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'It's important to be a part of a community'

For Elza Williams of Benton Harbor, Mich., a Habitat home means many things. He will no longer have to share a crowded apartment with relatives. He will be able to leave his financial worries behind and concentrate on his work as a peer mentor at Community Connections, a local nonprofit that helps create opportunities for people with disabilities. And his daughter Lanetta, 15, will finally have the peace and quiet she needs to do well in school.

Elza Williams speaks with Habitat staff member Emily Koon about his hopes for the Benton Harbor community as the JCWP building kicks off.

“The situation we’re in now is really affecting her concentration,” he says.

The chance for Elza’s daughter to realize her education goals is a major benefit of the new house on Buss Street. But the Williams family will also have access to another precious commodity when they move in: a sense of community, the absence of which has been a problem for many residents of Benton Harbor.

As a peer mentor, Elza seeks to provide this sense of belonging to the people he works with each day. They battle depression and other emotional problems as a result of the various stresses in their lives, but Elza is happy he can give them some much-needed support.

“Because of my work, I felt like I was not alone,” he says. “So I feel that I can help these people because I can relate to them.”

Elza and Lanetta are a key part of Habitat’s attempt to revitalize the neighborhood in which the JCWP homes are being built. In place of abandoned homes and fractured neighbor relations, friendships will grow, and a pride of ownership will give residents a reason to be involved in their city’s affairs. Elza is excited to be a part of this.

“It’s important to be a part of a community,” he says.

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