Meet our Families
Forming a Family: Latesha Foushee
By Megan Gassaway
Latesha Foushee is truly a Tar Heel born and bred. Foushee entered the UNC-Chapel Hill community as part of the Carolina Abecedarian Project, a 30-year study through UNC-CH of the potential benefits of early childhood education for poor children, according to the project’s website. Through the program, Foushee attended the Frank Porter Graham Institute from the time she was six weeks old until she was 5. As a participant, Foushee received the highest quality childcare and the program even provided her with free medical care, diapers, food and transportation. Foushee has long since graduated from the program, but she remains a part of the community.
Today, Foushee works at the Institute as a teacher’s assistant, working with children from 3 to 5 years of age, and has even worked beside her former teachers. While the young children keep her busy during the day, she has her own family to take care of when she’s not in the classroom and through UNC Build a Block, the UNC community continues to give back to Foushee and her family.
In addition to her two sons, Cameron, 6, and Caleb, 14, Foushee also takes care of her seventeen-year-old distant cousin Shaquille. Currently, the family of four lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Hillsborough but will soon move into their new Habitat for Humanity house in Phoenix Place. Through the hours spent building both her own house and those of her neighbors, Foushee and her children have become part of another family: the Phoenix Place family.
“The people who we work with are just so friendly,” Foushee says. “We all have become a big family and we all just look out for each other. Someone comes and I’m like, ‘We have soda in the car!’ ”
She laughs as she describes car rides to the site with her dad, foregoing breakfast to get to the build on time and bonding with volunteers as together they learned the in and outs of building houses.
“I didn’t want to ask questions because I’m the only one standing out – the oldest one there,” Foushee recalls of one particular day at the site. She quickly learned that she wasn’t alone in her inexperience. “We (the volunteers and I) hammered things together and then would take them apart because they weren’t right,” Foushee says. But even amidst mistakes, Foushee found support from the workers.
About the build leaders, Foushee says, “They have the best attitude about it.” Even when she or other volunteers make mistakes, the leaders were encouraging, saying, “ ‘We’re all learning.’ ” She laughs when she thinks about her house and says, “Lord, if it falls through, it will be my fault!”
Ultimately, Foushee knows that the house building process is a team effort.
“I like the fact that we had to do 125 hours of someone else’s house first and then work on your own house,” Foushee says. “You go away knowing that today I helped build someone’s home or I helped someone to be able to live out their dream. You appreciate it more when you actually put the work in.”
For Foushee, the process of owning a home has been a series of small victories. She’s seen the house from start to finish and has celebrated each moment. After hours of nailing pieces together – and occasionally taking them apart – Foushee and volunteers celebrated together. “When the walls finally went up, we were like ‘Yay! It finally looks like the walls everyone else has!’ ” Foushee says with a smile and a chuckle.
While hammers and nails are an important part of holding the house together, to Foushee, these objects are not what truly matter. “At the end of the day, when you work at Habitat, it doesn’t matter what you do out there – you are helping someone else. Nothing you do out there is just about you or for you.”
A labor of love: DaNita Thomas
By: Megan Gassaway
It’s a warm, blustery Saturday in March and DaNita Thomas sits in her car to hide from the wind. She’s already spent four hours painting the walls of her next-door neighbor’s house in Phoenix Place, but her work is not done. As a second wave of Habitat for Humanity volunteers undergoes a quick orientation, DaNita emerges from the protection of her car wearing a red fleece jacket flecked with paint and a big smile. She’s ready for another four hours of hard labor.
DaNita has worked as a medical support assistant for UNC Health Care’s Pulmonary Diagnostic Services since May of 2008, but she has been a part of the university community since June 2006 when she got a job working in medical records for UNC Health Care.
In moving to Chapel Hill, Danita found a job she enjoyed, a great school system in which she enrolled her two children and a high cost of living. The two-bedroom apartment into which DaNita moved cost her $800 a month and home-ownership seemed impossibile because of her poor credit. “The money that I make – it really couldn’t support buying my own home,” DaNita says. “And then I came to habitat and got lucky.”
DaNita is “one of the very fortunate few” chosen from a pool of 85 applicants to live in Phoenix Place, she says, sighing as if still trying to grasp her good fortune. “And then finding out that UNC was sponsoring 10 houses – I got really lucky!”
