After touring the home she and her family were presented Friday, Lorie Lozada said: “We have two beds and TVs but we need sofas and a dining table, things like that. But that’s OK, little by little we’ll get what we need. The house is the important thing.”
EUSTIS – Around this time last year, James Santiago, his wife Lorie Lozada and their now 8-year-old son Jianluc Santiago were pondering a move from Puerto Rico to Florida after losing their home and possessions to Hurricane Maria. They had no idea where they would be living or what was in store for them.
On Friday morning however, they received keys to their very own home in Eustis, built just for them by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, including the Ohlsson Charitable Trust, the Women Builders and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, who all came together for the cause.
“We are emotional and so excited,” Lozada said. “We just feel so incredibly lucky,”
The family had first been living in a hotel, and then in a nearby apartment.
“It’s a beautiful house and I feel so happy and grateful,” Santiago said.
Friends and family of the recipients, volunteers and members of all the participating organizations were invited to a “Welcome Home” dedication ceremony in front of the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on Friday morning.
Habitat’s CEO Kent Adcock said for him, helping the family was especially meaningful because his own parents were victims to the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and lost their home because of it.
“I know what they are feeling; what they are going through,” Adcock said at the dedication.
Through the building process, the house served to help many others along the way.
Lake Tech’s Laurie Bryant of the Women Builder’s “Hammer Knocker” team, said she was able to learn about what goes into building a home from scratch and found it very fulfilling.
Bryant and her team members on Friday, presented the family with a bible and a tool kit after they were presented with a flag by Ron Grove of the Sons of the American Revolution.
“I am honored that we were able to help build this house,” Bryant said.
November is a time to honor our Veterans and those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. As part of our Veteran’s Housing Initiative, we serve veterans through our Home Ownership program and through Preservation and Repair. Here, you’ll get a chance to meet veteran, Eddie Broglin and learn what’s next for our Veterans in Lake and Sumter Counties.
Born and raised in Florida, Eddie Broglin is a true Florida Native. When speaking to Eddie about his home state, you can barely mention a new place before Eddie tells you his connection to that area; Lake Wales, Bartow, Lake City, Fort Pierce, it becomes apparent very quickly that Florida holds a special place in Eddie’s heart.
After graduating high school, Eddie Broglin was faced with the challenge of what he was going to do next. A fellow classmate told him that he was going to join the National Guard and convinced Eddie to sign up as well. Stationed at Wauchula, Florida where he worked with gunners and as a mess cook, Eddie then moved to the Naples Armory where he went on to serve an eight year career. While Eddie learned a lot from being in the service, he unfortunately suffered a heat stroke that would have a lasting impact on him the rest of his life. After his military career, Eddie moved around the state, and left feeling un-grounded while staying with friends or renting, he decided it was time to find a home of his own.
Eddie describes his experience of working with multiple real estate agents and exhausting his resources through Veterans Affairs, his search for a home appeared hopeless. “I was looking for a studio apartment, but mortgages and rent have flopped. Now it’s cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent,” says Eddie. Eddie describes an experience that is relatable to many and sits at the very heart of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s mission.
Eddie decided a “tiny home” would provide the best solution to affording a home of his own and started to search out of state, believing he would have to move from Florida in order to find affordable housing.
Finally, Eddie met real estate agent, Maureen Campbell. Maureen knew about Eddie’s desire to stay in Florida and his interest in “tiny homes.” With these two requests in mind, Maureen suggested Eddie look into Habitat for Humanity as a resource and facilitated the process for Eddie to apply to be a homeowner with Habitat Lake-Sumter. A cottage-style home currently being built in Coleman, Florida was THE home Eddie had been searching for.
While discussing his newly built home, it’s evident how grateful Eddie is to be able to be a part of the Habitat Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program; a home he believes is built with love by the staff and volunteers who have put “their heart in to it.”
“The first thing I did was plant my red maple tree,” a tree Eddie bought when he first learned of being accepted into Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program, “to symbolize being rooted here,” says Eddie. In this quiet community in Coleman, FL, balanced by rural and growth; Eddie has found a place to plant his roots a little deeper into Florida.
If you’d like to know more about the work we’ve done with Veterans this year, come visit Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s booth at the Villagers for Veterans Film Festival on Wednesday, November 6th.
To support upcoming Veterans projects throughout Lake and Sumter, donate today!
“We looked out the window and watched our walls tumbling down our stairs,” says Lorie Lozada.
