Below is the speech that I was supposed to deliver at the Windy City Habitat Annual Benefit breakfast. I got about a third of the way through before technology took over, and yes, I give you all four of my children’s names. Don’t stalk them, as I can be much meaner than I appear on the blog. Please enjoy, and know that this came directly from my heart.
It is indeed an honor and privilege to be before you this morning talking about how We Build. Specifically, how We Build Dreams. As many of you have heard, my name is Natasha Nicholes and I’m 1/6 of the newest partner family that will be moving onto Union Avenue. My husband Shomari (sitting over there) is the other more handsome and oldest part of our family. We also have with us our three youngest children Jessica, Penelope, and Zachary. Our oldest, Nathaniel is a freshmen in high school and duty calls. If you asked me early last year if my husband and I would be homeowners this year, my answer would have been a firm no. I just didn’t see it being financially possible for us. However, we would still sit around and dream about our home with a two car garage, and a yard for entertaining and barbecuing, and a basement to make into a dual purpose man/woman cave. Oh, and two bathrooms. Two bathrooms were definitely at the top of the list. Not only will we have all of that soon, we’ve extended our village, and for that I’m grateful. We had a clear need, and Habitat met it, within the confines of our circumstances. Not only will we have a house that we’ll be inhabiting first – we’ll be doing it while paying a mortgage that doesn’t spread us thin, and allows us to live within our means.
Enough of the sap though – because I’m not here to make your tear ducts well. I’m here to make you laugh – a little – and think – a lot, so I’m going to share how being a partner family with Habitat for Humanity is a lot like being pregnant. We’ll call this – What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Build A Home with Habitat.
For those of us who have been with child, we know all to well the stages of planning for that child. The panning period, waiting for the news that you are indeed going to be parents, emotional overload, waiting to inform your friends and family, loving the pregnancy, attending classes and appointments, wanting – dear God – for the pregnancy to be over, and then that fourth trimester – wishing that you had just a little bit more time to enjoy the pregnancy because it all seemed to happen so fast. You realize that there was that one more thing that you wanted to do, or that one person to thank, or ask questions of.
That’s literally the route that being a partner family takes. The planning period – applying for the program. With my husband and I, it started with a phone call with a friend who is a realtor. It’s important to have friends that can support your dreams as well. My friend, Dedra, told me that we should apply to be a partner family with Habitat for Humanity. I was confused because I thought that Habitat was a program for people to get FREE homes. Kind of like an Extreme Makeover – handout edition. I was completely wrong, and I’m so happy that I was. We attended an open house after doing tons of research – because that’s what we all do in this day and age, we google. During the open house, we received information about the Your Keys event that would be happening in a few weeks. Everything was happening so fast, and we didn’t have time to breathe because we WERE APPLYING TO OWN A HOME! Then we sat and waited. Now, with Habitat, the waiting period is a little bit longer than the waiting period to find out if you’re expecting, so we tried to think about everything else BUT our application. Receiving the news last September that we were accepted into the program elicited so many feelings that I’m almost ashamed to admit them. It was all so amazing, and I wanted to run and shout from the rooftops that we were starting this AMAZING journey with an AMAZING group of people, yet I was timid. The same timid I was each and every single time we found out we were expecting one of our children. You want to get to the point in your pregnancy that you’re almost positive that the results will be what you want. You’re not sure if people will ask the right questions, or if they will see us as a charity case. I tested the waters in the place where most important announcements are made. Facebook. For the most part those questions that came weren’t all that bad. A LOT of people did congratulate me on getting yet ANOTHER thing for free. Yes, everyone genuinely thought that I was getting a free house. Given to me by the great people of Windy City Habitat. Little did I know that while taking on this birthing process of a new home, I would also be educating a couple hundred people at the same time with my journey.
