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‘This is my security and stability for the kids’ One house changes the lives of many -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘This is my security and stability for the kids’

One house changes the lives of many

By Phil Kloer


Sara Saldana’s Habitat home has been a safe haven for 21 children. From left: Saldana; her granddaughter Tiasha Garcia, 17, whom she raised; her daughter Marisol Robles; and her grandson Elijah Perez, 14. Courtesy of Justo J. Garcia


A few members of the Saldana family enjoy playing dominoes on their dining room table. From left: Marisol Robles, Elijah Perez, Sara Saldana and Tiasha Garcia. Courtesy of Justo J. Garcia


Come fall, Tiasha Garcia will leave home, like so many 18-year-olds, and head to college. She plans to major in criminal justice and psychology at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. She chose those majors, she said, because she likes helping people, an inherited trait she attributes to her grandmother, Habitat for Humanity homeowner Sara Saldana.

Saldana, an energetic woman of 58, raised 21 children: three biological, three adopted and 15 foster. She also served as unofficial mentor, coach and life guide to dozens more children in her community of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

“The house was stability, security and space,” Saldana said.

Sharon Mason, development director at Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, said everyone finds much to admire about Saldana.

“Sara is an exemplary role model for family, friends and community, always taking a leadership role,” Mason said. “She’s a great example of why we build.”

Saldana said she never would have undertaken so much if not for her Habitat house.

Working, studying and building

A native of New York City’s Bronx borough, Saldana moved in 1985 to Lawrence, a city of 70,000 about half an hour north of Boston. Married with three small children, she had not graduated from high school but still got a job with the local school system as a parent liaison. After her husband left her, she got her GED and, after settling into her Habitat house, earned her master’s degree in social psychology.

She was living in a small apartment in the late 1980s, so she applied to Habitat for “a hand up, not a handout” and was accepted.

“When I was building my house, I had to work all day,” she said. “So I would go there at night, and the construction people who had been working there during the day would leave notes for me about what I could do — sweep the floor, pick up things — so I could do my sweat-equity hours.

“When we moved in in 1991, we didn’t even bring anything from the apartment at first,” she said. “We just brought the mattresses, so we could spend the first night there. I had never owned a home. It was mine. ‘This is my security and stability for the kids,’ I thought.”

With stability and security established in her new house, Saldana started taking in foster children.

“I was working as a parent liaison, and this boy named Julio in the third grade was always running away. I went after him and told him to go back to school. He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Do you want to come home with me?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ A social worker explained how to take training to be a foster parent.

“Some of these foster kids are really in need out there,” Saldana said. “Sometimes they have to move and move. By being here, they don’t have to move so much.”

Next: A neighborhood’s abuela
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