Finding Exactly Where You Need To Be When You Least Expect It

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By Michelle Spada, Family Services Director*

Yesterday, I was walking along Cherry Street in Norristown with Brian, our newest partner family, who will move into his house this June. We were eating water ice, handing out flyers in our expanded neighborhood revitalization zone and talking about how interesting life can be. Life often hands you what you least expect. For Brian, that means moving back into the neighborhood he grew up in and owning a home for the first time as a single dad. For myself, that means moving back to the United States and working in the community that shaped and molded me as a young woman. The ease with which Brian and myself were able to connect and relate doesn’t shock me because I have come to learn, in my first month at Habitat, that this type of connection is at the core of the work and mission of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County.

I grew up in East Norriton and spent a lot of my high school time working alongside the Missionary Sisters of Charity in Norristown. I was attending high school on the Main Line and the contrast of the lives of my school mates with the lives of the families I met in Norristown burned under my skin. It opened my eyes and made me question why the system wasn’t meeting everyone’s needs. I was awarded a scholarship for community development to Vanderbilt and spent the next four years learning more deeply about development and working in communities across the world.

After graduation, I took a job in Liberia, West Africa and stayed there for almost three years working alongside communities and running programs for young women. Then, Ebola hit Liberia and overnight we became emergency medical responders. Watching Liberia struggle to respond to this crisis reminded me that I still have a lot to learn, but that community development is at the core of what countries, communities, and neighborhoods need no matter where they are in the world. Walking through Norristown with Brian yesterday felt surreal—like we have both come full circle.

I have been amazed over the past month at the diverse range of families that Habitat Montco is able to reach. We have four different programs: homeownership, critical home repairs, home preservation, and neighborhood revitalization. Homeownership works to match hard-working, low-income families with affordable, decent homes. Critical home repair is aimed at homeowners who have experienced a life change and find themselves unable to maintain, add or repair critical aspects of their home. Home preservation works with homeowners who unable to repair smaller, exterior issues with their homes. Neighborhood revitalization works with communities to identify local assets and goals, stabilize neighborhoods and improve the safety and quality of life. Habitat Montco is able to utilize volunteer manpower and donations of resources to perform these services at a fraction of the cost, but each and every family in our program pays a monthly mortgage or pays for their home repair. In addition, these families become our partners and work alongside our construction team on site and alongside our staff in our office and ReStore.

I am thrilled to work along with Habitat Montco’s incredible team of staff members, dynamic and engaged Board members, and deeply committed partner organizations, donors, and volunteers who together make this crucial work possible. But more than anything, I’m honored to engage with families across Montgomery County whom Habitat can help maintain their homes, transform their communities, or accomplish their dreams of homeownership.

*Michelle Spada is our new Director of Family Services. Please give her a warm welcome! She can be reached by emailing mspada@habitatmontco.org or by calling 610-278-7710 ext. 109.