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Healthy at home: Children thrive in a safe place (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Healthy at home: Children thrive in a safe place (part 2)

 


The boys share a room decorated with rocket ships and glow-in-the-dark stars. Their sister, Alana, has a room designed for a princess.
©Habitat for Humanity International/Steffan Hacker

 


The Petretic children enjoy the wooden swing set their parents Shirley and Gary built in the back yard of their Habitat home. In their previous home, Shirley allowed the children to play outside only when she could go with them to make sure they were safe from the drug dealers who operated in plain view. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Steffan Hacker

   


A family takes root


The Petretics have been in the three-bedroom house with maroon shutters for more than 2½ years now. The boys — 8-year-old Nathan and 4-year-old Mason — share a room decorated with rocket ships and glow-in-the-dark stars. Their 6-year-old sister, Alana, has a room designed for a princess, with pink carpet and a chalkboard castle.

All three children share the wooden swing set that Shirley and Gary built in the front yard.

In the projects, Shirley allowed the children to play outside only when she could go with them to make sure they were safe from the drug dealers who operated in plain view.

Now, she says, “My children are able to go outside and play without me watching them like a hawk.”

Their friends from school come over to visit now — something else that wasn’t possible before.

“It’s much better than our apartment because we had a lot of things that were wrong,” says Nathan, the only child old enough to remember their former life. “I used to play with the roaches.”

His mother laughs and tells him, “You did not.”

Nathan, who says he wants to be a computer geek when he grows up, now enjoys “gardening and stuff.”

‘This belongs to the kids’


The garden is one of the highlights of their new home. Shirley has planted edible perennials that provide much of their food. They have blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, spring onions, thyme. They have rose petals for tea and dandelion greens for salads.

Shirley, who suffers from severe food allergies, has become a vegan since the move.

“I can go out in my yard right now and pick out a salad,” she says. “You can’t do that in the projects. You just have to eat whatever you can.”

Shirley has lost 40 pounds and is no longer bothered by heartburn or stomachaches.

“I used to cry, because by the end of the day my stomach would hurt so bad. I can’t even explain to you what it feels like,” she says. “I haven’t had Pepto-Bismol in a very, very long time.”

Her children’s health has improved dramatically, too.

When the family lived in public housing, fall and winter meant almost-weekly trips to the doctor’s office for a little one’s cold or runny nose or earache. Now, visits to the doctor are down to once or twice a winter.

“We haven’t had an earache since we moved here,” Shirley says.

Seeing the change in her children’s lives is the most gratifying part of becoming a homeowner, she says.

“My husband and I, we wouldn’t have done it if it were just us,” she says. “We looked at the house as, ‘This belongs to the kids.’

“I love living here. I love my children living here. I love my children knowing that we did it for them.”

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