Lozada, originally from New York, watched in horror with her family as their house was torn apart in front of their eyes as Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, ravaged Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017.
“After my father passed away in ‘96, my mom moved back Puerto Rico to be closer to family” says Lozada. “When my mother had a heart attack three years later, my daughter Alexandra and I moved to Puerto Rico to take care of her.”
That’s where Lozada says she met her husband James. “By the time my mother passed away, I’d met James and we had a son, Jianluc.” So, rather than move back to New York when her mother passed, Lozado’s family built a life in Puerto Rico. There they lived in a second story wooden addition, built above her mother-in-law’s concrete home.
“When the storm hit, we thought we were prepared,” says Lozada. “We had canned goods, gas, water, enough supplies for 8 or 9 days.” But the storm was much worse than they could have imagined. “I’m from New York, I’d never seen anything like this, it was horrifying,” said Lozada who says she can remember the terrible noises coming from above as they hunkered down in her mother-in-law’s home.
Peering out during the storm, Lozada recalls seeing her refrigerator falling to the ground just outside of the window. “The wind picked the fridge back up, ripped it in two, and sent the doors flying in one direction and the rest flying in the other.” When the storm finally past, Lozada says their home was destroyed and, because her mother-in-law’s home sustained damage as well, they could not rebuild the second story addition. “One of the walls of our home was blown onto our car. We lost everything except for a few mementos and some clothing we had time to grab.”
“FEMA assessed the damage and our situation and offered us some help, including airfare to the United States.” As a territory of the U.S., citizens of Puerto Rico also have American Citizenship by birth so coming to the U.S., where both Lozada and her husband have family, was an option but it wasn’t an easy decision.
The couple’s son had grown close to Lozada’s daughter Alexandra, and her husband’s son Kevin, both of which chose to stay in Puerto Rico, making their decision to leave even harder.
“We sat down and prayed and prayed as a family,” says Lozada. “We’re big on our faith and we put everything in God’s hands.”
Rather than going back to her home state of New York, they chose to relocate to Florida where her husband has cousins and extended family. Lozada says the transition wasn’t easy but she’s incredibly grateful for all the organizations that have lent them a hand in their time of need, including Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
“After living in a hotel for a while, we eventually settled into an apartment in Eustis,” says Lozada. While they were looking for housing, one of James’ cousins encouraged the family to apply for help through Habitat. “Once we were contacted by Habitat, we still weren’t certain we be able to make it work. We really had to work with a lot of agencies to tie it all together.” The Small Business Association, FEMA and help from Habitat Lake-Sumter all played a role in helping Lozada and her family qualify for a home through one of Habitat’s programs.
“It’s a pale green bungalow with orange shutters,” says Lozada. “When you see it in person, the colors work beautifully together.” And she’s seen the property often, living within walking distance now, Lozada passes by her future home on a daily basis and says it should be ready any day now.
Lacie Himes, Development Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, says construction on Lozada’s home began last spring and was made possible through the fundraising and volunteer hours of the organization’s Women Build program. Himes says the Inmate Construction Academy also played a significant role in completing the house, bringing together two of Habitat’s most successful programs to build a new home for Lozada and her family.
Two years ago, Lozada and her family were preparing for Hurricane Maria. This fall, they’re looking forward to a different kind of chaos.
“We’re hoping to be in our new home before Thanksgiving,” said Lozada who plans to start their own traditions, bringing together influences from both Puerto Rico and the United States. “We’re planning to share the holidays with lots of friends and family, bless the house with everyone in it and have a big, crazy Thanksgiving!”
By David Larrick
You’re invited to meet the Lozada’s and celebrate with them as we dedicate their home on Friday, November 22nd – Contact Shari for details and to RSVP: Shari@HabitatLS.org or (352) 483-0434 x 118
Jessica Strunk has a lot on her plate, including the immense challenge of being a single mother of two young boys, but that hasn’t stopped her from charging through 2019 with her sights set on several significant milestones, one of which was owning her own home.
Jessica and her “little family,” as she calls it, moved in with her mother in August of 2019 along with her promise that she just needed a year to “figure everything out.” And now, with her home nearing completion, she’s poised to make good on that promise as her and her boys, eight-year-old Collin and four-year-old Clayton, are about to move into a home of their own.
As the Program Manager for an Adult Day Training Program, Jessica works with adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Her boss, Dr. Paula Whetro, who heads up Building Blocks Ministries in Minneola, Florida, first introduced her to the idea of working with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to own her own home for the first time. A home she lovingly tells her boys will be their “forever home.”
