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It’s a piece of the American pie


Joy Velez moved into her Habitat house on Hope Lane in Covington, Louisiana, two days before Christmas 2008.


Joy Velez and her teenage daughter, Krystal, moved into their Habitat house on Hope Lane two days before Christmas in 2008. Situated snugly on a cul de sac surrounded by towering trees, Velez knows everybody on the street and has a million stories to share about how the neighbors pitch in to take care of one another.

A longtime resident of St. Bernard Parish—one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding from the levee collapse—Velez lost her home, her workplace and her livelihood. She has rebuilt her life on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, managing the booming Habitat ReStore of Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West and proudly sending her daughter to college in Lake Charles.

“I love this house,” said Velez, a native of Brooklyn, New York, who speaks in a colorful blend of Brooklynese and Cajun. “It’s the biggest blessing anybody could ever ask God for.”

Before Hurricane Katrina, Velez’s daughter was a star student at Chalmette High School, which was flooded during the storm and didn’t reopen until the 2006-07 school year. Krystal finished high school in St. Tammany Parish, but continued to grieve for her beloved Chalmette High.

Now a junior in elementary education at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, 21-year-old Krystal already has a job waiting for her when she finishes her degree: She’s going back to Chalmette to teach.

“I’m a lucky parent,” Velez said, laughing. “I drove a school bus for a long time, so I can tell you about kids. I’m a very lucky parent.”

From the porch of her new home, Velez points to all the other Habitat houses in the community—on Progress Street, Success Street and beyond—identifying all the homeowners by name and occupation, and sharing stories of how they all look after one another, from mowing a neighbor’s lawn without being asked to bringing casseroles after a hospital stay.

“I don’t mind paying my mortgage,” Velez said. “It all goes toward something for my daughter. It’s a piece of the American pie.”

Velez is proud to note that every piece of furniture in her house was bought at the ReStore where she works. Crisp white crown molding is stacked neatly in the hallway, awaiting installation by friends.

“When you get something you’re proud of, you take care of it,” Velez said. “This is what it’s all about.”