What We Do - Building Hope for Fox Valley
How We Do it:
Through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent homes with the help of homeowner (partner) families. Habitat homes are sold to partner families at no profit, financed with a loan with below market interest rates. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are then recycled into funding.
Recently Completed Projects
The Uwamahoro Family
In 1972, our families were chased out of Burundi, East Africa by a rival tribe, the Tutsi Tribe. Our families moved from Burundi to Rwanda, then from the camp in Rwanda to the Lukole Refugee Camp in Tanzania, East Africa where we settled for a while with our families. Theo was born in 1988 and I was born in 1993 we were both born in the refugee camp in Rwanda before moving to the Lukole camp.
Living at Lukole Camp was very difficult, but we managed with the little we had. We were just happy to be alive. We had to work for every little thing for survival. The place was very dusty with gravel streets with huge rocks. The community was very small with tents pitched very close to each other. Since the community was so small, people got to know each other well. A life with no electricity or indoor plumping is not easy. We used cooking oil for our lamps at night and always had to make sure we had extra oil, matches, and flashlights for emergencies. After eight o’clock it got very dark and everybody was required to be in their homes.
We were given word that we were going to the USA. Our families were moved once again to Kanembwa Camp to wait for the process to move to the United States. There we lived for about 18 months. This place was not a place that we could even make a home. We could not farm or go to school. We were treated like dirt because this tribe did not want us on their land and they were jealous that the people living in this camp were going to live in the United States and they were not. All we could do is sit and wait in anticipation for our turn to come to be sent to the USA. Our families lived in refugee camps for 35 years.
Then in 2007 our families were approved to settle in United States by the United High Commissioner for Refugees. When we found out that we were coming to America, we forgot all of our troubles. It was the best news anybody who lived in Lukole could ever have received. In June of 2007 our families immigrated to the United States. I was 14 years old. I graduated from middle and high school in Buffalo, New York. Theo was 18 when his dad and cousins immigrated to Aurora, Illinois. Our families knew each other in Africa.
Theo and I once again met on Facebook. Our first conversation started when I liked one of Theo’s pictures. We started emailing and chatting with each other, and the romance started from there. We were engaged in August of 2012 and we were married on August 17, 2013. I continue to go to school at Waubonsee Community College for nursing. My husband is an assistant supervisor at Berry Plastics. He has worked there since 2008. In November of 2014 we had our beautiful daughter, Odila and now we are expecting another baby in October 2016. (They now have another beautiful daughter!)
We presently live in a studio apartment with one bathroom and a shared living room/bedroom space. Everything we had once gathered for a home we had to get rid of because of lack of space. We were in desperate need of a bigger place to live after the birth of our first daughter, but were unable to afford a bigger apartment.
We learned about Habitat for Humanity from other families and friends who live in different states. Almost everybody we know from Africa who has moved to the United States owns a habitat home. They told us that the houses are the right size and very affordable. That’s when we searched for an affiliate in our area and met Debbi Albright. We applied for a home in November of 2014 and with much prayer we hoped that our family would be chosen. We were always waiting with anticipation for the postman to bring us some good news. Then one day in the spring of 2015, Theo went to get the mail and there was a letter from Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. The letter said that we were accepted and would be new future homeowners. Both Theo and I started to cry with happiness and we celebrated and started to plan our new home.
We are very excited to be a part of the Habitat family. We have always wanted a bigger place to call home where our children can grow up. Living in a one bedroom house with everything stacked up on top of each other is dangerous with a toddler in the house. Habitat for Humanity is making our dream come true. Just working with Habitat families and getting to know each other is a blessing. On July 22, 2016 Barbara called from Habitat to ask me if our family would be free in August to have a groundbreaking for our new house. I was silent for a moment and asked Barbara if she was joking. She said it was no joke and that our new home was going to be located at Solfisburg in Aurora and our groundbreaking ceremony would be on August 23rd. I was so excited that I was screaming and shouting hallelujah!
God promised us a bigger place before we even knew about Habitat for Humanity and He has kept His promise. We thank God for giving us the house this soon because we need it more than ever. God is good! We can’t tell you in words what this means to our family. All we can say is, Thank you Lord! -Odette & Theo Uwamahoro
In January of 2018, the Uwamahoro Family had their dedication for their beautiful, new home. They are all enjoying the extra space and luxuries that their old home did not have for them. Welcome home Uwamahoro Family!
The Szweda Family
My name is Lawella Szweda, and I am a veteran build for Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. I was born and raised in Michigan. My family was very poor growing up and were always on the free lunch plan. We grew up in a trailer house on a dirt road where the nearest neighbor was a half a mile away. I grew up in a Protestant household and my travels and exposure to people and cultures has given me a broader outlook on religious choices. I also come from a family that continually supports the military. My brother was in the Army for 20 years and then became a Junior R.O.T.C. instructor. Both of my brother-in-law’s also served, one in the Air Force and the other in the Navy.
