Yolanda Suarez and her family look forward to building their Habitat house as part of Jimmy Carter Work Project 2007.
The 11-member Suarez family lives in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Long Beach, Calif. Outside their front door, the neighborhood is plagued by drug use and gang activity. Inside, water leaks through the ceiling and windows when it rains, and there is little room for the children to study.
With help from thousands of volunteers, the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2007 will benefit 100 Los Angeles families.
Twenty-three-year-old Yolanda, the second oldest of nine children, plays a key role in her family by providing financial support as well as leadership and guidance to her younger siblings. She began working after school when she was 14 in the hope that she could help her parents, Natali and Hirma, secure a safe, decent place for her younger siblings to grow up.
"I feel that it's my responsibility to help the little ones," says the medical assistant and nursing student. "I don't want them to grow up like this, the way that I did. I want them to have a better childhood and just be in a safe place. I want them to have a better life, a better place to grow.
"There was a time when I believed that my family was just going to stay in that situation," she continues. "That there was nothing we could do, no matter how much we worked, no matter how much we tried, that we were just going to stay like that.
"It's just amazing how people can change sometimes. It can happen."
That change began to happen for the Suarez family when Yolanda and her parents applied together for a Habitat house and were selected as a partner family for Jimmy Carter Work Project 2007.
"When we move, the kids will be able to go outside and play. And just be themselves, be kids. I won't be as afraid to come home at night after college and park my car; I'll be OK walking to the house, versus now.
"It's just going to turn our lives around. We can't wait."
Slated for Oct. 28-Nov. 2, 2007, the JCWP is an annual opportunity to call worldwide attention to the need for decent, affordable housing. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have lent their time and construction skills to the project since 1984. During this year's project, thousands of volunteers will build or rehab 100 houses in Los Angeles, including 30 new Habitat houses in two locations. Seventy houses belonging to low-income families will be repaired throughout these areas.
In addition to hosting the JCWP, Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles is launching a three-year campaign called "Building a Greater Los Angeles" to address the region's severe affordable housing shortage. Components of this campaign include "A Brush with Kindness," a program to repair homes of low-income families; "Nickels for Nails," which encourages school-age Los Angeles children to raise funds for affordable housing; and a housing symposium to bring together community leaders in Los Angeles to address housing issues.
The housing issues facing millions of Angelenos like the Suarez family, such as escalating prices and deteriorating housing conditions, are close to the heart of Amy Stark, this year's Habitat World essay contest winner.