She chuckles to herself in disbelief and excitement then shakes her head and continues speaking. “Coming to own my own home for less than I pay in rent is fabulous.”
Habitat for Humanity not only offers DaNita the chance at home-ownership, but it has helped her to clean up her credit, which once prevented her from owning a home.
“Cleaning up my credit and being able to get into Habitat was definitely a blessing,” DaNita says. “It gives you the chance to clean up your credit, to get all your ducks in a row, so to speak.”
She says, “From orientation to the time you’re (initially) selected to the time you’re picked to the time you start building your house – you have that timeframe to get old bills and old debts settled.”
But Habitat has given DaNita more than the opportunity to settle debts. “The first day I actually move in means to me freedom of not having to worry about where we’re going to be living and how I’m going to pay for it and not having to worry about the extra money to buy clothes and buy food,” she says. She pauses, as if taking in the reality of her freedom. “It’s just going to be so wonderful.”
DaNita’s house will bring her freedom, but it does not come free. It has been a labor of love for DaNita, as well as her son and the volunteers that have helped her build. DaNita’s seventeen-year-old son, who will live in the three-bedroom Habitat house, can sometimes be found helping out in Phoenix place. “He doesn’t like building, but he knows I need the help,” DaNita says. But it is the community, particularly the UNC-CH community, that has truly labored over DaNita’s house.
“Being part of the UNC community means everything from friends to coworkers to people you don’t know,” DaNita says. Throughout the process of building her house, DaNita has seen this community in action.
Since breaking ground on January 22, 2011, two mangers from UNC hospitals, individuals working in patient relations and students from the university have hammered nails, painted walls and helped do the framing of DaNita’s house. When the house is complete, DaNita will hang curtains made by a coworker’s wife in the living room.
Through Habitat for Humanity, DaNita has experienced the UNC-CH community in a whole new way. Whether it’s a hospital coworker she sees on a daily basis or a student volunteer selflessly giving up his or her Saturday to build, DaNita is grateful for all who have taken part in building her home.
“They come out not even knowing who you are and what your situation is,” DaNita says. “They’re just willing to help and that’s a blessing in itself.”
Colored walls and a source of pride: Jennifer Prater
By Megan Gassaway
When Jennifer Prater was four years old, her parents laid the foundation of the home in which Jennifer grew up. On June 1, 2010, Jennifer received a call from Habitat for Humanity of Orange County telling her that, like her parents, she too would have the opportunity to build her own home.
After a marriage and subsequent divorce left her with poor credit, Jennifer Prater and her children, Matthew, 6, and Allyson, 4, moved into a two-bedroom duplex in Chapel Hill. Jennifer could not afford to own her own home and her lingering poor credit threatened any hope of future home ownership. When her father told her about a loan though the USDA Rural Development, Jennifer thought she had found her way out of the duplex and into a new house.
Unfortunately, the program denied Jennifer’s request, leaving her crushed and hopeless. In the wake of this rejection, a friend encouraged Jennifer to apply for a house through Habitat for Humanity, a suggestion that would ultimately change Jennifer’s life for the better.
Jennifer’s future Habitat for Humanity house is under construction, and until it is completed, Jennifer and her children will continue to live in the duplex in Chapel Hill. In the duplex, the linoleum tiles in the bathroom have turned yellow, a leak has formed in the roof and an additive shades the water blue. Allyson and Matthew have to share a room, with Matthew’s bed fitting beside a drafty window that makes him cold at night. The duplex has also been subject to several break-ins.
One reason for her excitement over her future Habitat home is the security the new home will afford her, Jennifer says.
“It’ll mean more freedom of choice, more control,” Jennifer says of her future house.
In her rented duplex, Jennifer cannot paint the walls, but she is already planning how she will decorate her Habitat home.
In the house, Allyson’s room will be a mixture between Dora the Explorer and a princess theme, while Matthew’s room will be painted blue and red for a transformers theme, Jennifer says. For the rest of the house, Jennifer is looking at the magazine Better Homes & Gardens for inspiration.
“It’ll be great for my kids to have their own rooms,” Jennifer says. “It’ll be nice to have a yard, nice to have that playground.”
But Jennifer’s home in Phoenix Place means more than colorful walls. It means more pride for Jennifer and her children.
