This is something I can call mine
LaShonda Butler, a 33-year-old administrative coordinator at McNeese State University, is anxious to “not be a certain statistic.”
A divorced mother of one, she recently earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies and is awaiting certification as an elementary school teacher. Owning her own home, with the help of Calcasieu Area Habitat for Humanity, is another important life lesson to show her 9-year-old daughter, Mykenzie, she said.
With hard work, Butler tells her daughter, anything is possible.
Butler and her daughter were living in an apartment on Lake Charles, Louisiana’s Fifth Avenue when Hurricane Rita rolled in.
“When I came back after evacuating, the outside of the complex looked fine,” Butler recalled. “But we walked inside and saw that the roof had caved in. Blown insulation was everywhere. It looked like it had snowed inside the apartment.”
Butler was able to salvage some furniture, but she had nowhere to put it. So she put what was left in storage and moved home with her mom and dad.
Before Rita, Butler had been working at McNeese State University, processing student transcripts, and working toward her degree. Born and raised in Lake Charles, she was wondering whether it was time to move away when she finished school, starting fresh somewhere else.
“I had been living in an apartment for nine years,” she said. “I kept talking with the Lord and asking him if it was meant for me to stay here. I thought I would see a sign. If he meant for me to leave, I thought he would give me a sign for that, too.
“Just when I was about to make my decision to move, that was when I got a call from Habitat that I had been approved,” she continued. “I said, ‘OK, I guess it’s meant for me to stay here.’ ”
Butler and Mykenzie moved into their house in November 2008.
Mykenzie, who wasn’t allowed to play outside when they lived in the apartment complex, suddenly found herself free to explore the neighborhood.
“In an apartment complex, you have people who like to party and are not respectful,” Butler said. “There was never peace and quiet. Now we have a yard, where she can go outside and ride her bike. I can have family functions here and have people over to my house.
“When you’re paying rent, it’s never yours,” she added. “This is something I can call mine. It’s my house!”
Butler shares funny stories about hyper-helpful neighbors who keep a watchful eye on the happenings up and down the street. One day she came home from work and found that somebody had mowed her lawn, she said. On garbage collection days, she will roll the receptacle to the street before she leaves for work, and it’s always put back in place behind the house by the time she returns.
“If a stranger comes up here and the neighbors don’t know who it is, believe me, they’ll call and ask,” Butler said, laughing. “It’s just me and my daughter here, but I’m never scared. I’m lucky to be in that kind of neighborhood.”
Butler’s sister and niece are staying in the spare bedroom temporarily, while a landlord eradicates a mold problem that stems from the storm five years ago.
“It’s just unsafe for them to stay there until they can get into the Habitat program and get a house of their own,” Butler said.
Mykenzie, an exceptional speller who aspires to be either a teacher or a singer, has set up a chalkboard in her room, where she plays schoolteacher while her young cousin plays a student.
“Being a single parent, I just didn’t want to be a certain statistic,” Butler said. “I had to get out of those numbers. A lot of African-American girls choose different routes. They party and do all that. But that wasn’t me.
“My sisters and I weren’t raised that way,” she said. “And I want a different lifestyle for Mykenzie. Instead of leaving her with a babysitter and going out partying, I like to take her to the library, show her books, and introduce her to a library card. I let her check out her own stuff. I didn’t want to be a statistic, and I don’t want her to be one.”