Habitat for Humanity International employee Tim Solano will be honored at the White House on Thursday, Dec. 15, as a “Champion of Change,” part of President Barack Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, the White House recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations that innovate, educate and build in their communities.
Solano, 49, is a national service program specialist for HFHI based in McKinney, Texas. He was nominated for the honor by Robert Velasco, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service and an adviser to President Obama. Velasco met Solano at the National Service Leadership Conference earlier this year and was impressed with his story of how he has dedicated himself to service to his community after a life of adversity.
“I am very shocked they would select me for this award,” Solano said.
A veteran from a military family that includes 10 current and former members of the armed forces, Solano survived severe physical abuse as a child and had a drug problem as a teenager. He got sober in his early 20s and left a bad marriage, taking his three young children to live with him in a mobile home in Texas.
“I just woke up one morning and decided I was going to live my life a completely different way,” he said. At age 36, he went to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s in journalism — all while raising his three children.
While working for a small newspaper, he was assigned a story on how people become Habitat homeowners, and was talked into applying for a Habitat home himself by a volunteer at the North Collin County, Texas, Habitat affiliate. Solano plunged into the necessary sweat-equity tasks, working on other Habitat homes, unloading and selling Christmas trees for a Habitat fundraiser, and ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
“I had never really engaged in service,” he said. “It became obvious to me that that was my way of healing old wounds — by helping others and contributing to my community. That was huge to me, to offer up that part of myself. I was interacting with children of homeowners, and just seeing in their eyes a glimmer of hope, I just got passionate about that. It just welled up inside of me, and it became who I was, part of my fiber.”
Solano was accepted into the Habitat program in November 2003, and moved into his new four-bedroom house with his children on Jan. 4, 2004. His daughter Anastasia is now a senior at Austin College; son Timothy Jr. is a Marine corporal deployed in Afghanistan; and his youngest daughter, Sydney, has been accepted into the Navy.
“The truth is that Habitat literally changed our lives,” he said.