Volunteer Reflection: Erica Johnson

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Note: Erica Johnson is a journalism student at UNC Chapel Hill who volunteered this summer with NOAHH, working on the build site, with one of our garden partners, and in our offices, writing profiles for this blog. This is her personal reflection on her time volunteering here.

Three years had passed since Denise Brown received her Habitat home, and she still talked as though she moved in yesterday. Her words converged as she sped from one thought to another. Her sentences turned into stories about how her life had changed.

Before working at New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, I wondered what level of impact this organization had on the community. Obviously, the impact NOAHH has on the community is tangible and life-changing for individuals, but it is hard to actually understand that concept without experiencing it.

After interviewing Denise Brown and hearing the excitement in her voice three years after she bought her Habitat home, I gained a real understanding for the life-changing impact NOAHH can have.

Nevertheless, this was just one case of many, and there are many more cases. A NOAHH homeowner survey reported that since moving into their Habitat homes 84 percent of partner families feel better about their children’s future, and 75 percent of partner families feel more connected to their community. Through interviewing people and writing articles about the affiliate, I learned first-hand that these statistics are overwhelmingly accurate.

People I talked to once lived with holes in their walls, copious plumbing issues and leaking roofs. Their homes were unsafe. Their neighborhoods were unsafe. Their families were unsafe. Their old anxieties, however, were soon replaced with gratitude. These homeowners also exuded appreciation for where they currently live.

The difference a home can make is often underestimated. The people at NOAHH realize that a home is not simply a place to sleep. It is where Jolandra Cole will finally get a chance to host her family’s barbecue. It is where Joseph and Amy Washington’s son will be able to play with the 22 other children that will live on their one block of America Street. It is where Stephanie Bruer will be able to sit down and have a cup of coffee on the front porch that I helped put together.

A home is where you learned how to ride a bike, where your family decided to live for 20 long years together, where your goofy dog used to tear through the bushes, but for the partner families at NOAHH, it is also a place that they built themselves. This community, which is desperate to rebuild the homes it has lost, has taught me just how lucky people are to have homes and how lucky I am to have mine.

Houses for Denise, Jolandra, Joseph, Amy and Stephanie may seem like small contributions to the housing issues in New Orleans, but to all 570 New Orleans Habitat partner families, it is home.