The Lewis Family escaped from a violent community to one with a much more promising future for their three children. Read on to learn more.
Article originally appeared in the Windsor Heights Herald on Dec. 30, 2005 and is courtesy of Packet Publications, www.packetonline.com.
New Year, New Home, New Dreams
By Marisa Maldonado, Staff Writer
EAST WINDSOR - Playing in the snow outside their old apartment building wasn’t an option for Briana and Aikhiem Lewis. Their former neighborhood, which their mother described as "the projects," generally gets more recognition for its high crime rate than for quality family living. Precious Lewis remembers the day she realized she had to get her family out of that Trenton neighborhood - Sept. 23, when a neighbor of the family’s was stabbed and almost died. She and her husband, Deon, packed up their three children and fled to temporary housing in the city.
But thanks to Habitat for Humanity’s Millstone Basin chapter, the family, which also includes 10-month-old Deon Jr., will move into their first house in January. The 1,100-square-foot one-story building is twice the size of their current apartment. "I’m glad I wrote to this program because it’s a blessing to me and my family," Ms. Lewis said. "I thank God every day."
The Lewis family was one of dozens of families who applied to buy Habitat Millstone’s sixth house on Evan Drive in East Windsor. Habitat has built five other houses for families on that land, after the organization bought land from developer Centex. The Lewises’ new neighbors are a drastic contrast from the characters that populated their former neighborhood. Ms. Lewis can tell the Bloods from the Crips - the former wear red bandanas, while the Crips prefer blue. Even though Ms. Lewis doesn’t know any gang members personally - nor does she care to - the lives of 10-year-old Briana and 8-year-old Aikhiem have been affected by the gangs just the same. "They’re uncomfortable - they can’t go outside and play," said Ms. Lewis. "I’m afraid to let them come outside because it’s not safe."
Attending the schools of the East Windsor Regional School District and being surrounded by friendly neighbors will give her children a healthier environment, Ms. Lewis said. The other Habitat families have turned the one-street development into a community, as she discovered when they came out to offer her congratulations on the family’s new home almost immediately after work started. "They were real friendly - they came over and talked to us," she said.
The Lewises have had ample time to get to know their neighbors - their future home has been in the works for almost two years. Each Habitat family must contribute 350 hours of what is called "sweat equity," during which they contribute to the house’s construction. In exchange, families such as the Lewises receive a home with an interest-free mortgage to be paid over 15 years in installments of several hundred dollars each month. "Habitat for Humanity doesn’t give somebody a home," said Laura Reebe, chairwoman of Habitat’s family selection committee. "They have to be able to pay for the home."
Both Mr. and Ms. Lewis work in Trenton - Mr. Lewis works in human resources at the state Department of Treasury and Ms. Lewis has a job with a child- care facility. The move will add an extra 20 minutes to their daily commute, but both agree their new house is worth the cost of gasoline. The family will get a fresh start with their new house - they don’t even plan to take anything from their transitional housing. "We’re going with only the clothes on our back," Mr. Lewis said. "Even if we have to sleep on the floor," his wife added.
Fortunately, donors such as Whirlpool and Johnson & Johnson will provide appliances, furniture and other necessities. One of the first things Ms. Lewis will do in the new house is fill the refrigerator and cabinets with food and cook a late Thanksgiving dinner for her family. "We went to my mom’s house and ate (on the holiday)," Ms. Lewis said. "But it ain’t nothing like your own."
Ms. Lewis said she likes to cook five days a week but cannot do so without a full kitchen. The family has eaten mostly fast-food since moving into transitional housing, and Ms. Lewis said she and her husband plan to eat more nutritious food once they have their own kitchen to take off the extra pounds they’ve gained since moving into their temporary home. "That’s my resolution this year," Ms. Lewis said. "Not to lose 100 pounds, but to feel comfortable with myself."
