By Shannon Kauffmann
I met Kelly Lucy (above R) about eight years ago when I was working as a childcare subsidy case worker. She was one of my clients. Kelly recalled, “I remember the very first time that I met you because I cried through the entire appointment. You probably thought I was crazy!” Nothing could be further from the truth. If she needed a case worker to cry to, she came to the right person.
As a stressed out single parent myself, I had been on the other side of the desk many time before. Being employed as a full-time case worker meant that I earned just enough to disqualify me from receiving any public assistance, but not enough to pay the bills. One bi-weekly paycheck went towards paying the rent without a dollar to spare. I remember crying at the grocery store because I didn’t have enough change to buy a box of tissues for my sick child. Kelly may have been embarrassed about crying in my office, but seeing a single parent in tears was neither surprising nor memorable; it was my life reflected back at me.
Over the next eight years, I met with Kelly 2 or 3 times a year to renew her vouchers. I was always happy to see her name on my calendar because she came prepared and she made me laugh. We swapped stories about our boys and commiserated on the woes of single parenting. With our boys being close in age, we seemed to live parallel lives. If my son had gotten into trouble for making noises in class, I could be confident that Kelly had a similar story to tell. One appointment at a time, Kelly and I had become friends. We were no longer constrained by the case worker/client relationship.
That being said, it’s no surprise that when I purchased a home through Habitat, I was eager to share my excitement with her. I explained that purchasing a home through Habitat completely changed my life, and my son’s life. Having a mortgage that was half of what I had been paying for rent, not only provided financial relief, it allowed me to be a better parent. The stress that came from not being able to pay my bills had turned me into someone I barely recognized. When I made my first mortgage payment and realized I had money “left over,” I literally felt as though pressure had been lifted from my chest. Knowing that Kelly was still experiencing that same suffocating stress, I encouraged her to apply to Habitat’s Homeownership program and hoped for the best.
I had no way of knowing then, that when she applied, I would be the one to process her application. But that’s exactly what happened! When Kelly was in the process of applying for Habitat homeownership, I was in the process of applying for a job with Asheville Habitat. Without either of us knowing, Kelly and I had continued on separate, yet parallel paths. When I sat down at my new desk and saw her application, I was elated! Our friendship had come full circle.
Kelly was the first homeowner I saw all the way through the process – from application to closing – as Asheville Habitat’s Homeowner Selection Coordinator, and I was invited to go with her to the attorney’s office to sign her mortgage documents.
Watching Kelly sign her closing papers and accept the keys to her house brought tears to my eyes. It took me back to our first meeting many years ago, when Kelly was crying and I couldn’t afford a box of tissues! Back then, thinking that both of us would become homeowners was as absurd as thinking that both of us would win the lottery; and yet here we are. Because of Habitat’s interest-free loan and affordable monthly payments, Kelly and I can focus on being present for our children, and also for each other. With both of our boys approaching puberty, we will continue on our parallel paths as single mothers, meeting every few months to commiserate, to laugh, and to cry — and for old time sake, we will take turns buying the tissues.
Kelly’s new Habitat home in Shiloh is our first Legacy Builders Society House and Asheville Habitat’s 300th house!
Shannon’s Habitat home in West Asheville was made possible by Warren Haynes Presents: The Christmas Jam (in 2012).