are looking forward to having stability, shelter, and a community around them. Soon, the family will move into their new home in Denney Gardens — a 16-home community in Beaverton.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a house. But I think it became a bigger dream when I took the kids in in 2019. Renting a three-bedroom apartment just isn’t realistic.” Aimee goes on to say, “It’s nice to be a part of a community because apartment living is different. Rent goes up, you have to move— but having a house is an investment. The children will also now have their own rooms which they’ve never experienced that.”

What she looks forward to the most is” being able to say I’ve put my hands on the bones of this house–not just the inside. Also, the satisfaction of saying that I’ve done all this stuff like taking classes…It’s kind of like graduating high school. You put in all this work, and you finally come out on top. So, I think just pure joy and relief that I’ll finally have a place to stay.”

Outside of school and work, she and her family enjoy spending time at rivers, lakes, or skate parks. Aimee says that she looks forward to keeping both kids in the same school district to develop a long-lasting community.

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Owning a home has been a top priority for Ahed and her husband since immigrating to the United States in 2016. They’ve made many friends and have found a sense of community while living in Portland, but there’s always been one missing piece. 

“It was the big thing in our life,” says Ahed. “We want to have our own home. We don’t want to waste our money on rent.” 

Originally from Syria, Ahed and her family immigrated to Jordan after their home was destroyed in the warThe transition brought about a lot of uncertaintyopportunities for work in Jordan were few and Ahed wasn’t sure what this would mean for their family long-term. 

“The economy for the country is not so big,” says Ahed. “Because…it was full of refugees, the opportunities to have work there was small. It was difficult and we were looking for another country so we can work and make our lives better for us and for the children.” 

Within three years, Ahed and her family would be on their way to Portland to build a new life. 

That new life included owning a home. With two school-age childrena toddler, and both Ahed and her husband busy with college and workthe traditional and time-consuming process of purchasing a home wasn’t feasible. And apartment life was quickly becoming unsustainable. They longed to be in a home of their own, without the worries of rent increases or new neighborhoods and schools for their children.  

“We don’t like to move – when you move you have to change the whole neighborhood and the children’s school,” Ahed says. “That will affect the children’s education.” 

After hearing about the opportunity to build and purchase an affordable home with Habitat for HumanityAhed and her husband applied last year alongside another family in their community. With a mortgage at no more than 30% of their income, becoming first-time homeowners was finally within reach. 

“[With Habitat] we will pay the money we can pay for a house and we will have stability so we don’t have to move and the children will stay at the same school, she says. 

Ahed and her family will move into  Cherry Blossom, a 31-home community Habitat recently broke ground on in Southeast PortlandThey are counting down the days until the moveand her children are especially excited about having their own rooms in the new houseThey’ve already visited the neighborhood several times. 

“We like the neighborhood,” Ahed says. “It’s so good, it’s so quiet and there’s a school next to it, there’s a shopping mall close to it, there’s an emergency hospital there – I like it.”  

In addition to having a stable environment for her children, Ahed is also looking forward to finishing her degree, applying for U.S. citizenship, and having a period of rest after several years in transition. 

“After everything we have been through, we just keep going,” Ahed says. “We look for opportunities to rebuild our life again.” 

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When Sandra heard she would soon become a Habitat homeowner, she says it was like the stars aligned. Everything in her life had led her to that moment; all the years of perseverance were coming to fruition. Having a home meant she would not have to move every year, trying to find an affordable place to rent. After moving 18 times in her life, she would finally have long-term stability for her family to grow and thrive.  

“I got to build my home like my parents built ours,” Sandra says. “It’s an amazing feeling to see your house go up and be there with all the people who helped.” 

Friends and colleagues throughout the Portland community came out to help build her home from the ground up. They stood by her for many years throughout her times of struggle and rallied for her success. She was no longer the young girl in Tonaya, Jalisco running around, dipping her hands and feet in the cement while her parents built her childhood home with their own hands.  

