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A mother’s greatest gift (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A mother’s greatest gift (part 2)


Earlier this year, Jesse presented Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley with a gift on Developmental Disabilities Lobby Day. Photo courtesy of Teresa Herbert


‘I have failed my child so much’

These were humbling years.

Teresa sought out every social service agency, every charitable group, that might be able to help her son — even though it embarrassed her to do so.

She’ll never forget the December day she walked into a store and saw her son’s name on the Salvation Army Angel Tree.

“I thought, ‘There’s my boy on the tree. Maybe somebody is going to pick that up and get him a winter coat.’ ”

She thought of all the times she had passed by trees just like that one: “Those little angels are little children that are sitting there with nothing. Every one of those little things has a story. God only knows what those people are going through.”

Of the many difficult days, one of the worst was when she had to tell her son’s school about their situation.

Teresa and Jesse, who was then in kindergarten, had moved in with a friend after being forced to leave yet another apartment. Jesse’s school agreed to let him finish out the year there even though he no longer lived in the district, as long as Teresa could drive him to and from school.

But she had no car.

“I had to go to the school system, and I had to tell them that I was homeless,” she said. She remembers thinking: “This is going to be on my son’s permanent record forever. It’s on his school records that we were homeless ... I have failed my child so much. ”

The school found bus service for Jesse, but the next year brought another difficult transition to a new school.

‘You can do this’

The one bright spot during these years was The ARC, Susquehanna Valley. Teresa began volunteering with the organization, which provides help for people with intellectual disabilities, when Jesse was about 18 months old because the staff let her bring him to the office. When Jesse started school, they offered her a part-time job. Eventually, that became full-time. Then a promotion came along.

Slowly, her finances began to stabilize. Her co-workers encouraged her to call Habitat again. She did, though with her credit history, she had little hope of success.

“I looked bad on paper,” she said. “I thought that my chance at a house with Habitat was zero. Negative zero... I thought that they would say, ‘You seem like a nice person, but you’ve got to be kidding.’ ”

What they actually said was: “You can do this. You can fix this. It’s OK. We want you.”

“I feel like Habitat believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.”

Teresa enrolled in financial classes, started working with credit counselors, and began a loan repair program. And one day at work, she was summoned to the conference room at work, where a cake shaped like a house was waiting for her.

She had been approved for a home.

New friends and a new future

Since Teresa and Jesse moved into the house just before Thanksgiving in 2010, so much has changed.

Jesse is emerging from his shell — learning to ride a bike, learning to roll a ball and play with other children.

“He used to sit with his back to a corner so he could see everything. He was nervous,” Teresa said. “That’s not him anymore. He’s more comfortable. He has friends.”

She expects greater gains as their newfound stability works its magic.

“Ultimately, he will know someone through third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade — all the way on up,” she said. For a child with developmental disabilities, that kind of continuity is critical.

“I’m giving him community,” she said. “And for Jesse’s future, it’s just like a weight off of me.”

Most people with serious developmental disabilities are destined for a life of poverty, says Teresa. Not Jesse.

“I have something tangible that I can give him that is his future,” she said. “He will not need to be at the mercy of anyone. He will have a home. I don’t have to think about where he is going to go. He will go here.”

Jesse isn’t the only one who’s changing.

This fall, Teresa accepted a job with The ARC of Maryland as a child and family advocate and went back to school full time, where she’s working on master’s degree in applied sociology.

It’s a life much closer to the one she envisioned before Jesse was born.

“I can meet all of my basic needs,” she said. “I don’t have a ton of money. It doesn’t matter. I can afford this house. I can afford the car. I can afford the insurance. I can afford to go get Jesse some school clothes. And maybe to buy something for somebody else off the Angel Tree.”

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