The Middleton family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1
The Middleton family
Alina Middleton makes candles to earn money while she attends nursing school; her husband, Jacob, holds down two jobs. Son Jacob Jr. (right) is an aspiring racecar driver.
‘Everything is just falling into place’
For Alina Middleton and her family, the road to recovery has been long and bumpy.
“But God’s been taking care of us,” Middleton said. “He’s been there through it all.”
Alina and her husband, Jacob, both worked for the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans and were taking classes at Delgado Community College in Covington before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With their son, Jacob Jr., now 11, they were evacuated to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they stayed in a church with many other displaced families.
“It got really crowded,” Alina said. “So they put us in this big shelter, which was horrible. I’ll never forget that. We all slept on concrete.”
After about three weeks there, they were finally able to contact Alina’s aunt in Texas, who works for a hotel chain. She found them a hotel room, with financial assistance from FEMA.
“We stayed there until it was time for us to come back home,” Alina said.
Neither had a job to return to, though. Jacob now works with his father-in-law as a trim carpenter, and delivers pizzas at night. He also attends business classes part-time, hoping to improve his chances for better-paying jobs. Alina makes candles at Akee-Wakee Candle Studio and is enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. She hopes to become a nurse.
Less than a year after the family returned to Louisiana, the landlord raised the rent three times, forcing them to move from the North Shore to live with relatives in Metairie.
“It was to the point where we couldn’t breathe,” Alina said of the financial burden.
For the Carter Work Project, St. Tammany West Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers will start building the Middletons’ house in a community called West Abita Nursery in Covington.
“Everything is just falling into place,” Alina said.
Jacob Jr., an aspiring racecar driver who likes soccer, football and Tae Kwan Do, is especially excited because his best friend’s family will move into the Habitat house being built right next-door.
The 11-year-old has expressed an interest in painting the walls of his new room red, but Mom seems skeptical.
“We’ll see,” she said, smiling.
Thought both parents have hectic work and school schedules, they’re well on their way earning their sweat equity hours required for their house.
“I’ve learned how to put up hurricane brackets, and I learned how to do siding,” Alina said proudly. “That was pretty cool. And now I know how to take measurements. I never was good at that before. But the cutting stuff, I leave that to the other workers.”
Alina was born and raised in Metairie, and husband Jacob is a native of St. Tammany West. They hope to celebrate Christmas in their new house.
“It’ll be a perfect Christmas present,” Alina said.
“For now, we’re trying to save as much money as possible. Whatever we have to do, we’ll make it. We’re a team. And God’s watching us every step of the way.”
St. Tammany West, Louisiana: 30 homes for displaced families
Before Hurricane Katrina, Habitat for Humanity St. Tammany West was on a five-year strategic growth plan to add five homes a year to its production and reach 30 homes a year by 2008.
“So much for planning,” said Maureen Clary, executive director of the affiliate. “We built 42 homes last year and plan to build 50 this year and 50 next.”
Clary, a board member at the time of the storm, decided to leave a 25-year career in commercial real estate development and property management to go full time with Habitat.
“It was the best decision I ever made—or that God made for me,” Clary said.
St. Tammany Parish, located in the metro New Orleans area just north of Lake Pontchartrain, has absorbed much of the workforce population from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, pushing the limits of infrastructure in the cities of Covington, Mandeville and surrounding communities.
“Many families who thought they would return to New Orleans have found jobs, good schools, access to health care, and have decided to stay,” Clary said. “We are still seeing trends of two, three and four families sharing homes.”
A recent study shows a need for 10,000 workforce housing units by 2009 in St. Tammany. The affiliate consistently has a waiting list of 200 to 300 families who need homes.
For this year’s Carter Work Project, the St. Tammany West affiliate will lead more than 300 volunteers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia to build 10 houses in West Abita Nursery in Covington in the five-day blitz build. In addition, 20 more houses will either be started or dedicated as part of the Carter Project.