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Blaze of glory (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Blaze of glory (part 2)

Mercedes Cruz was jubilant when she burned her mortgage. “Oh God, it was a dream come true,” she recalls. Photo courtesy of Ginny Cooper/
Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties

‘My kids have a place to call home’

“It was so exciting to take those papers and just put them in there,” said Eddie Mae Nelson, a housekeeper at a local hospital who took part in the October 2012 ceremony. “While they were burning, I was just thanking God.”

Mercedes Cruz had never heard of a mortgage burning when Habitat invited her. As her papers burned, she flung her arms into the air in jubilation. Her grown sons, Devon and Justin, watched from the audience.

“They were a little embarrassed by me, but I think they were a little proud, too,” said Cruz, a clerk at the county tax office who paid off her zero-interest mortgage in 12 years. Now that she’s no longer paying $528 a month to Habitat, Cruz is saving for a new car to replace her 2001 Kia, which has one working headlight and no air conditioning.

“Having a Habitat house gave us some stability in our lives,” she said. When she qualified for her house in 1999, she was recently divorced and living in public housing. “My kids can say, ‘This is where I grew up,’ rather than, ‘I lived here and I lived here and I lived here.’ That means more to me than anything in the world, that my kids have a place to call home.”

‘I worked for this’

Sometimes a homeowner attends a mortgage burning in spirit only. That was the case for Inez Spires, a mother of four who died of breast cancer in October 2011 at age 49. Her children used her life insurance to pay off the mortgage on their house, where they still live.

“Before she passed away, she reminded us to stay together and continue her legacy, with all the traditions that began at 2512 Joyce Lane, the place we all know as home,” they said in a statement that was read at a mortgage burning in February 2012. “We would like to thank Habitat for Humanity for lending our family a helping hand by allowing our mother to purchase a home where her children and grandchildren can continue to live and remember our mother’s struggles and achievements.”

For many parents, a home is an important part of their legacy.

When Inay Ingram walked up to the fire pit for her mortgage burning, she thought back on how close she had come to losing her house. She was a single mother of two sons when she moved into the house in 2001, and she lost her job in 2002. “I got behind in my mortgage payments, but Habitat was very nice to me,” she said. “They said, ‘We don’t want your house back. We will work with you.’”

She soon found another job, remarried and eventually paid the mortgage off early.

“Now I can put my key in the door and say, 'This is mine,' ” Ingram said. “I worked for this.”

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