Hard work and perseverance pay off

Taji Jr.
After sharing a home with his dad, sister and six other relatives, Taji Martinez Jr. is looking forward to the quiet of his new Habitat home, which will be built during the 2013 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein
The Martinez familyTaji Martinez is a single dad to Taji Jr. and Angelica. He works in the maintenance department of the Denver Housing Authority to provide for them. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

‘Super Dad’ and his children prepare for a home of their own
By Teresa K. Weaver

DENVER, Colorado —Taji Martinez is more prepared than most to become a homeowner. A plumber by trade, he is a skilled handyman capable of tackling not only basic home repairs but also extensive building and remodeling projects.

He also is a dedicated family man — “Super Dad” to his children — and a firm believer in working hard and dreaming big.

“I just get up every day and knock out a few things at a time,” he says of juggling the demands of single parenthood and a full-time job. “I do the best I can.”

For nearly six years, Martinez and his two children — Angelica, 11, and Taji Jr., 10 — have been sharing a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with six relatives. After this year’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, the tight-knit family of three will move into their own space.

What will be the biggest difference?

“Quiet,” Taji Jr. says softly. “It will be a lot quieter without so many people.”

‘Our own house’

Martinez, 33, works in the maintenance department of the Denver Housing Authority, handling plumbing repairs, inspections and general remodeling. While working one day in Globeville — a historic, long-neglected community in the shadow of two interstate highways — Martinez spotted construction workers at a Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver build site nearby and went over to explore.

Impressed with the quality of the workmanship, Martinez started asking questions about the Habitat program. It turned out to be a good fit for him and his family.

AngelicaAngelica and her brother are lobbying their father for a new pet for their new home. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

“I’m really excited about the house,” he says. “We’ll be able to have time to ourselves. And we can fix stuff the way we want. We can do what we want in our own house.”

Prospective Habitat homeowners in metro Denver are required to put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” in order to qualify for affordable, zero-interest mortgages. Martinez has been busy on the construction site for months, working on his own home and his new neighbors’ homes.

It is an instant bonding experience for the soon-to-be homeowners, most of whom are not nearly as comfortable with construction tools as Martinez is.

“Some of them don’t even know how to swing a hammer,” he says, smiling. “I try to help them out with what I can do. It works out pretty good.”

Angelica and Taji Jr. are too young to help out on the build site, but they’ve kept a close eye on progress. Both already have plans for decorating their new rooms.

“I’m thinking about a purple room,” Angelica says.

Her father rolls his eyes playfully. “Purple? Like a dinosaur?”

Angelica continues, undeterred: “With some glow-in-the-dark stuff.”

Taji Jr., who sports a purple Mohawk after going to the Colorado Rockies baseball game a few nights earlier, has his mind set on a team color scheme of black and purple.

Dreams of the future

Both kids are good students and talented athletes. Taji Jr., in fact, wants to play football professionally, or maybe basketball.

“How about soccer?” his dad asks.

“No, Angelica is the soccer player,” he answers.

Angelica plays on a team that her father has coached for five seasons. But she wants to be an artist or a veterinarian when she grows up.

“And I want to design clothes and stuff,” she says.

“She’s going to be busy!” her father says, beaming. “She’s very creative. She designs a lot of cool stuff.”

Negotiations already are under way for a pet for the family’s new house.

“We’re talking about it,” Martinez says. “I told them we have to find the right pet.”

Such discussions — dreaming about future careers and potential pets — happen when families are able to shift out of survivor mode and feel safe and secure in decent homes in good communities. Martinez talks passionately about the importance of taking care of family and putting down roots in a neighborhood where people know one another and lend a helping hand whenever it’s needed.

Globeville is only a 10-minute drive from where Martinez and his extended family have been living, but in many ways, it will be a new world, he says.

“The community is definitely coming together,” he says. “Even the neighbors around the Habitat units are trying to remodel their houses and sprucing things up a bit. It’s definitely coming along.

“You can see the whole neighborhood pulling together.”