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‘This is my security and stability for the kids’ (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘This is my security and stability for the kids’ (part 2)


The extended Saldana family gathers for Christmas 2012. Courtesy of Sara Saldana


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A neighborhood’s abuela

Tiasha Garcia’s mother, Anna, was another of Saldana’s foster children. When Anna was 16 and gave birth to Tiasha, both women knew it would be best for Saldana to raise her in the Habitat house. Over the years, other foster children came and went, but Saldana raised Tiasha as her own, and Tiasha calls her “Ma.”

“I’ve never lived anywhere else except a Habitat house,” Tiasha said. “I’m very grateful for the advantages it gave me.”

Saldana is such a strong maternal presence in the neighborhood, Tiasha said, that all her friends call her “Abuela” — Spanish for “Grandmother.”

“She gives off this vibe of having open arms,” Tiasha said. “She’s strict when she needs to be, but really caring. And it hurts her to see kids having a hard time. She wants to help them get back on their feet. If that means she has to keep them for a couple of weeks or a couple of months or a year or two, she’s willing to do anything to help them out.”

Saldana has been a Boy Scout Troop leader and a coach for the Central Little League of Lawrence for 14 years. When the director of the local chapter of the International Baton Twirlers retired and the group was going to disband, Saldana agreed to take it over for the girls’ sake, even though she had no idea how to twirl a baton.

Saldana, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, has been active with Hispanic Week of Lawrence for 16 years. She is currently the festival’s president. She is also the president of Movimiento Puertorriqueño, an organization that works to keep Puerto Rican culture alive and meaningful in the community.

She rarely talks about the fact that she has fought cancer five times in the past seven years. She had a bone marrow transplant and is on full medical disability. The cancer, she says, is in remission.

A life devoted to raising children and grandchildren, and serving community, requires a solid foundation. Sara Saldana got hers in 1991 and never stopped building on it.

“If I hadn’t moved into my Habitat house, I probably wouldn’t have half of what I have now,” she said. “God has given me a great family.”