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A big thing happens for a family in Dallas

NSP2 helps father with disability build a new home for his nieces, nephew
By Julie Gurnon

Cornelius Banks describes the day he found out he’d been accepted for a Habitat home as the happiest of his life.

“I had a smile from ear to ear,” he said, remembering the call from Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity in June 2011.

Cornelius Banks is thrilled with his new accessible home in Dallas, Texas.

Nineteen months later, Banks has settled into the home with his wife, Robin, a home health aide, and their three nieces — Chasity, 14, and twin girls Kristin and Tristin, 9 — and nephew Jaylon, 12.

The family’s home is in the Hickory Creek community, about 25 minutes south of downtown Dallas.

Dallas Area Habitat, one of seven affiliates partnering with Habitat for Humanity International in implementing the second phase of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, built 78 homes in Hickory Creek using funds from the federal grant and private donors.

“The kids love it,” Banks said. “They’ve got so many friends around here.”

When Banks talks about the children, who have been in his care for about 10 years, his storytelling ability and infectious sense of humor emerge.

“Chasity is at that age where her hormones are bouncing off the walls, so we kind of have to corral her a little bit and reel her back in … Jaylon is the neatest of all four children, but he’s also the sneakiest … and the twins, that’s a different story.”

The community aspect of Hickory Creek benefits Banks, who has been in a wheelchair since suffering a spinal injury in a car accident 22 years ago, when he was in his late 20s.

“It’s been a blessing, and everyone around here helps me out. Everyone checks on me. If I don’t answer my phone, someone’s coming around,” he said.

Banks steps up, too, keeping a close eye on the children in the neighborhood and asking his neighbors if they need his kids to cut the grass.

Before finding his way to Habitat through a staff member at the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Banks’ family faced numerous challenges.

They spent six years living in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that cost $850 a month, a disproportionate share of the family’s income. It was too small for four growing children; all three girls had to share a bedroom.

Banks is raising his nieces and nephew — 14-year-old Chasity, 9-year-old twins Kristin and Tristin, and 12-year-old Jaylon — in his Habitat home.

Their new four-bedroom, two-bathroom Habitat home gives them the space they need with an affordable mortgage: $667 a month.

In fact, Banks said with a laugh, his newfound financial security has made his brother jealous.

“He can’t stand it when I explained to him that I got zero-percent interest. He’s got a traditional mortgage and has been in his house 16 or 17 years, and he’s just now paying on the principal.”

But Banks emphasizes that the home is much more than spacious and affordable. It is also accessible.

“In the apartment, I could not use the restroom, and I could barely get to the sinks,” he said. “In this unit, everything is low, and I can roll into the shower. I can get into pretty much every room in the house.”

Despite his limited mobility and the associated challenges, Banks says the kids make him focus on the positive.

“I got to keep a smile on my face, ’cause I got four kids to raise,” he said. “I’ve been in the hospital three or four times since the children came, so I’ve seen them worried more about me than we worry about them, and that’s not the way I want it.”

Fortunately, with his wife by his side and his mother, sister and brother nearby, he rests assured that the kids will have the love and support they need should anything happen to him.

Working with Dallas Area Habitat was “a great experience,” Banks said. If the affiliate needs him and his health permits it, he’s there to help. He also volunteers at area rehabilitation centers, helping youngsters who have become disabled.

Banks is enjoying it all: his family, his neighbors, the Hickory Creek community and the accessible, spacious house.

“It’s been a long ride,” he said, “But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

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