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Success starts at home (part 4) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Success starts at home (part 4)

 

Lucy recently had her home repainted in blue and gold, the colors of the University of Notre Dame, the alma mater of three of her children. Her two youngest children are currently enrolled in the prestigious Indiana university. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ben Skudlarek

   
 

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Breaking the cycle, seeing the difference


Belatti, now an adjunct professor at Notre Dame, couldn’t be prouder.

“They’ve turned out just the way you would have wanted them to turn out,” he said. “They’re really great young adults.”

When he looks at their success, he sees “exactly what Habitat says can happen when you break the cycle of poverty.”

Over the years, Belatti, who has four children of his own, has become a second father to the Okonokhuas. He’s helped the older ones buy their first cars and given the younger ones access to the washer and dryer in his Notre Dame apartment. He’s taken them out for birthday lunches and invited them to his Atlanta home for Christmas. He’s critiqued college papers and given interviewing tips.

“I feel like I have five other children,” he said.

None of the Okonokhuas would dream of making a major decision without consulting him.

“Mr. Belatti is an adviser,” Teddy said. “He’s played that critical role for me of being able to bounce ideas off of.”

Maggie agrees, adding that Belatti and his wife, Cathy, have also provided crucial emotional support.

“He’s amazing,” Maggie said. “I can’t tell you the number of times where I just felt so down and I needed someone to talk to besides my mom, and Mr. Belatti was right there.”

‘What she wants us to be’


The Okonokhua family’s education hasn’t ended with Notre Dame.

Teddy recently completed his Master’s in Business Administration at Georgia Tech; Maggie is halfway through a combined law/MBA degree at The College of William and Mary in Virginia; and Laura finished a master’s degree in medical science at Mississippi College and is now applying to med schools.

These are dizzying accomplishments for any family, but particularly for a family of immigrants who started their American lives in a shelter.

The children say the credit belongs to their mother.

“She tells us every day what she needs from us, what she wants from us, what she wants us to be,” Maggie said, her eyes welling with tears. “And for me, I strive to become this person, because I know where my mom started and where we are today.”

Lucy is modest: “I’m just grateful to God, because, you see, with children you can do all you know to do and they won’t turn out to be what you want them to be. But with God’s grace, the little I’ve done turned out to be big.”

She’s also quick to give credit to that four-bedroom house — recently repainted Notre Dame blue and gold.

“Habitat made it possible,” Lucy said. “Where would I meet a person like Mr. Belatti? He’s not in my social group. He’s not in my government job.

“The Habitat house made it all possible.”

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