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Spotlight on an NSP2 family

Habitat gives new life to family after Hurricane Katrina, stroke

Cassandra Bryant suffered a stroke in 2006 but still was able to help build her Habitat home in Pensacola, Florida.

By Julie Gurnon
Cassandra Bryant probably wouldn’t be sitting in her Habitat home today if it hadn’t been for a well-timed phone call in 2006.

Bryant and her two youngest children, Dominique and Edward, now ages 19 and 14, had left New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina damaged their house.

After a month in Texas, they moved to Pensacola, Florida, to be near Bryant’s oldest son, Johnny. Bryant soon got a job as a chef at Copeland’s Famous New Orleans Restaurant & Bar and rented a house. Life was getting back to normal.

Then one day, the telephone rang. Bryant was sleeping, so Dominique, who was only 13 at the time, answered. The call was from one of her mother’s girlfriends, and when Dominique went to wake her mom, she could tell something was wrong.

“Her eyes were rolling in the back of her head; it wasn’t normal,” she said. “So I called my brother, and then he came here and said she was having a stroke, and he called the ambulance. That phone call kind of saved her life.”

Bryant, now 55, did have a stroke, and although she’s doing much better, she still has difficulty speaking. But she has no trouble smiling, and she does it broadly when she talks about her Habitat experience, with help from Dominique.

“I liked all of them,” Bryant said, referring to the construction staff and volunteers she worked alongside.

And work she did — on her own home and other Habitat homes.

“Everything they did on the house, she wanted to be a part of,” Dominique said. “They were patient with her because they knew her situation. It takes time to try and understand her; it’s like playing charades. They were very helpful.”

Bryant said she became quite good at putting up drywall and taping. The only place her hands or feet didn’t touch was the roof.

The Bryants moved into their Habitat home — which was one of 330 that Pensacola Habitat for Humanity constructed with federal funds provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program — in April 2011, just as Dominique was preparing for her high school graduation.

Today Dominique attends college in Tallahassee, Florida, about three hours away. She admits it was tough leaving her mother, even though she describes her as a fiercely independent type who wants to do everything on her own.

“At first I didn’t want to go off; I was just kind of scared,” she said, tearing up. “I just worry about her so much. Even though she’s strong and likes to do things her way, I like to oversee everything she does.”

Fortunately, Bryant’s youngest son is still at home, and her oldest son lives nearby, creating a strong support system.

But don’t discount Bryant’s independent streak. It’s what spurred her to apply for a Habitat home the minute she heard about the program from a neighbor. She always wanted a house to call her own, Dominique said, and now she has it.

After living through Hurricane Katrina and a debilitating stroke, applying for a Habitat home and helping to build it must have seemed easy, despite her difficulty speaking.

Besides, sometimes it only takes a few words to get a point across.

When asked if she would recommend Habitat to others, Bryant answered instantly and clearly, “Yes, ma’am!”

Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Georgia.