“As I built my house for my own children, the feeling is hard to describe,” Sandra says, “It’s kind of like standing on top of the roof saying, ‘Oh my God, this is mine, I did this.” 

Everything she has done, Sandra says, she has done for her children.  

“I now know the struggle my mother felt when she was building our home back in Mexico. She never let us feel it,” Sandra remembers. “My goal now is that my kids don’t feel itthat they only see that hard work pays off and, with the right support, all is possible. 

Back before Sandra experienced the weight of life’s turmoil, she remembers a warm childhood filled with memories of helping her mom make tamales and buñuelos in their kitchenette, washing off the summer heat in their outdoor shower, running around her small neighborhood, barefoot. She didn’t know then that her mother had to sell tamales door to door, make one hundred buñuelos to sell at events in the local plaza, and sew neighbors’ clothes all to keep a roof over their heads while her father worked in the U.S. to pay for their work visas.  

When she, her elder sister, and mother joined her father in Pomona, California, work was an everyday fact of life. While she stayed with her aunt and attended school, her parents had to live apart with another family member to work around the clock until they saved enough to move to Merced. Her father got a job overseeing the land on a turkey farm and secured a three-bedroom house on the property as part of the contract. He tended to the farm day and night while her mother woke every morning at 3 am to work in the fields.  

Once Sandra was 12-years-old, she joined her mother; waking most mornings to pick plums, cherries, almonds, whatever the season would bring. Then she would bus to school with remnants of the fields sticking to her clothes and purpling her fingers. Her day’s work helped pay for her family’s attorney fees in the process of gaining their permanent residency.  

 Life in Merced reminded Sandra of life back in Tonaya: so remote and expansive. She remembers climbing trees to play with squirrels and riding a banana-seat bike around the farm.  

“I think that was my first real experience of security,” Sandra recalls. “Those are warm memories.” 

Then, when she was sixteen, she became a permanent resident and her family moved to Oregon. She had been uprooted, that sense of security gone. In this new state, where it was always cold, cloudy, and constantly raining, she hated that her parents brought her to such a place.  

Soon she found refuge within a group of friends at school who became like family. They made sure she had enough resources to get through the day and would fight for her, if she needed them to. Through them, she learned what it meant to take care of one another, to have each other’s back through and through. After class and working her shift at K-Mart, she would meet up with them to go have fun. But soon, fun turned to substance abuse. It wasn’t until she was 17 and pregnant with her first child that she decided to get clean.  

While Sandra never relapsed, her journey was still fraught with struggle. As an independent mother, she knew she had to provide for her children and keep them safe, which sometimes came with large sacrifices. To keep her burdens at bay, she poured herself into work until she was ready to leave an abusive relationship and rebuild her life.  

 She found an apartment next to a high school friend, secured a second job at a local nonprofit, and balanced her work and family life in addition to taking classes. Soon that friend would become her husband and that job, a career as a data analyst for The Pathfinder Network where she partners with families to rebuild their own lives. And while they moved 18 times before purchasing their home with Habitat for Humanity, Sandra and her family have continued to thrive despite their hardships.  

“Now I’m financially stable because of all the things that lined up,” she says. “I have a home that I pay 0% interest on, my mortgage is under a thousand dollars, medical bills are less because we’re all healthy and we have a good environment. My kids are happy and thriving because of everything good that’s happening in our lives. I don’t have to worry about paying rent or putting food on the table. I have a home I can call mine.” 

It’s been seven years since Sandra moved into the 45-home community in Portland’s Centennial neighborhood. She’s formed bonds with her neighbors who helped build each other’s homes and now serve on the Homeowner’s Association together. Their children surpassed language and cultural differences to make lifelong friends with other kids in their community. 

 I take walks with my dog and my neighbors say, Hello.’ We look out for each other in times that emergencies come up or others are traveling. I can walk my quiet block and look around at all the different cultures and traditions each family brings. It is a blessing that not many can say they have. 