The pair, Jessica says, are very close, even though they have a 4-year age difference. But, that doesn’t stop them from being excited about having their own rooms. So excited in fact, that 4-year-old Clayton asks to move in on a daily basis because he doesn’t quite understand that a house can have doors and windows and still not be 100% complete.
Jessica, however, has a bit more insight on what it takes to complete a home now that she’s put in her sweat equity with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter as a member of the “Women Build” event team known as “The Uplifters.” Although this wasn’t her first time swinging a hammer, Jessica says she did complete some tasks new to her as she installed window frames, built a wall and attached hurricane straps around the entire house.
If raising two young boys, building her first home, managing a day program for adults with learning disabilities and putting in sweat equity with Habitat for Humanity wasn’t enough, Jessica is also on track to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis by the end of the year.
About the time her own home is complete, Jessica will be celebrating another milestone, turning 30 in late July. And while she noted that she’s always enjoyed entertaining friends and family at the homes she’s rented, she’s also incredibly excited to finally be inviting them to gather for a celebration in a home she can call her own. For a family led by a young woman with so much ambition, this surely won’t be the only celebration to grace the Strunk household.
Written by David Larrick
If you are familiar with Habitat for Humanity you’re likely familiar with the term “Sweat Equity.” A simple phrase with a big meaning. Sweat equity is often used to describe the value someone adds to a project through the hard work they contribute to making it a success. For example, Habitat home owners contribute sweat equity by volunteering on a worksite, in the office, or through educational courses.
For Anita Brooks, the term “sweat equity” may have been new but the concept was far from foreign to her. Ms. Brooks, as her students call her, is a third-grade teacher who earned her teaching degree while working for the school district. “I worked as a receptionist for 12 years,” said Anita. “And I put myself through school so I could become a teacher.”
It was a colleague of Anita’s at the school that first turned her on to the idea of partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a home. Anita and her family had always been renters but had a unique opportunity to build on land deeded to her by her mother. The two-and-half acre parcel was just minutes from their current home, in rural Oxford and the location played a part in the home Anita and her family chose to build.
“They gave us a few options in terms of models we could pick from,” said Anita. “Being in the country, I knew I wanted a porch.” Her daughter, 15-year-old Lailah suggested they go a four-bedroom model so Anita could use one of the rooms as an office. Anita agreed noting that she often brings work home with her no matter how much time she spends at school.
As her house begins to take shape, Anita says she stops by every day after school to see what has been accomplished and hopes that someone is still there working so she can express her gratitude. “I just want to thank everyone who has had a hand in building my home,” said Anita. Those working on her home often seem surprised by her gesture, but Anita feels it’s only right to express gratitude to those helping her accomplish something she couldn’t do on her own.
As a family that rented but never owned a home of their own, Anita says that her daughter is excited to finally have a room that she can do something with. “She likes to watch where her room is going to be. She’s enjoying the thought of picking out colors and making it her own,” said Anita.
The family plans to close on their home this summer and Anita says they’ll likely have a house warming party just to have family over. “I don’t need anything else, no more toasters or anything,” she said laughingly. “But we’re very family-orientated and this will be a great place to celebrate each other and the things we accomplish.”
Anita also wants her daughter and her older son Brandell, who’s 21 and no longer lives at home, to know that they finally have a home to come back to.
As for sweat equity in her new home, Anita says she’s ready to invest in the house she plans to make a home for her and her children. “I’ve been saving up my vacation days,” she says with enthusiasm. “I’m looking forward to helping out and getting my hands dirty!”
By David Larrick
For Jasmine and her six-year-old daughter, the dream of owning a new home began with an email from The Villages Charter Schools. For the students at the high school, they began building those dreams a year earlier.
The Villages Charter School, in The Villages, Florida, had just launched their Construction Management Academy and had assembled an advisory committee that included industry experts to help steer curriculum for the new academy. Don McGruder, CEO of RoMac Lumber and a member of the advisory committee, suggested the academy partner with Habitat for Humanity which then began working with the high school to hammer out the details of a partnership as soon as possible.
The following year, an email looking for applicants to participate as the home owner landed in Jasmine’s inbox. “I remember when I was chosen for the opportunity,” said Jasmine. “I was super excited and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.”
