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It’s home now

When Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on Waveland, Mississippi, Andre Paez packed up his young daughter, a guitar, a few clothes and some stuffed animals and fled, first to Dallas and then to Troy, Alabama.

 

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When Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on Waveland, Mississippi, Andre Paez packed up his young daughter, a guitar, a few clothes and some stuffed animals and fled, first to Dallas and then to Troy, Alabama, where he and his family live in their new Habitat house.

“Most of our family wound up here,” Paez said. “So we decided to move here and start over.”

Two days after arriving in Troy, Paez was sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office when he ran across a recipe in a magazine that he wanted to remember. He asked a woman in the waiting room for a pen, and a conversation ensued.

“The doctor was five hours late that day,” Paez said, laughing. “So we got to know each other pretty well while we waited.”

Andre and Amber Paez, both of whom are disabled, have now been married for more than a year, living happily with Andre’s 8-year-old daughter, Madelin, in the first house blitz-built by Troy-Pike Habitat for Humanity. Some 286 volunteers—from Georgia, Alabama, Azerbaijan, Japan, China and elsewhere—put in 1,552 hours over three days to build a home on what used to be an open mosquito pit.

“We’re very settled here now,” Paez said. “We’re active in the church and the community. It’s home now.”

Madelin, who was second runner-up in a recent Academic Little Miss scholarship competition, is a straight-A student—she likes math best—and aspires to be either a veterinarian or “a famous baseball player.” To prepare, she has started playing shortstop on her school team.

“She’s a great student,” said her proud father. “She studies hard to keep those grades up.”

Her favorite place to study is in her shockingly bright purple room, filled to capacity with stuffed animals.

“I never ever thought I’d be able to own a home,” Paez said. “This is a really big deal to me and my family.”

The Paez home is on a quiet street in the shadow of the high school football stadium, just down the street from several churches.

“You can hear the chimes from the Baptist church,” Paez said, smiling. “It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood, except for Friday nights during football season. Then we get to listen to the band—from our own front porch.”