TOMS RIVER – When Katiria Rodriguez walks through her future home on First Avenue, she can already imagine what her future will be like here.
“Every time I see it I just thank God,” she said.
After years of being on various government programs, she is turning a corner with a new home provided by the Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity.
The front door opens into a long living space that stretches all the way to the back door. As the house gets filled in, this space will become the kitchen, living room, and dining area. Three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a laundry room jut off to the right. It’s on a raised crawlspace. The architect, Scott Lepley, chose to raise it a bit since the house is just outside the floodline.
On arriving at the house to help work on it one morning, she watched a township recycling truck make pick-ups on the street. She committed to memory what day recycling is in her new neighborhood.
Rodriguez and her daughters had been living in Section 8 housing, and she has been on some kind of government assistance program since she was a teen. “I was homeless,” she said, going from different transitional housing places. During this time, she kept trying to increase her education to get better jobs, going to school for medicine, computers, and in the fall, she’ll start accounting classes.
As difficult as it is for adults to be without a home, it is even worse for children, local Habitat executive director Suzan Fichtner said.
Kids have anxiety when they don’t have permanence in their lives, and that stress impacts everything they do, she said. Even the simple things that most people take for granted, like having their own possessions, and a place to put them, is something these kids might not have.
Therefore, it was fortunate that a number of government agencies, volunteer groups, and local businesses were able to line up and provide this house for a deserving family, she said.
The property on First Avenue is a 40×100-square-foot undersized lot that the town received through foreclosure. They donated the lot to Habitat in order to make some use of it, and to help someone who needed it.
This has been an overwhelming experience for Rodriguez. She was notified that she was picked for the new home in December. They broke ground in January, and the move-in is scheduled for the summer. Habitat schedules move-ins for the summer, when able, so that children don’t have to move in the middle of a school year.
Currently, she is working per diem as a certified nursing assistant and as a staffing coordinator at a home health aide agency. She is currently renting a place in Brick with her two girls, Kamiah and Izabella, who are 11 and 12.
They’ve been excited about the new house, too, asking her what work is going to be done each day. She’s been coming down to invest sweat equity in the house, and helping out with the construction. Experts on scene have been teaching her a lot.
Of course, she had help. The week of May 7 was Women Build Week, so she was joined by a group of female employees from Lowe’s Home Improvement. There were also some local volunteers.
Rodriguez said she’s met a lot of great people through this program.
“Growing up, we’re told ‘stranger danger.’ But sometimes these strangers can be another family,” she said.
Maria Romano is a Lowe’s employee who has a personal connection to Habitat. One day, she saw a Habitat demonstration at Lowe’s and realized her daughter could be a beneficiary.
Her daughter, Maria Lawson, said her landlord in Lacey kicked her out because his daughter wanted to live in the home she was renting. Then, her husband got laid off. They had to move in with her sister in Manchester. There were nine people in one house.
Romano couldn’t take her in because she lived in a senior community that had rules against people living there who were younger than 55.
“It’s very frustrating not to be able to help your own child when they are homeless,” she said.
They filled out the paperwork together, and Lawson was chosen to be a recipient of a home in Pine Lake Park, coincidentally in the same development as her sister.
Now, the mother and daughter pay it forward as volunteers for Habitat. Lawson is on the family selection committee that chose Rodriguez.
Paying it forward is definitely something Rodriguez hopes to do as well.
“Hopefully in the future I can play more of a part and inspire the next homeowner,” she said.
For more information, or to contribute time or funds, contact Habitat at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 732-228-7962, ext. 109, or visit nohfh.com/donate-now. Interested parties are also encouraged to “like” Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity on Facebook or visit the site at nohfh.com.