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Waiting and working

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Debra Reid, a licensed paramedic and a large-animal rescue volunteer, and her four children share one room in a homeless shelter for a year, while waiting and working for a new Habitat house.

Hammond, La.–Debra Reid is a licensed paramedic, a large-animal rescue volunteer, a survivor of domestic abuse and a mother of four. For the past year, she and her children have shared one room in a homeless shelter, waiting and working for a new Habitat house that should be finished by late 2007.

“This whole experience has been so surrealistic,” Reid, 35, said.

“Without Habitat, there’s no way I’d be able to buy a house like this. Now my kids have a safe place, and that’s the important thing.”

After Hurricane Katrina struck, Reid made sure her kids were safe, and then, headed straight from Independence, La., to New Orleans. As president of Hooved Animal Rescue & Placement, she went to the front lines by choice, helping to deliver more than 50 tons of feed to hundreds of horses and other large livestock stranded on the city’s flooded levees.

Now employed as a patient care technician in the emergency room at North Oaks hospital in Hammond, Reid and her four children – Nathan, 16; Stormy, 13; Bowen, 3, and Caleb, 15 months – hope to be in their new Habitat home by Christmas.

“My oldest came in and looked around and just had this look of disbelief on his face,” Reid said. “He’s like, ‘This is ours. Nobody’s going to be able to kick us out or anything.’ Then he went around and hugged everybody who was working on it. My daughter Stormy is ready to start painting and picking out flowers for the front yard.”

Off the Field, a charitable organization of wives of NFL players, worked with the Ginger Ford Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Hammond to raise the walls of Reid’s house.

“I didn’t know what to expect, you know, with celebrity wives,” Reid said. “But they were all just down-to-earth. They got out here and carried boards and hammered nails.”

Reid has earned a good bit of sweat equity at Habitat’s Restore, and hopes to help hang sheetrock in her own home soon.

“Everybody is so enthusiastic,” said Reid. “Anytime things start to drag and you wonder, ‘Is this ever going to happen?’ somebody does something to boost your morale. It’s just like one big family.

“One of the volunteers here just got approved to be a homeowner,” Reid said, “so she’s getting really enthusiastic now. She sees hope at the end of her hours.”

An elderly woman who lives across the street from the Habitat site keeps a close eye on the crew’s progress by peeking through the mini-blinds in her front window, which makes Reid laugh.

“It’s just a normal, everyday neighborhood,” she said. “And it’s a mixed neighborhood, which I’m tickled about. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m walking around on Cloud 9.”

The room the whole family shares at the shelter is about the size of one bedroom in the new home, Reid said. Her toddler son, Caleb, who only knows life in a homeless shelter, thinks that everybody who is working on the house will be living with the family when it’s done.

“It will be nice to be able to leave things lying around, without locking them up,” Reid said. “And it will be nice to say to people, ‘Hey, why don’t you come over to my house?’”