“I’ll have something to be proud of,” Jennifer says. “It also shows my kids that if you really want something or need something, you have to work really hard to get it.”
As a child, Jennifer’s parents taught her and her brothers the importance of volunteering, a lesson that Jennifer now imparts to her children, coworkers and the individuals that volunteer to build beside her.
“I just want to promote volunteerism overall,” Jennifer says. Besides building her own house, Jennifer has played an integral role in building her neighbor Theresa Stroud’s house, helping to put up the walls, roof and baffles, to complete the subflooring and to paint and caulk.
Jennifer also hopes to organize a build day for the Department of Psychiatry, part of UNC’s school of Medicine, where Jennifer works as research assistant.
While that plan is still in the works, Jennifer is grateful to the college students who spend their Saturdays hammering nails and building roofs beside her.
“I wish there were more things to do to help the college students with their volunteering,” Jennifer says. “I just want to say thank you for doing this. They give to me, and I just want to give back,” Jennifer says.
By Megan Gassaway
When Theresa Stroud applied for a house through Habitat for Humanity, she and her five children were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Colony Woods in Chapel Hill.
“In a two bedroom apartment, even in Chapel Hill, it’s expensive,” Stroud said. “For five kids, the rooms were really big but it was still cramped.”
Stroud shared the apartment with her sons, Roderick, 13, Victor, 10, and Jeremy, 5, and shared a bedroom with her two daughters, Aurora, 9, and Brianna, 5.
The children, hoping to move out of the tight apartment, used to look for houses that were for sale. When one of her sons alerted her to a for sale sign in a friend’s neighborhood, Stroud answered, “Son, we’ll never be able to afford that.”
Stroud, who has been doing pharmacy for 21 years, works in the cancer wing of UNC Hospital where she makes chemo therapy and investigational drugs for cancer patients. In her 21 years, Stroud has established herself as an integral part of the UNC community.
“My boss, I trained him when I was in pharmacy school,” Stroud says. “Every time someone new comes into work, he tells them how I trained him.”
Stroud has not only given herself to the UNC-Chapel Hill community but to innumerable patients and their families, and now it’s time for these communities to give back to her.
Stroud spends her Saturdays helping to build her new house at 202 Lizzie Lane. Unlike her tiny apartment at Colony Woods, her new house will have four bedrooms and two bathrooms. For the first time in a long time, Stroud will have her own bedroom and her own bathroom.
And her children?
“Oh, they’re excited,” Stroud said. “Especially the oldest because he knows he’ll get his own room!”
Each Saturday after working on her house, Stroud returns to a chorus of her children excitedly asking, “Is the house finished yet?”
The children are too young to help build, so Stroud takes pictures of the house and brings her children to the site so they can see the progress of their future home.
The house is not scheduled to be completed until February, but the Stroud family has already started to transform the building into a home. Roderick wants a Carolina room, so Stroud has started collecting UNC knick-knacks to decorate. Aurora and Brianna originally wanted a pink room, but Stroud convinced them otherwise. Instead, the girls have chosen a pink and purple theme.
“To me, it’s a dream that I always had, owning my house,” Stroud says.
The house will “give my kids something to look forward to as they grow up,” Stroud says. “We can always have it, even the kids. It will always be our house.”
Building Homes, Fostering Community
By Megan Gassaway
It’s early on a Saturday morning, but rather than catch up on sleep after a week of cleaning hallways and bathrooms at UNC-Chapel Hill, Pah Pyor helps Habitat for Humanity volunteers nail the wooden beams that make up the frame of his future home.
Pah Pyor is one of ten families receiving a home from UNC Build a Block. Both he and his wife Mu Tin are members of the UNC-CH community, Pah Pyor working as a housekeeper with UNC Tar Heel Temps and Mu Tin working for Aramak and Carolina Dining Services. As Pah Pyor spends his Saturday working toward his 325 hours of sweat equity, Mu Tin is cleaning dishes in the dining hall on UNC-CH’s campus.
While originally from Burma, Pah Pyor and his family moved to Thailand in 1995 where they lived until a lack of jobs and the country’s poor educational system forced them to immigrate. Upon arriving in the United States in 2007, the family settled in Orange County in North Carolina.
Currently, the family of five, Pah Pyor, his wife and their three children, live in a two bedroom apartment in Carrboro, N.C.
