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Matriarch of her family, dean of her street (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Matriarch of her family, dean of her street (part 2)


Dorothy Howard paid off her mortgage in 2007, and her home continues to be a gathering place for her grandchildren, most of whom have grown up and started their own families and careers
. ©Ezra Millstein/Habitat for Humanity International


‘What you make of it’

Twenty-four years later, Howard sees the impact of her house in every branch of her flourishing family tree.

At the apartment complex, Howard wouldn’t let her grandchildren leave their front porch. At their new house, the children had front and back yards to play in. They built their own basketball goal and woke up their grandmother many mornings rattling shots off the handmade backboard.

“They seemed so different to me after we moved,” Howard said. “They began to take pride. They’d help me keep the yard up. They’d bring the paper in. They had pride in their neighborhood. As the other families started moving in, it was wonderful. We had a Halloween block party the first year there. We became a community.”

Howard’s was the first of more than a dozen Habitat homes built on Rawley Street, and she became the dean of the community, leading by example.

At one point early in the street’s history, she noticed that the tree-lined esplanade that divided traffic had filled with weeds. So one Saturday morning, she marched her brood to the island, with lawnmowers and clippers in tow.

“The kids complained at first because they didn’t understand why we had to do it,” she remembered. “I told them, ‘Your neighborhood is what you help make it. If you be a good neighbor, if you do your part, that will encourage other people to do their part.’ ”

Her example of stability at home radically altered the paths of new generations of her family. Many of the grandchildren she raised are now college graduates, professionals and parents to children of their own. Even Howard went back to school, earning a child development degree from the same community college where three of her grandkids were working on degrees.

The youngest generation is also following her example: Five of her “great-grands” are already in college.

“My kids know how I am about education!” she said. “When my kids tell me they can’t do it, I tell them, ‘Yes you can. No such word as “can’t.” You may not want to, but I know you can. You just need to work on the want.’ ”

Still at home

Howard paid off her house in 2007. Today, it is quieter than it ever has been. Only her granddaughter, Tamika, and one great-grandchild live with Howard now, with the caretaker roles reversing ever so slightly.

Of course, quiet is a relative term when Grandma’s house is such a gathering spot. During one spring afternoon, Howard took three phone calls and received two visits from family in about an hour. The door is always open, and that’s the way she plans to keep it.

“I’ve seen a lot of homes,” Howard said. “My daughter has a beautiful home; my grandchildren have beautiful homes. But I wouldn’t take a million dollars for mine.

“One of my grandkids says he’s going to make it big and buy me a house. I told him, ‘I’m not going anywhere else until the Lord calls me. I like the home I have. You take your money and do something else with it!’ ”

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