Just like during pregnancy – especially with the pregnancy of our twins, I turned our habitat journey into one of sharing information so when other well meaning folks who decided to share about their friends who were “getting” a Habitat Home, they were properly informed. So, there was LOTS of talk about sweat equity, and learning how to use saws, and proper hammer form, and giving up Saturdays to weddings, and baby showers, and lounging around in pajamas because we had a dream. We didn’t get just observe, like we would have had some other person in our family been bringing forth life. We were full blown participants, nurturing the building of our new home, and new chapter with the same focus that we did when learning we would be parents for the first or third time. This was our first trimester if you will. And while it was a bit rocky with feelings of wanting to pay homage to the porcelain gods when we realized what a big step we were making, it started to smooth out as we got into a great rhythm of volunteering, and interacting with the Windy City Haibtat affiliate office workers. One of the memories that I look back on for strength during these times of wait, is during Women Build. Where women from all over the city of Chicago joined forces for four days and hammered, sawed, drilled and prayed. We surrounded the Robinson house with the love that only women can give, sorry guys. We laughed, we learned, we shared stories. We wore pink – a LOT of it. I learned that I could use my blog for good. Sharing frequently asked questions, and documenting the process so that I could go back and see how far we had come in our journey. From that very first day of sweat equity that I had, in a dank warehouse, with the newbie site supervisors Derek and Derek, or DLAW, to learning how to use the table saw for the first time. It was those little things that kept me going. Those and the everlasting support of my husband who, just like in pregnancy, consoled me when I felt things were getting a bit too difficult to handle on my own. He took the lead in areas where I didn’t feel comfortable. He epitomized what our partnership is about, and that’s handling business together.
Moving on to our second “trimester” was absolute fun. The weather was breaking, we hit our stride where people could SEE that we were actually building a home. There was no guessing anymore. We had finally hit our 150 hours, so we could pick our plot, and lo and behold the frame was already up for us! It’s like we popped overnight! The congrats and comments starting coming in fast and furious, with people asking when it would be ready, and if we had everything planned out and who would get which room, and if we had picked out schools and all of that jazz. This trimester of the journey was the perfect one. I didn’t get tired of people asking about our home, and people didn’t seem to have a limit to the questions that they had. We had several friends come and help us with sweat equity and lots of talk of how cool it was to have a Habitat connect. To KNOW someone who was going through this experience, because it in a way made them the knowledgeable one in their circle of friends. This trimester, my friends, went extremely fast. We weren’t yet tired of the office visits, and the educational classes, because we knew that they were all a means to an end. We KNEW that these visits and classes would make us better homeowners, the same way those hospital tours, and lamaze and birthing classes would make you a rockstar in the delivery room and later on, in your new home with your tiny new bundle of joy. That bundle that you often dreamed about in excess. This trimester rocked. We got to ooh, and ahh over tile and hardwood selection. We picked out our cabinets, and had good natured debates over which ones would look better in our kitchen. We began to see our home as OUR HOME. One memory here is when Shomari and I started laying the hardwood floor in our bedroom. It took us some time to get it right, and at first we felt a bit overwhelmed. I’m a bit OCD with things, while he’s more relaxed, we’ll say. After having to take up the interlocking wood for oh maybe the fourth time, we sat down, looked at each other, and laughed. Because we realized right then and there, that even though we weren’t getting the flooring just right, we weren’t getting the flooring just right IN OUR HOUSE. We were literally watching a dream of ours come to fruition, and it was covered in sweat, sawdust and laughter. Working together in the silence of the afternoon illustrated quite a bit for us. Dreams are made to be worked on together, and we did it whether it was one person or 25 people on site. The dream kept building, and those volunteers kept us supported.