Isaac is now 21 and Carmen is 19. They both graduated from Reynolds High School and are learning to navigate their adult lives. Her 15-year-old daughter, Nela, is excelling in school and while her 11-year-old, Emilia, is challenged by remote learning, she is still a burst of energy and lights up a room. Sandra’s husband, Freddie, works as a barber and finds time to help his brother partner with local youth to build life skills. 

Her home serves a central hub for her family. When they come to visit, she has a seat for them at her kitchen table and a pillow for them to rest their heads at night. Her home is also a memory bank. She has kept every school project her children have made throughout the years. She wants her children to know how much she loves and values them, and having a steady place to call home provides a safe place to keep all those memories alive.  

 No matter what challenges life brings my kids they know this is their safe home,” Sandra says. “And here or there, I sometimes get their friends that need safe place and a hot mealwhich I am more than happy to provide. 

As for Sandra, she continues to be a well of generosity. Once she was able to find stability in homeownership, she immediately wanted to give back to the community. She has served on the board of the Oregon Food Bank and Multnomah County Library Committee. She’s volunteered with Rock the Block event and continues to empower women through her stewardship at Soroptimist Portland. Her life experiences serve as a resource guide for people throughout the community. When someone needs a recommendation for local services, she is often the one they call. Sandra says she’s thankful to be in such a position and meet amazing people throughout Portland and beyond. Sandra is also a big advocate for Habitat for Humanity; sharing her story with clients and community members so they can know stability is within reach. 

“The security is like a huge weight lifted off of you,” Sandra says. “I’m thankful for Habitat and everything they’ve provided for me. When my children grow up, they can let me have a room in this home with them. Or maybe I can retire in Mexico, which I would love.”  

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Colise’s commitment to strengthening her community didn’t end when she signed the mortgage on a home she helped build from the ground up. Even before moving into the Madison South neighborhood of Northeast Portland in 2001, she gave back more than her fair share. She is an individual driven by a deep sense of compassion and integrity. 

Like all Habitat homebuyers, she put in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” helping to build her home. Despite being a person with a physical disability and having two young children at home, Colise insisted on doing more. A lot more. By the time her home was finished, Colise contributed over 1,735 hours on the build site—all while in a wheelchair. What appeared to staff at the time as an extraordinary contribution was really just the beginning of her new life of breaking down barriers and nurturing her community. 

“Tell me I can’t, you’re gonna make me mad,” she says spryly. “Make me mad and you better stand back.” This attitude describes seamlessly the grit that brought this young mother from near homelessness to homeownership in less than a year. From a decrepit rental in North Portland, she saved and worked on her credit while she went through the Habitat homebuyer program; attending financial preparedness classes and building her home from the ground up. Once she had the keys to her new wheelchair-accessible home, she kept the momentum of that mentality. That’s why it came as no surprise that Colise paid her entire mortgage off in record time. She still remembers how long it took: 12 years, 1 month, and 17 days. An extraordinary achievement, no doubt. 

From the same home, Colise, after having tackled her own poverty, began helping others. From her porch, she launched a social services organization called ‘The Gap: God Always Provides.’ As an unofficial neighborhood organizer, Colise turns donated food and clothes into gifts to people struggling to make ends meet. She made Christmas dinners, provided school supplies, clothes, hygiene kits, and household items. Of her time and dedication to helping others, she says modestly, “Community is what it’s all about.”

Colise organizes a vital source of sustenance to those relying on her services. She says of her organization, “If you’ve kept one person from going hungry at night, you’ve accomplished something.” When asked why she works so tirelessly in helping others, she responds, “Without Habitat helping me get this house, I would not be where we’re at today, period. They gave to me when I needed it.” Looking back, she thinks of her work in the community as a simple way of paying it forward—an extraordinarily caring model that, when looking at all she’s accomplished, fits her uniquely resilient, mold-breaking character. 

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Organization Information

Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East

Location: Portland, Oregon - USA
Project Leader:
Tracy Matchett
Director of Development
Portland, OR United States
$11,146 raised of $120,000 goal
94 donations
$108,854 to go
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