I joined the United States Air Force in 1985 and during my four-year commitment I finished my bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Administration. While I was in the military I had to have surgery on my foot because of my bunion. As a result of this surgery I developed a large amount of scar tissue that continually causes me discomfort and has put me on partial disability. While I was in the military I met my ex-husband. Our family spent the next 20 years serving, which required the girls dad to be gone for a large part of each year. He missed many holidays and birthdays, which was hard on the kids. Many times I had to take care of my two kids and household responsibilities by myself because we were not near family. One time while living in South Carolina, when my daughters were 1 and 3, the base that we were living on had to be evacuated for a hurricane. The military personnel were sent away together, and that left us to fend for ourselves. We had to go to a money lender so that we had enough for gas and a hotel to get out of the hurricane’s path. We ended up having to drive all the way to North Carolina to find a vacant room.
Another struggle we had to face was moving every few years at the needs of the government. My children had to grow up leaving everything they knew and all of their friends behind after only living there for a few years. Both they and I had to adapt to living like this and although it was very difficult every time we moved, we also became very resilient and self-reliant because of it. In 2005 I experienced an unfortunate accident that resulted in an amputation of two of my fingers and because of this had to relearn how to do many basic things, such as typing.
Around 2011 things really began to take a dark turn. My mother was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, and two years later after a long hard fight was declared colon cancer free. Since then, my mother continues to fight spots of skin cancer. During the same year as my mother’s diagnosis, our house was put in foreclosure from the bank, and this made me feel like a failure because the home that I thought we were finally going to be able to stay in for the rest of our lives was being taken away. The next year my brother suddenly passed away from still unknown causes after spending a week in a drug-induced coma, which left behind his 6 year old son that we have been denied any contact with. In 2013 I was divorced and filed for bankruptcy. After this my children and I were denied any rental properties in the area and were forced to move into a family friend’s home in Michigan. Soon after this move my sister had a disabling stroke that required constant assistance from us for the first few months, and she will never be able to fully recover.
Through all of this I felt beat down and wondered how much more I was going to have to deal with. After 2 years, I was accepted into the Habitat family and took the financial peace course and feel like my whole future is headed in a positive direction. I am getting my finances in order and looking forward to my life as a homeowner and helping future Habitat partners becoming homeowners. I first heard about Habitat in the early 90’s when I was working in a dentist office and the dentist’s housekeeper received a home. I became more recently connected with Habitat in 2013 when I moved to Michigan and I sought out the local Habitat for volunteering. When I moved to Aurora I became very aware of how much I was overpaying for a too small apartment and I wanted to find a way to become a homeowner. I applied to Habitat because I knew that it was the only chance I ever had because I didn’t believe any bank would ever consider me. I was accepted as a Habitat partner in December of 2015, and I need to complete 300 sweat equity hours to earn my home.
I felt amazingly relieved when I heard the news that I was accepted. I remember crying with relief when I found out, and I wanted to wait to tell my kids until my youngest was back from college to surprise them, but it took only 3 hours after receiving the news for me to call my daughters and tell them. I have two children who have worked very hard to get a good education to better their lives. My oldest daughter, Paige, is a college graduate who has been working to find a teaching job in the area since she graduated a couple of years ago from Eastern Illinois University. My youngest daughter, Brooke, is currently attending Eastern Illinois University working towards her bachelor’s degree and hopes to go on to her masters to become an art therapist. Both are interested in helping people and community through their work and volunteering.
Since partnering with Habitat, I took a financial peace course and am now recovering emotionally and financially. It has changed my life to be able to volunteer through Habitat and meet both the incredible staff and work with the other amazing Habitat partners. I want to be a homeowner so I can be a part of the community and have a place of my own to take care of. I also want to know that money I spend on my living situation goes toward my family’s future. It will give us peace of mind in knowing that we always have a place to live, and it also changes the day-to-day of our lives in that we can sleep undisturbed by neighbors, and that we can arrange the place to fit us. Some of the most memorable things about being a Habitat partner are talking to all of the great people and also learning new things while volunteering, like how to hang drywall. Currently Brooke and I live in a one-bedroom apartment on a very busy, noisy road with people on all sides of us. My bed is in the living room and doubles as a couch for us right now, and we have limited space but pay so much. Once I can move out of this apartment and into my home, I plan to continue volunteering with Habitat and doing other charitable work. I also plan to take pride and ownership of my home and add to my community. -Lawella Szweda
Lawella has completed more than her share of sweat equity hours and generously helps other Habitat families with their homes as well. She is also now a proud owner of a beautiful home! Lawella and her daughters had their dedication celebration on March 3, 2018. They are now settling in and making it their home.
The Szweda home was part of a Building Futures Initiative Program. Please click here to learn more about the program.
Faith Build 2017 & 2018
Our Faith Build family for 2017 moved into their new home in December of 2017. We are now getting ready to start construction for our Faith Build 2018 home.
Read more about our Faith Build homes and families by clicking here.
Construction will begin on the 2 other homes for our Fox Valley Habitat families this spring.