Side by side, sisters share the joy of homeownership -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Side by side, sisters share the joy of homeownership

Mary Bunch has two children, Rashad (14, black shirt) and Domonique (11, pink shirt). Mary is also very close to her sister Carla; both of their new Habitat homes will be dedicated during the 2008 Carter project.

Bobby Bunch (13, right), his sister Jayla (7, left), their 2 siblings Christopher and Deysha and mother Carla were without power for a month after hurricane Katrina hit. The children were all out of school for two months.

Sisters Mary and Carla Bunch have been close all their lives. And so, deciding that their Habitat houses would be built next door to each other was an easy choice.

“We’re real close and our kids are real close,” said Carla, 35.

Mary, 36, explained it this way: “My sister and I have had a lot of stuff we’ve dealt with together. I’ll be able to just walk next door. Our kids can go back and forth or stay over whenever we want.”

The sisters grew up in a military family and moved often. When their father retired, the family settled on the Gulf Coast, where their mother’s family was. Other brothers and sisters live nearby in Mississippi and Louisiana.

The sisters’ children are stair steps in age. Carla’s four include Christopher, 14, who is a fan of “Law & Order,” likes math and wants to be a detective; Bobby, 13, likes track and drawing and thinks about being a lawyer but “doesn’t want to put anybody in jail”; Deysha, 10, likes animals and wants to be a zookeeper; and Jayla, 7, likes to play outside, ride her bike and today wants to be a zookeeper, too. “Didn’t you tell me yesterday you wanted to be a teacher?” her mother asked.

Mary has two children: Rashad, 14, who plays football and the French horn and hopes going in the military will pay for his education; and Domonique, 11, who gets 100’s on stories she writes and wants to be a lawyer.

Bonding times

Katrina brought them all close together, along with assorted other family and friends--for longer than anyone bargained for. Twenty-two people, including 15 children, huddled together in Carla’s tiny home. And they stayed for more than a month.

“It was very scary,” Carla said. “You could just look out the window and see the trees falling and trash cans flying.”

Trees fell on the house and shingles lifted at Carla’s house. Mary’s apartment had water damage.

“It was kind of rough,” Carla said. “We were out of power for a month. We had to stand in line for ice, food, gas. The kids were out of school until October.”

Mary’s apartment got power back first, and so the whole family trooped over there. Now, they have turned their attention to the future.

‘This is real’

Mary’s current apartment is near The Home Depot, where she works as a cashier. She likes to work in the garden area because she “learns something new every day about plants, dirt, mulch.”

The families plan a vegetable garden at their new side-by-side homes. “We’ll have our own yard, too,” Carla said. And the children want a dog, although there is some disagreement over what kind of dog. Jayla wants a guinea pig. “No guinea pigs,” her mother answered firmly.

Carla works in shipping and receiving at Future Pipe Industries. Both sisters said they want to spend as much time as possible working with volunteers during the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

Both are excited about meeting the Carters.

“It’s so great that he’s going to bring so many people down with him,” Carla said. “That’s exciting, too.”

It will already be a special day for Carla when she meets the former president and first lady on Friday, May 16. That’s her 35th birthday.

Mary is proud that The Home Depot is a house sponsor and has been taking every class she can to add to her home-building skills. She takes the children, too. They’ve learned to put in a sink and install closet shelves so far. Co-workers sign up to volunteer on a bulletin board at work; some give their hours to Mary to apply to her required sweat equity.

Both sets of children have met volunteers at a dinner. “We really like some of them,” Carla said. “We promised to all keep in touch.”

Getting ready for the project and new houses has both families in a whirl of new experiences.

“We’re so grateful,” Carla said. “It’s hard to put in words how much we appreciate it. It’s so hard to be a single mother and raise your children in a good environment.”

And Mary, another soon-to-be homeowner, smiled and then gave a big sigh. “This is real,” she said, laughing. “It’s real!”