Jasmine’s daughter Carmen was overjoyed as well. “She was literally jumping for joy,” Jasmine said of her daughter’s reaction to being told they were getting a home of their own. “She’s excited about finally having a backyard.”
As for the students participating in the Construction Management Academy, they were excited about the opportunity to give back to the community while preparing for employment or advanced training in the building construction industry. The academy’s curriculum, which is a credit course for the students, outlines opportunities to learn everything from basic use of hand tools, plan reading and rough carpentry to more advanced concepts such as site preparation, estimating and knowledge of codes, regulations and sustainability issues relevant to the construction industry.
The academy’s students have had hands on involvement with everything except for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work which must be done by licensed professionals. Even so, they were able to observe those trades being performed in a live environment and were presented with speakers and other learning opportunities to increase their knowledge of those trades.
Jasmine learned some new skills as well by helping with painting and the installation of the home’s dry wall. And, while her daughter was too young to help in the construction, they were both able to meet some of the young men helping them realize their dream. They have a great group of kids working on the house,” said Jasmine. “It’s amazing to see what these young men have accomplished.”
The mother-daughter duo gets to see those accomplishments on a near daily basis. “They’re ahead of schedule and we’re closing in April,” said Jasmine who takes Carmen to check on their new home every day after school. Jasmine also noted Carmen’s excitement at seeing all of the young kids playing in their future neighborhood. “I’m excited because now we’ll be in a new neighborhood and I can make new friends,” shared Carmen.
The partnership with The Villages Charter School has been such a success that Habitat for Humanity is already in the process of selecting a home site on which to work with the academy next year. Habitat is also extending the program into Leesburg where it plans to partner with Leesburg High School on a similar program.
As for Jasmine and Carmen, they are planning on celebrating their move with both of their birthdays in June. “We’ll be having a housewarming party with some friends and family as well,” says Jasmine. But Carmen has much bigger plans. “In June, for my birthday, I’m going to have a mermaid slumber party with all my friends and cousins!” Surely a place and time for new dreams to come true.
By David Larrick
The holidays are times when traditions are born, when gathering together holds more sentiment and when houses become homes. Whether your welcoming in generations of family and friends, or your traveling hundreds of miles to spend time with your loved ones, the phrase “Home for the Holidays” stirs emotions in all of us. However, for those dealing with the chaos caused by a sudden change in their living situation, the holidays are often accompanied by constant reminders that their sense of home has been washed away.
Surviving the utter destruction that swept through Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria was just the beginning of an arduous journey that led Yolanda and Osvaldo to Central Florida and ultimately to Habitat for Humanity. “The experience was horribly devastating,” says Yolanda. “We lost our electricity, we lost food and there was no water. A lot of lives were lost on the island.” In fact, nearly 3,000 deaths we’re caused by the hurricane.
With the help of a church located in the states, the couple fled their home in Puerto Rico, destined for Sanford, Florida, with only the belongings they could carry in two suitcases. After spending their first month in a hotel in Sanford, they were able to find an apartment in Casselberry. However, after their first year in the apartment, the rent was set to increase to a point that would challenge their means.
“I started searching in August for other options, rental opportunities, but none suited our economic abilities,” said Yolanda. “I turned on the news and an interview that mentioned a community being developed by Habitat for Humanity caught my attention.”
The community was Habitat for Humanity’s Veteran’s Village in Umatilla, Florida. Veteran’s Village is a collaborative project that provides access to affordable quality housing and holistic wraparound services through a partnership with Combat Veterans to Careers.
“There’s our House!” Yolanda remembers saying to her husband. What she didn’t remember was hearing any contact information. A week went by and, while in prayer and searching the internet, Yolanda found the information she was looking for and, after confirming her husband Osvaldo was a Veteran of the Vietnam war, they began the process.
The couple celebrated their first Christmas in their new home with their children who traveled to spend the holidays with them. “Our new home was full of joy, many emotions and gratitude,” said Yolanda. They also brought with them the tradition of “Three Kings Day,” a Latin-American celebration akin to the “Feast of the Epiphany,” along with songs from the island and traditional holiday cuisine.
“In Puerto Rico, everything is decorated with lights during the Christmas season and that’s exactly what we did here,” said Yolanda. “We decorated the outside of our house as well as the inside with our Christmas Tree.”
The couple says the warmth of their new community has contributed to them feeling at home. They’ve developed “marvelous friendships,” sharing meals and great conversations with their new neighbors.
