The Jackson family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The Jackson family


As a teenager, Nicole Jackson was thrilled when her mother partnered with Habitat to build the family a new house. Today, she is working with Habitat to rehabilitate a house for her three children: Patrick, 9; Kenzie, 7, and Nimone, 10.


Growing up Habitat

Nicole Jackson remembers the afternoon in 1995 when her mother came to her high school one afternoon and took her—and her two sisters and brother—out of class early.

“What’s wrong?” Jackson remembers asking her mom. Her mother simply said she needed to show them something.

“She drove us out to a neighborhood in East Lake to this empty piece of land, and we all got out of the car,” Jackson said. “Then she stood up there in front of us and said, ‘This is our house.’”

Fifteen years ago, Jackson’s mother applied to partner with the Habitat affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, to build a new home for her family. This year, Jackson—now a mail carrier and a mother of three—applied to become a Habitat homeowner in the same city. During the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Jackson will work alongside volunteers to earn sweat-equity hours toward owning her own house.

And Jackson relished reprising the role her mother once performed for her.

As soon as she was accepted as a Habitat homeowner, Jackson drove to the Birmingham affiliate’s office. There, she picked up T-shirts sized for each of her children. The T-shirts read: “I am a Proud Homeowner.”

“I took them home and told the kids: ‘Close your eyes,’” Jackson said. “And I got the T-shirts out and put them in their hands.”

Patrick, 9, was the first to grasp what the shirts meant.

“His eyes got real big, and he just shouted: ‘Mama!’” Jackson said. “Then the girls figured it out, and they started shouting, too. Patrick even started crying, and I told him, ‘Hey, I boo-hooed the day my mother told me, too!’”

Growing opportunities

Jackson’s mother still lives in the same house. In fact, on one of Jackson’s first visits to the affiliate’s office, she saw a picture of the house among a wall of photos. “I called my mom and told her. It says ‘The Jackson Family’ on it!”

Habitat has done a lot of growing since that photo was taken. Back then, most of Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham’s work focused on building new single-family houses.

The affiliate still builds plenty of new houses, but it also repairs existing homes through the A Brush with Kindness program. And it rehabs abandoned and foreclosed properties with funding the affiliate applied for through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Jackson’s future home is a rehab project. Habitat bought the foreclosed property using NSP funding.

“I didn’t know they offered this many different ways to a home,” she said. “I just thought Habitat was what I knew of it from when we had our mother’s house built.”

Habitat Greater Birmingham is giving the house new flooring, fresh paint and other needed repairs. With new windows, appliances and insulation, the Jacksons’ Energy Star-compliant house will also save them money.

Growing excitement

Jackson’s children have plenty of energy of their own. While her mother talks with Habitat staff, 7-year-old Kenzie bounces frenetically around the room. She is soon teaching games to her visitors, singing songs and taking over picture-snapping duties from photographer Ezra Millstein. At age 9, Patrick is the thinker; when he grows up he wants to be a police detective. Today, he’s itching to help paint bedrooms, which, to his great disappointment, he is not allowed to do. Ten-year-old Nimone is the mother hen of the siblings, frequently at her mother’s side to relay marching orders to her younger brother and sister.

Jackson was in high school when she moved into her Habitat house, but she can still relate to her children’s excitement. As a single mother, she now understands what homeownership meant to her mother. Until her parents divorced, most of Jackson’s childhood took place in a public housing project. After the divorce, the children had to be apart from their mother for the first time.

Jackson said a house was all her mother had ever wanted, and their Habitat home allowed her and her siblings to live with their mother again.

“I remember my mother telling us back then: ‘You’ll never know what it feels like to provide something for your family that you never had before. You’ll never know what it feels like until you’re in my shoes.’”