BERKELEY – Gloria Walling didn’t have a lot of options.
Growing up as the youngest of three, her mother worked three jobs until she was too sick to work. Gloria became pregnant at 20, and a family member opened a credit card in her name without her knowing, hurting her credit. Now, she’s got two kids of her own and works as a hospice nursing assistant. But she’s never had stability.
The three of them live in a one-bedroom apartment in Toms River. The kids were never able to do the things that other kids could do, like have friends over for a sleepover.
Living check to check, she would ask herself questions like: How do I get a reliable car? How can I get a permanent home? Which bill is the most important that has to be paid now? Which late fees are the most forgiving?
When you’ve got a tough start like this, it becomes nearly impossible to climb out without outside help.
Fortunately, help arrived in the form of the Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity. They brought Gloria under their wing and months later, on a beautiful spring Saturday morning, they were having a home dedication ceremony for her new house.
Habitat is a nonprofit that creates a partnership with the future homeowner to make living in the house affordable. As part of the Habitat experience, the homeowner-to-be has to put in sweat equity, helping to build their future house. Gloria’s oldest daughter, Asiana, 15, has become a right hand to her mother, often taking care of 3-year-old Monroe.
Asiana painted gifts for the people who helped them. One was a painting of the house with the number 19, since this is the 19th build that Habitat has done.
It’s on a quiet, dead-end street in the Pinewald section of the town, not far from Central Regional. The back yard gives way to woods. In no time, Monroe was in the back yard, kicking a ball around with her cousin.
Inside, the house opens to a large, open living and dining area. A sizable kitchen looks into the dining room. A hallway leads to the bathroom, laundry room, and three bedrooms.
It’s on a crawlspace with a concrete base, explained Dick Read, a retired engineer who worked on the house. It’s a 1,500-square-foot house, made to be energy efficient. “You can cool it with an ice cube and heat it with a candle,” he said.
The Walling family’s tale is not unique, said Suzan Fichtner, executive director of Northern Ocean Habitat. There are many families who are struggling, and despite their best efforts, can’t catch a foothold to achieve the financial security they need.
The organization has put 36 children in homes of their own, she said. These children are in National Honor Society, and they excel in sports and extracurricular activities. “They come home to a place that makes them feel pride.”
The property itself was donated in the will of Theodore Karras, so it didn’t cost Habitat anything. Additionally, the township waived all construction fees and contributed money from its affordable housing trust fund.
Mayor Carmen Amato said this is the fourth Habitat house built in Berkeley Township.