Home for the Holidays – Welcome, Jessica!
Habitat Chesapeake welcomes new homebuyer Jessica and her daughter to Clay Street!
In 2009, Jessica was a senior at Annapolis High School about to embark on an exciting new phase of her life away from home at college.
A few streets away, unbeknownst to her, Habitat for Humanity of Anne Arundel County was also approaching a new phase. After 23 years, building more than 100 homes, the affiliate was about to begin one of its biggest projects – a series of 12 new townhomes on Clay Street in Annapolis – and was at about the same time that Chesapeake affiliate merged with the local affiliate. The next ten years would be a long, winding road for both Jessica and Habitat.
A Decade of Change
Jessica graduated college, gave birth to a beautiful daughter named Eden, and became a budget specialist at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. As Jessica says, she was a “boomerang child” – off to college and then back to her parents’ house as rent prices and down payments on houses soared out of reach. For years, she strove to save for a house of her own and researched first-time homebuyer programs across the state to no avail.
As Jessica says, she was a ‘boomerang child’ – off to college and then back to her parents’ house as rent prices and down payments on houses soared out of reach. For years, she strove to save for a house of her own and researched first-time homebuyer programs across the state to no avail.
Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake finished the set of new townhomes on Clay Street, continued renovating a few existing rowhouses and, with support from the Anne Arundel Faith Coalition, acquired the last vacant single-family house – a faded pink foursquare. The house would need structural engineering, requiring more funds than usual, but it would be a beautiful home for the right family.
In partnership with Anne Arundel Faith Coalition members, Habitat Chesapeake began the careful work of aligning fundraising, construction and family timelines for the home. Work started and stopped as funds were raised for chunks of work. The process was complicated by the fact that two families were matched and later unmatched to the house as employment changes meant they could no longer afford it.
According to Jessica, it was all meant to be: the house was waiting for her.
“My mom suggested going to a Habitat information session in 2018 and we were there looking at a board with all the available houses on it,” says Jessica. “I told her ‘That’s the pink house on Clay Street! That is my house!”
It was easy to recognize because her parents had grown up in the Clay Street community and still lived close by. Says Jessica’s mom, Betty, “When we were growing up, the neighborhood was full of kids and families. We knew and played with the children in that house. They were a good family.”
Like many neighborhoods, Clay Street suffered from disinvestment in the 1970’s and 80’s as families moved to the suburbs. But, says Betty, “A lot of my generation are moving back to try to bring the neighborhood back to what it once was. I was happy to think of my daughter going there, and to have other Habitat families as neighbors.”
Jessica immediately filled out the lengthy homebuyer application and gathered all of the necessary documentation, including bank statements, tax filings, bills and pay stubs. “I didn’t see a place on the application to list the house I wanted, so I wrote Clay Street on every page,” she says laughing.
In fall 2018, Jessica was matched to the house and began diligently completing her 250 “sweat equity” hours on construction sites, in ReStores and at community events. Her favorite times were helping at other families’ home dedications and working alongside volunteers from the Anne Arundel Faith Coalition of churches. She became especially connected to Pat Fleeharty of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, who she met one day peeking in the house. “In him, I’ve gained a mentor and friend,” says Jessica. “He welcomed me with open arms.”
“Thanks to God and thanks to the staff at Habitat. I truly feel that I have new family members now. I will continue to serve and come to dedications because that was my favorite thing to do – seeing people achieve their goals and all of the smiles on the faces of their friends and family..
Home At Last
Finally, on a cold, rainy day in December 2019, Jessica came home.
Hundreds of Habitat staff, volunteers, donors, public officials, friends and family members packed into the transformed house. Instead of faded pink stucco and plywood, the home had crisp beige siding and new windows courtesy of Thompson Creek. The yard was neatly landscaped by local firm EQR, with improved grading and plants that would absorb stormwater and keep the home’s re-engineered foundation strong.
Surrounded by supporters, Jessica was overwhelmed with emotion. “Thanks to God and thanks to the staff at Habitat. I truly feel that I have new family members now. I will continue to serve and come to dedications because that was my favorite thing to do – seeing people achieve their goals and all of the smiles on the faces of their friends and family… To be in that moment myself today, seeing this house so full, is amazing.”
Jessica went on, “I want to say thank you to everyone who is here today and made this possible. If you cleaned up debris in 2009, if you hung drywall two years ago, if you raked the front lawn yesterday, Eden and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Like Jessica, Director of Homeowner Services Lauren Hughes also felt a sense of fate attached to the house. “My very first Habitat dedication was for the set of new townhouses here on Clay Street. There was a crowd much like this one. And there were interfaith house blessings that really touched me and made me want to be at Habitat every single day. We cannot overstate the collaboration needed to do this work. We know that everyone here has a lot of different places that they can spend their time, their energy and their dollars. We really appreciate that you chose Habitat, this home and this family.”
As with every home dedication ceremony, the event ended with a joyous song of This Little Light of Mine – this time led by 4-year-old Eden in front of her new fireplace and Christmas tree as Jessica watched, crying tears of joy at finally having a home of their own.
About Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake
Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake (www.habitatchesapeake.org) brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope. Since 1982, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake has built more than 780 homes in 19 communities, providing a brighter future for 2,700 children and family members. Homeownership is proven to transform lives – improving health, increasing children’s chances of academic success and offering an opportunity to build wealth across generations. Likewise, homeownership enhances neighborhoods by bringing tangible investment, engaged, long-term residents, rising property values and a sense of community.