As we all know, there are three trimesters in pregnancy – and in this case there’s a third trimester with Habitat. That trimester where you have all of your ducks in a row, your down payment amount ready, your home insurance lined up, and ALL of your sweat equity is done, and all you do is play the waiting game. This is usually the trimester where you have your dedication as well. Kind of like having a baby shower. That time when people come through and shower you with love and anticipation of you moving into your new home. It’s also where you start getting the “When are you moving in,” or “Have you moved in yet?” questions – again from well meaning friends and family members. It’s where you put your nose to the ground and plow through because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s that time where you hold off from calling your doctor to induce you – or in our case Jen Parks to jumpstart the city, and all of the utility companies to come and orchestrate all of the things that you need to be done so you can get on with it. It’s the trimester where you learn patience, and you may cry, and you may get angry with site supervisors, or your husband, or even some of the volunteers, because you’re so full of emotion and anxiousness, and… fear. Fear that you won’t be a great homeowner. Fear that you may be making a mistake. Fear that you’ll forget everything that you’ve learned in these last busy months. Fear that you won’t love it. Fear. There was a point in time this July, where in the middle of a Saturday build, I stood at the bottom of my steps and burst into tears. I’m not quite sure what the offending sight, sound, or even smell was, but it was all overwhelming. It’s a LOT to take in. THEN someone came through and said the right things. They ushered me out into our garage and let me know that we could do this. We were almost at the finish line. Kind of like that nurse who you don’t notice during birthing time that cheers you on as you make strides. They console you and let you know that you can indeed do this. To keep pushing. To keep believing. To keep dreaming. To know that the end is almost here, and that you are a rockstar, and you will do rockstar things. These are the types of things that I heard from Jen, Elizabeth,Michelle, Jeff, DLAW, Leon, Mike, Jesse, Sean,Charlie and Derek – although I secretly think that Derek was an incognito chaplain of sorts. We got to know the other partner families sitting in the waiting room with us. The Robinsons, The Griffins, Erica, Crysteal, Ms. Norman – all of those partner families patiently in wait for their homes as well. We’re all in different trimesters, and we all have been able to talk to each other in a way. We’re bringing into the world, a brand new home. Adding a new kid to the block of Union. We’re going to be nurturers and great providers. Making sure that it presents itself the best way that it can to the other new kids that will be joining it. We want to do our best to make this cornerstone home one that others can look to when they need support. Being the first family on the block is a HUGE deal (maybe only in my head – but work with me here) and I’m hoping that we can be a source of information and support when other families move in. I know that I am looking forward to having a neighborhood with a building boom! Okay – enough of the baby and pregnancy puns.
One thing is for sure though, we would NOT have been able to do all of this without the huge group of volunteers that come out to help build by our sides. Those that give up their Saturdays with family and work in the heat, or the rain, or the cold. Those corporations that not only donate those wonderful dollars, but also come out and build with us too. We couldn’t do it without word of mouth from those volunteers. Every tweet, every instagram photo, every Facebook post that you share, it widens the scope of Windy City Habitat, and helps spread the Habitat mission statement far and wide. Most of all, we couldn’t do it without the donations that come in every single day. Every dollar that you donate helps purchase nails, bricks, paint, wood, flooring. It funds dreams. We need you to help fund dreams. We want you to continue doing that. We want your hours, they mean so much to those of us who will be residing in these new homes, and whether you belive it or not, I’m sure it means a lot to you. Yes, we also want your dollars, because dreams are awesome to have, but if we don’t have the means to purchase those dreams, it becomes deferred. And what happens to a dream deferred?
To be able to be an intricate part of dream building for another family whether through monetary giving, physical labor, or spreading the word, we all work hand in hand to build on the dreams of partner families in the Chicagoland area. This is where I realized that my village will be expanding a lot more than I anticipated, and this is also where I realized that Habitat for Humanity was a lot bigger than just the affiliate and volunteers. It’s those donations working with the passion of Did you know that as of 2013 the average cost of raising a child is $245,000? That’s quite a bit of cash. That’s for 18 years of life. The average cost of building a Habitat home is around that ballpark – give or take 65,000. The same way, we wouldn’t have been able to raise our children without the financial help of our backers (our parents) and this organization DEFINITELY can’t continue to raise homes without the financial and physical help of everyone here in this room.
Let’s always build.
Lets always build dreams.