As a child, I grew up in a lot of houses.
Before my mother purchased a Habitat home, my family rented seven houses and apartments all over town. When my mother found out she was approved for our Habitat home, we lived in an apartment above a small-time drug dealer.
Antonia Cuffee at her May 2011 law school graduation with former Habitat Choptank executive director Susan Devlin and former board president Steve Clineburg.
My mom saw buying a home as a way to get us out of the cycle of moving house-to-house, into something affordable and stable. Building a home and working with the Habitat organization was the start of many successes in my life and my family’s.
Building a Habitat home isn’t as simple as getting the keys and walking into a new home. We were required to commit 1,500 sweat-equity hours building our home and other Habitat families’ homes. We walked across town — my mother didn’t have a car — every Saturday morning to work on the build site.
I learned the values of having a goal, a plan and not giving up. My mother was a single mother who was very poor, but she saw the value of homeownership and was willing to work hard for it.
She planned and budgeted so that she could become a homeowner, and that plan came to fruition more than 15 years ago. She met her goal. She served as a guiding figure for me as I went on to fulfill my own goals in life.
I used the values I learned from building our home as tools to reach dreams that no one in my family would have fathomed.
After I received my high school diploma, I decided to continue toward a bachelor’s degree. This was a big goal for me because I had no close family members who were in college. I had to plan because I had to find the means to fund my college education.
On top of that, I challenged myself to complete the coursework in four years. Although it was hard work — I went to summer school two summers and worked many jobs — I graduated in four years with a bachelor’s degree from Temple University, magna cum laude with honors in my major.
“I know that if I can start where I started and become a lawyer, plenty of other children can use the same tools I learned from Habitat and shoot for the stars.”
I was not finished.
During my time at Temple University, I became interested in our legal system and how the law worked. The law really interested me because I realized how laws could be used to promote good or oppression and unfairness.
I knew that law school would be a big undertaking. I once again reached back to the values I learned from building a Habitat home: having a goal, a plan, hard work and not giving up. And I put those tools together.
In May 2011, I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law, and that same year was sworn into the Maryland Bar. I became the first lawyer in my family. Working with Habitat and learning these valuable skills was a launching pad to my success and achievements.
I know that if I can start where I started and become a lawyer, plenty of other children or families can use the same tools I learned from Habitat and homeownership and shoot for the stars.
Antonia Cuffee grew up in a Habitat home built by Habitat Choptank in Easton, Maryland.
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