She also will feel more comfortable with letting her children play outside in the snow. As she pointed out the four bedrooms in the house - one for Mr. and Ms. Lewis to share and three more for each of their children - volunteers crunched through the fresh coat of snow outside, bringing in supplies. After their work is done, smaller feet will tread through the snow.
When I held the envelope in my hands, I had never been more nervous in my life. I was so afraid to open it that I didn't
even think about it. I just held my breath and ripped. I scanned the first line so fast that I had to re-read it again,
and then again, because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had actually been selected! Once it registered, I let out
the loudest scream. I felt like I had just won the jackpot in the lottery and, in a sense, I guess you can say that I did.
Just the same as my soon-to-be neighbor across the street, Birdie Davis, said when she was selected, "I still can't believe it
and God is good."
Because of my recent hardships, becoming a homeowner is something that I had not imagined being for a very long time. I thank everyone on the Family Selection Committee for working so hard and being so dedicated to this cause. You truly do change people's lives for the better, mentally and spiritually. I would also like to thank my new next-door neighbors, Barry and Beatriz Davis, for keeping my spirits up and being just as excited as I was when I told them the good news. Being selected has put me on top of the world and nothing can bring me down. I am so very proud to be part of the Habitat partner families.
Signed, Channel Howell
My name is Birdie Davis, and I would like to thank everyone involved in the selection of me and my family into the
partnership with Habitat for Humanity. It's very hard to put on paper what I feel in my heart. If I could, it would
certainly become a book; instead, I will try to make it a short story.
I have been working as an LPN for twenty years at Meadow Lakes Nursing Home in Hightstown (New Jersey), and I am now going to school part-time to obtain my associate degree in nursing. During these years, my life has gone through many changes, one of which was becoming a single parent nine years ago. I am the mother of five children, of those, three are currently living at home with me.
I have always tried to maintain a safe and loving environment for my children, but it's heartbreaking trying to explain to a small boy in kindergarten why he couldn't have any friends over or have a birthday party like other kids. The older children understood and knew that I was "ashamed" of our living conditions. I would tell my youngest son that one day, if possible, we would have a home to be proud of. As he grew older, he would tell me it was okay, and that it was good to dream and have something to look forward to.
When my friend gave me the church pamphlet with a notation about Habitat for Humanity, I was surprised. I didn't even know that such an organization existed, and I put the pamphlet on my dresser and hesitated about sending for an application. I thought, who would select my family and me over so many others? I had been disappointed so many times for different things; I felt that this would be the same, but I tried anyway. I never dreamed that I would be selected, and still to this day, I keep pinching myself to see if its for real. At this moment, my heart is so full of joy and happiness that it frightens me.
I know that I have always been blessed. I truly believe that God has walked beside me all of these years, and carried me when I stumbled and fell. My son will have the chance to have that birthday party he always wanted with the help of the Habitat Affiliate and its partner families. I hope that I will have the opportunity to help others realize their dreams and have them feel what I feel today.
The Davis family would like you to know that we appreciated your effort in making our dreams come true. We now have a beautiful home with the memories of how it was built.
There are no words to express the level of gratitude that we feel in our hearts. All of the hours that you so generously devoted to this project are acknowledged. Unselfishly, you put aside your personal obligations for this wonderful cause.
There is a goodness, a presence if you will, that you feel when you enter this house. Maybe it is because this home in which our children will be raised, was built in unity and out of love and kindness for others. Your presence will always be felt in our home.
We will forever be grateful for your time and devotion. Our dearest and deepest gratitude. Thank you now and always.
The Davis Family
Barry, Beatriz, Brianna & Brittany
Dear Tara and / or the Family Selection Committee:
Thank you so much for selecting my boys and I to be part of Habitat housing out of 30 applicants. We feel so honored and we are all very excited.
I was so excited about the whole idea of being able to move into my own home with the boys that I could not help but to drive by the site area late yesterday afternoon to get an idea of what the area may look like.
I have to say I was very surprised of all the work I had seen being done and finished.
Owning my own home will be a blessing for my boys.
Thank you so much!
The D'Alessio Family