“It’s kind of tight,” Pah Pyor said. “We live on the top floor so kids can’t play much because people live below and complain.”
Their new three-bedroom house, currently scheduled to be completed in February, will give his three children, ages 14, 13 and 6, freedom to play. It will also give Pah Pyor and his wife the joy of providing for their children, who have always been their priority.
“We want the kids to be happy,” Pah Pyor said. “We do everything for them.”
While buying a house would normally be too expensive for the family’s limited income, Habitat for Humanity has made home-ownership affordable, with the lot in Phoenix Place costing less money than the apartment in which the family currently lives.
“It will be less expensive so I will have time to save for my family,” Pah Pyor said.
Beyond providing Pah Pyor and his family the opportunity for affordable housing, Build a Block has fostered a community in the Phoenix Place neighborhood in which they live.
“We all know each other from working together,” Pah Pyor said.
Like Pah Pyor, all future home owners are required to fulfill a certain number of volunteer hours building homes. The long days spent hammering, lifting and sweating cultivate friendships between neighbors
“It’s good,” Pah Pyor said. “If we need some help around each other, we can just go knock on the door and ask for help.”
The friendships extend beyond the perimeter of Phoenix Place, as each week volunteers from the community flood to the neighborhood to participate in weekly builds.
Pah Pyor’s gratitude is evident as his proudly stands in front of his house, hard hat on and hammer in hand.
“Thanks to all the people who work for my house and help,” Pah Pyor said. “Everywhere I go I am being blessed.”
A Home Means Freedom
By Megan Gassaway
Moo Hai is mother, caretaker and cook by day, but at night she spends her time cleaning the buildings on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Moo Hai has dedicated herself to her job with UNC Facilities Services for almost three years, and this year, the UNC community is giving back to her. In February 2011, construction at her new house in Phoenix Place is scheduled to be completed and Moo Hai and her family will move into their very own home.
Three years ago, Moo Hai and her family moved to Chapel Hill because they could no longer live in their homeland of Burma. Upon arriving in Chapel Hill, Moo Hai found a job working as a housekeeper for UNC-Chapel Hill Facilities Services. Moo Hai, her husband Pah Say and three of their seven children settled into a small apartment in Chapel Hill, but life has not been easy for them since their arrival in the United States.
Moo Hai must take care of her family as well as provide for them monetarily. Because of an illness, Pah Say cannot work on a regular basis, making Moo Hai the sole breadwinner of her family. Moo Hai’s responsibility to her family also includes taking care of her two school-aged children, as well as her 33 year-old daughter who is handicapped and cannot walk.
Currently, Moo Hai, Pah Say and the three children live together in a two bedroom apartment. Space is tight and the thin walls separating neighboring apartments prevent privacy. While Moo Hai would like to cook typical Burmese dishes, she cannot do so because the smells waft to nearby apartments and their neighbors have complained, Moo Hai said.
Another problem that arises from living in the apartment is the issue of noise. Because Moo Hai cleans the academic buildings, she must work at night when the buildings are vacant. She tries to sleep during the day, but sounds from apartments next-door keep her awake, Moo Hai said.
UNC Build a Block cannot prevent the inevitable cultural differences that Moo Hai and her family encounter, nor can it change her working hours. But UNC Build a Block will provide Moo Hai and her family a home to call their own.
Habitat for Humanity has already broken ground on Moo Hai’s new house. On Saturdays, you can find her proudly completing her “sweat equity” by putting work into her own home in Phoenix Place.
While the house does not yet have walls, the foundation has been laid and a white sign with bright letters announces to all who pass by that this is the home of Moo Hai and her husband Pah Say. Even at these preliminary stages, this house promises much hope for Moo Hai and her family. Already, the structure is more than a cinder block foundation; it is freedom. In this new home, Moo Hai and her family will have the freedom to carry on the cultural traditions of their homeland. Moo Hai will be free to cook the unique dishes that are characteristic of their culture, the food to which she and her family are accustomed, without fear of upsetting her neighbors. Her children will be closer to their school and will be surrounded by a community of friends; friends who have worked side-by-side to build their new homes and new lives together.
While Moo Hai speaks very little English, her genuine appreciation is evident as she smiles saying, “I’m very excited to have a Habitat for Humanity house. My children can have it also – our own space, our house that we can enjoy.”