Homeowner Profile: Lila Ellsworth
When you ask Lila Ellsworth why she partnered with Habitat, what she’s excited to do in her new home, what she enjoyed most about the process, or any other question you could think of, she will always find a way to redirect the question from being about her to shine light on someone else. Honoring and working hard for the people around her is all she knows. It’s who she is. It’s who she’s always been.
“Everybody always say that,” she laughed. “They always fuss at me. They say, ‘You care about everybody else but you don’t worry about yourself.’ I watched my mother do that for years. I know I’m gonna be alright because God’s taking care of me. And it makes me happy to see my family happy.”
Several close tragedies could not shake her optimism and altruism. In a span of only three years, her mother, father, daughter, and son all passed away. Following each, Lila’s response was to take care of everyone else, particularly the grandchildren left behind. Her late daughter and son had seven kids, now ranging from ages six to 17, whom she takes care of on holidays and alternating weeks. Taking care of these kids and being a great “Mimi” were her motivations for buying a Habitat house.
“I couldn’t afford to put us all in one home. The rent was $900 and $1000 and it wasn’t affordable. So I told them, I promised them, ‘Mimi’s gonna find a way. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna be together.’ We have been dealt a tragedy, but throughout the tragedy we have found peace and love within it. Habitat has given me an affordable way of doing it.”
Habitat also gave her some unexpected inspiration, she said. “I happened to be out there the anniversary of my daughter’s death,” she told of one day out on the construction site. “It was amazing because that day I know God took care of me because He put around me 44 girls volunteering on my house, and it was an all-girl day. I felt in all of them I seen a part of my child. Because she was a strong woman. She worked two jobs. She worked hard to do whatever she needed to do. She was always taking care of her family and everything. And I seen her in them because they was playing music and then they would do their work, they’d get up and start dancing and laughing, and it made me laugh so much, and I was just like ‘Okay! That’s her. That’s Hermania!’ I would just turn my head because I started crying because I didn’t even want to tell anybody that that was the day of the death of my daughter, but those girls made me feel so good out there that day.”
Lila learned about Habitat’s First Time Homebuyers Program through her church. She said when she heard about it, she knew it was the answer she was looking for. It wasn’t a quick fix to her situation, though. It took three years from her first appointment to her moving into the finished house. Lila explained, “It was work. I had bad credit. Everything was an uphill battle. I had to clean my credit and also pay off all my debts that I owed. As I did that, [my case manager] would run my credit again and everything that came up that she told me to take care of I did. I made sure everything was paid off.”
Though it was difficult, Lila did as she always had and persevered for her family. She insisted she didn’t do it alone, though. Again and again she praised others for helping her through the program. Listening to Lila talk, it’s impossible not to notice that the strength and compassion she constantly praises others for are the same qualities that are reflected in her own life and words.
This same inner strength that enabled her to push through tragedy allowed her to succeed out on the site. Though she knew NOAHH’s construction staff would have accommodated her needs, she insisted on pushing through any difficulties on her own. “I wouldn’t tell anybody about my disability because I didn’t want to be helped through it. I wanted to do it myself. I didn’t let them know that I had disabilities, but I have them in my back, my feet, and my hands. I wanted to do the work,” Lila proudly explained. Her motivation for persevering on the tougher days out on site was, as always, her family. “I wanted this so bad for my grandkids that it meant if I didn’t make it through the program, I failed them. And I didn’t wanna fail them.”
Lila’s work on the construction site is over now, and she’s excited to share her new home with Hermania and Herman’s children. Perhaps what she’s most excited about sharing, she said, is her cooking. “They’re so used to me cooking for them when they would come over with their parents when they were alive– used to me cooking different stuff. So they look forward to that. Smelling that food and remembering that brings out a conversation. We talk about their parents and when they were still here.”
Sharing the house also presents opportunities to make new memories and for Lila to pass along her compassion to her grandkids. When talking about one of her granddaughters, she said, “She’s the one that takes care of her brother when he come over. I love how she let him cradle up under her. She won’t let anything happen to him or let him think he’s alone.”
Undoubtedly, Ms. Ellsworth’s family would say the same thing about her.