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A blueprint for life (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A blueprint for life (part 2)


Mandy and Justin Elm at the work site in 1997. The Elm children both grew up in the first Habitat for Humanity home in Story County, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Lisa Elm


Mandy joined Justin in 2012 at his undergraduate graduation from the School of Visual Arts, located in New York City. Photo courtesy of Lisa Elm


Rediscovering Habitat’s impact

Working with partner families and volunteers allowed Mandy to open up about her own homeowner experiences for the first time, even to her mother.

Lisa learned the full impact Habitat had on her daughter after reading a speech Mandy gave during an affiliate breakfast in the spring of 2011.

“She talked about remembering seeing the plans and the lines and how they formed a house. At the time I didn’t realize how much she was paying attention. I didn’t realize how it struck her like that. It was really neat that it gave her a desire to go into architecture.”

The speech also detailed the life Mandy imagined she would have experienced without the home — a life of continued poverty. She doubts she would have gone to college, figures she might not even have finished high school.

“I’ve seen so many people who have had similar life experiences,” she said. “And pretty much everyone I know is not doing well. There are drugs, or extreme depression or teen pregnancy, or any of that kind of stuff. We’ve been really blessed to have a stable environment.”

As Mandy’s AmeriCorps service ended in 2011, a volunteer tipped her off about a job opening at an area architecture firm. She’s now an intern in her first year of a three-year process of becoming a certified architect. She and her husband, Joe McCulley, are on the cusp of homeownership in Woodinville, Washington. In her free time, Mandy volunteers with her local Habitat affiliate, helping educate homeowners and walking families through the same emotions she felt.

“I actually had one daughter in one of our families who is a little older — 13, I think— who said, ‘I don’t want to be THAT Habitat family,’ ” said Mandy. “It’s nice to be able to talk to them on that level and share how Habitat has affected my life.”

The meaning of ‘home’

Fifteen years after the Elms’ trip to that vacant lot, Lisa is watching her children lead the adult lives she dreamed for them.

“They needed stability, security,” she said. “That was my ultimate goal — and to teach them that they could go do anything. They believed me!”

Though the affiliate that helped build the Elm home has changed names (to Habitat for Humanity of Central Iowa), not much has changed in the house itself. The blue carpet, white walls and original appliances look almost as they did on move-in day. Lisa misses the noise of her children and their friends, but she can’t wait to fill her home with grandchildren.

“I know a lot of families aren’t so lucky. You work so many hours and work so hard, and rent goes up and you have to move again. I feel so lucky that it was affordable,” Lisa said. “It has allowed me to not only afford a home, but still have time to invest in the kids and their lives. I would have had to work more, or harder, and the kids would have raised themselves.

“The word ‘home’ is such a simple word, but it has so much meaning behind it, and it means so much to so many people. I do feel very blessed and very thankful and also pretty amazed at times that we were selected as a partner family.”

Series homepage: Why we build
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