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Building on women’s work -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Building on women’s work

In 1997, Hayla Washington and her children — Taquetta, then 13, and Kayland, then 3 — moved into their new Habitat home in Miami’s Cutler Bay
neighborhood. Leaders of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami were on hand to celebrate the first Habitat home in Florida built entirely by women
volunteers. Photo courtesy of Hayla Washington

Habitat for Humanity’s first Women Build home in Florida put three lives on a better path
By Tracie Troha


Washington’s house today. “At the time, we didn’t realize we were making history,” she says. Photo courtesy of Hayla Washington


Washington organized a Women Build event for her Noven Pharmaceuticals co-workers. Photo courtesy of Hayla Washington


Nearly 16 years ago, Hayla Washington and her two children made history by moving into Florida’s first Habitat for Humanity home built entirely by women volunteers.

The move changed the lives of Washington, her daughter, Taquetta, and her son, Kayland, and gave them opportunities that had been out of reach in their crime-ridden neighborhood in Miami.

Habitat “gave me confidence and reassurance that I have the capability to be a homeowner,” Washington said. “I had financial limitations and credit issues. Habitat told me what I needed to do to improve my finances. They gave me a sense of pride.”

Washington was working for the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County’s economic development agency, when she heard that Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami was looking for new homeowners. Two years after submitting her application, she received the call she had been hoping for.

Washington learned that the Junior League, a women’s service organization, was partnering with Habitat to help build her three-bedroom home in Miami’s Cutler Bay neighborhood. Her home would be part of the new Women Build program.

“The whole experience was extremely rewarding,” she said of helping to build her own home. “At the time, we didn’t realize we were making history.”

The pride of ownership

The all-women construction crew, which at one point included the Florida International University women’s softball team, built Washington’s home in about a year.

When Washington received the keys to her home in October 1997, she and her children were so excited they didn’t even wait for the furniture to be delivered or the utilities to be turned on. They spent their first night in the new home sleeping on the floor.

“It was such an empowerment to know I helped build my own home,” Washington said. “I felt that no man could come in here and tell me about my house. I knew it from top to bottom. My kids were so happy. My mom was so happy for me.”

Their new home was in a safer neighborhood and a better school district.

Taquetta, then 13, was quickly singled out as a bright student. In high school, she took classes at a community college and was accepted into a program that sent her to Emory University for a week to learn about the medical field. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and her master’s degree in business administration from Nova Southeastern University.

Now 28, Taquetta is in a graduate certificate program at Nova. Kayland, who was only 3 when the family moved, is now a senior at Miami Southridge Senior High.

‘Success stories are not only on TV’

Washington said that if she’d stayed in her old neighborhood, her children would likely not have succeeded in school. Many of the girls Taquetta grew up with didn’t have the same opportunities to go to college, she said, and are now single mothers living with their parents.

“For my son, it was extremely important to get him a better home,” she said. “If we had stayed in the old neighborhood, I don’t know how he would have turned out. He’s had his challenges, but not to the degree that he would have if we hadn’t moved.”

Washington’s life also has greatly changed since she became a Habitat homeowner. She has moved up in the corporate world and now works as an analytical research coordinator for Noven Pharmaceuticals Inc. She also started a small business taking customer service calls from her home, and is currently pursuing her associate’s degree in business administration.

Habitat “taught me to become a better person to show my children that you can get out of the ghetto,” Washington said. “Success stories are not only on TV, but also in real life.”

Washington continues to give back to Habitat when she can. She has volunteered on other builds, helping to make sure other families have the opportunities she had. In September 2012, she organized a Women Build event for her Noven Pharmaceuticals co-workers. She has been involved in other charitable projects as well.

“It’s so important that I go out and give back and help to empower other women,” she said. “It’s very important that we don’t take for granted the blessings we’ve been given.”

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