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‘This is just the right house’

Mother and daughters finally safe at home, thanks to the Habitat Americorps Build-a-Thon 2012 in Los Angeles
By Soyia Ellison


Martha Isabel Peralta sweeps the stoop of her new home, being rehabbed as part of the 2012 Build-a-Thon.
Photo by Jess Koehler


The moment Martha Isabel Peralta drove by her future home on Tecumseh Avenue in Lynwood, California, she felt peace radiating from it.

Here, she knew, she’d found the security she had been craving.

“It made me feel safe and warm,” she said.

On Tuesday, she got her first chance to work on the little two-bedroom, one-bath house that Habitat for Humanity Greater L.A. and AmeriCorps members are helping rehab this week.

After wandering the rooms admiring the team’s handiwork, Peralta stepped naturally into the role of hostess, sweeping the stoop and lugging makeshift benches into the shade for lunch guests.

Lunch, by the way, included still-hot-from-the-oven empanadas made by future Habitat homeowner Celia Garcia, who will live just around the corner.

Peralta is quite a cook herself, and her favorite spot in her home-to-be is the kitchen. She already is imagining breakfasts spent at a little table beside the window overlooking her front lawn.

At the moment, Peralta has no kitchen at all. She lives in a glorified shed behind her mother’s house — a tiny room just big enough for a twin bed and a dresser. Two of her three daughters — 20-year-old Anahi and 23-year-old Nallely — share the nearby garage. (Her oldest daughter, Crystal, lives on her own.)

The three women moved to Peralta’s mother’s house two and a half months ago, when their living situation became untenable.

They had been staying in an apartment below a man who was abusing his wife, and when they called the police to report him, he threatened them.

“I felt we were in danger,” Peralta said.

That apartment was just the latest in a string of places that failed to provide the security she and her daughters need.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to keep living in these places where I’m not safe, where I have to see if I’m lucky and the landlord is going to be nice, or quiet or peaceful.’ ”

The day she learned her application for a Habitat house had been accepted, Peralta said, “I was jumping around in my apartment.”

She ran to her daughters’ room to let them know, and made calls to all her relatives.

“When you are happy, you just talk and talk and talk,” she said.

Peralta, a teacher’s assistant in a preschool program, knows her two younger daughters won’t be living with her forever. They will finish college and move out on their own.

That’s another thing she likes about her new home.

“The house is small,” she said. “This is just the right house for me. It’s not too big. I won’t feel lonely when my daughters leave. I think it’s cozy.”

But not too small. It has a huge detached room in the back that will be perfect for family parties. And the first one will be soon — right after she moves in.

“We’re going to make carne asada,” she said, a huge smile lighting up her face. “My daughters say, ‘Mom, we’re going to invite everybody.’ ”

Soyia Ellison is manager of copywriting services at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Atlanta.