At house in Mystic, big hearts work to bring family a bigger home
Shanette Young-Williams sits at the kitchen table with her three children. A painting of colorfully dressed people dancing hangs above her 11-year-old daughter Shantel's head, while one of flowers with the words "God bless our happy home with love" hangs above 15-year-old Shaneva's head. Young-Williams' mother had brought the artwork from Jamaica on visits.
On Young-Williams' fridge are pictures of her kids, word magnets, a New London Public Schools calendar and a certificate of attendance for Shavaughn Edwards, her 13-year-old son.
The two-bedroom apartment alludes to a close-knit family but is undersized for the number of occupants. Between Shaneva, Shavaughn and Shantel, two share a room while the third either sleeps on the couch or in Young-Williams' room.
Young-Williams works as a medical assistant at Northeast Medical Group from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, so she tries to be productive on Fridays.
By 1:30 p.m. this Friday, she has gone to a doctor's appointment and met with her Habitat for Humanity sponsor. She then will be returning to Habitat for her intent letter and then going to Heritage Tabernacle Church, where she is assistant president of the youth ministry.
She describes her Friday-Monday routine as "church, volunteer, church, work again."
The single mother of three volunteers every Saturday at a Habitat for Humanity property, part of the 400 hours of "sweat equity" requirement that comes with selection for Habitat homeownership. She anticipates that her family will move into 235 Yetter Road, the first property the organization has acquired in Mystic, sometime next spring.
Young-Williams, 37, is originally from Jamaica and moved to New York at age 21 or 22. In 2004, after the father of her two older children died, she moved to New London, where Shaneva and Shavaughn's paternal grandmother lives.
She heard about Habitat homeownership from a co-worker and decided to apply.
Amanda Shanks, director of program services at Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut, said that the organization typically gets around 40 pre-qualification forms for a home.
Prior to selecting Young-Williams, Habitat reviewed her income and credit, looked through pay stubs and utility bills, ran background checks and did a home visit.
Young-Williams said she filled out the first application in October and found out she was selected at the end of January.
"I literally fell to my knees. I'm dead serious," she said of getting that call. Patients were looking, and co-workers were telling her "Nobody deserves it more than you." Young-Williams' voice gets high-pitched and she waves her hands in the air as she re-enacts that moment.
She first went to 235 Yetter Road for a women's build in May, but she didn't find out until a few weeks ago that this would be her house.
"I feel like we won the lottery," Young-Williams said. She worries about safety in her current apartment complex — because she doesn't know her many neighbors and because she can sometimes smell marijuana, she said — and is looking forward to living in a larger place.
Per the site plans for the house, the first floor will have three bedrooms, a laundry room and a bathroom off the hallway, along with a kitchen, dining room and living room.
In the basement will be a fourth bedroom, second bathroom and family room.
Shantel Greaves, Young-Williams' 11-year-old daughter, beamed when she talked about her reaction to seeing the house for the first time. "I was amazed by how big the house is and how we get this opportunity to have our own bedroom," she said.
The Yetter Road house is one of four properties on which Habitat is working now, out of 28 in its possession. The organization acquired the property in August 2015, a donation from William Davies. Site supervisor Dale Brown said the next steps involved stripping the house to its framing, removing the electrical wiring, removing the vines that "inundated" the property and cutting the floor to place drain lines beneath the concrete.
Active work on the house started up again a few weeks ago, with both regular volunteers and various church groups coming on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays every week.
A generator whirs at the edge of the street while in the driveway sit a rusted dumpster, a large fan, milk crates filled with gloves, a table of coffee and snacks, and a trailer with practically every tool and piece of equipment one might need to fix up a house: saws and shovels, drills and dust masks, electrical cords and air compressors.
Piles of framing lumber sit in the garage. Scaffolding stands in the front and back of the house, two ladders placed horizontally with a black net, a safety measure for volunteers standing on the lower ladder, affixed between the two. The setup is for placing Styrofoam insulation over the baby-blue Dow Weathermate Plus Housewrap.
Speaking down from the ladder, 17-year-old Garrett Fisher commented, "It's just nice because you get hands-on work, and you can see the impact. It's a difference from just donating money."
He is the son of Pastor Shawn Fisher, who was at the house on Tuesday with about 10 volunteers from Groton Congregational Church.
When the home is finished, Young-Williams will purchase it from Habitat through a nonprofit mortgage that will be set at no more than 30 percent of her income, according to program director Shanks. The payments will go into Habitat's Fund for Humanity to help build more homes, with a portion held in escrow for taxes and insurance.
Young-Williams noted that while she doesn't know the exact cost of her mortgage yet, she knows it will be less than her current monthly rent of $1,030.
In the meantime, volunteers go in and out of the house, using their hands to help and to write regards on the walls. They leave messages like "May you have a warm and happy home" and "It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home."
The project is considered a faith build, and most of the messages include two words that capture how Young-Williams feels about this opportunity: "God bless."
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