Having a “home” again was more than just finding an affordable place to live for Yolanda as Osvaldo. “In this stage of our lives, my husband and I are enjoying the peace and tranquility which God has gifted us through our new house,” she said. “And a house becomes a home by the love that is shared in it.”
To a passerby, the group of people at Mary and Raymond Scott’s house may have looked like a gathering of old friends and family. Among the hustle and bustle of a restoration in progress, there was laughter, story telling, and a sense of something special happening in the air.
They weren’t old friends though; they were a group of volunteers that Mary Scott saw outside another house in her Wildwood neighborhood, not too long ago. She noticed the Habitat for Humanity truck, and with her own home needing repairs, she felt drawn to get out and ask for help. Her application was approved, and her own experience with Habitat began. She considers it to be one of her greatest blessings in life.
The night before the restoration, Mary was so excited that she couldn’t sleep. “It was like my birthday and Christmas wrapped up into one,” she says. That following morning, when the volunteers stepped onto her property, she made it her mission to make them all feel welcomed. She greeted each volunteer with handshakes and hugs, taking the time to get to know each one personally. She would ask about their families and share stories about hers. She had cold drinks on hand, and prepared snacks and lunch so nobody would go hungry. “I like to make everyone feel special,” she says. “To me, everybody is somebody.” The gratitude and kindness Mary and Raymond showed ensured that those somebodies were going to pour their hearts into restoring their home for them.
As the house was being repaired and painted, a new AC unit was being installed and landscaping was being selected. If you didn’t know any better, you could have easily mistaken Raymond Scott for a volunteer. If there was a ladder being climbed, Raymond was at the bottom supporting it. When the AC was being installed, he was right there holding it in place. He stirred paint and brought tools, humble and helpful through the whole project.
Their experience with Habitat for Humanity has impacted the Scotts greatly. Not only do they have a fresh coat of paint on their home, but they also have a fresh perspective on life. Mary says she “thanks God every day” for this opportunity, and with her son being sick in the hospital believes that Habitat was sent into her life at a time she needed it the most. “I’ve never had anyone help me like this,” says Mary. “I feel so happy.”
When the project is completed, the volunteers leave but they are not forgotten. This blessing has brought Mary and Raymond Scott closer together as a couple and they are thankful for that. Every morning they are up early, proudly taking care of their home. Together, they replanted a banana plant gifted to them by a volunteer so that it could get more sun. Neighbors slow down to compliment the colors Mary picked out for the house, and regulars at her church gush about how pretty it is. Their son joked about not recognizing the house at first, and their six-year-old great granddaughter picks up a broom and helps them sweep the “new house.” While this journey has brought the Scott family closer together, their kindness and appreciation has left an unforgettable impression on the volunteers.
I guess you could say that Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just work on homes, they work on hearts, too.
By: Lauren Lester
As one of the top 10 homebuilders in the country, Habitat for Humanity is not new to the construction world. What differentiates us here at Habitat Lake Sumter is the ways in which we adapt to the evolving needs of the community and take advantage of unique opportunities to do so. One of the ways we accomplished that was through the building of the Veterans Village in Umatilla, and the project was novel enough to catch the eye of the National Association of Homebuilders. Check out the full article here!
by Lee Owen
Some say there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Some say it’s probably a train.
But not Priscilla. She’d just smile and say no, not a train. Something entirely unexpected and perfectly poignant. Something that includes you, dear reader.
After being laid off in 2009, Priscilla focused on education to improve her long term job prospects: an AS in Building Construction Technologies, a BAS in Supervision and Administration at UCF, and an AS in Drafting and Design. She graduated Suma Cum Laude, with Honors for highest GPA. Her mentor encouraged her to pursue her Master’s degree. All the while, she was working part time and driving an hour each way to help with her elderly mother’s medical appointments.
And then a tunnel named Alzheimer’s made its all-consuming debut. With no extended family in the region, the next step was obvious: she withdrew from the Master’s program, then left her job to become her mother’s fulltime caregiver. She even tried working from home but her mother’s needs made it impossible.
That was in 2014. By the time her mother was approved for Medicaid help in 2016, she and her savings were exhausted, credit cards were maxed out, and she’d sold every major item she could to help with the expenses. With all that going on, there wasn’t time, money, or energy left to keep the home in good repair. Then one day a friend told her about Habitat for Humanity’s Preservation and Repair Program.
Priscilla called Habitat and began the application process. She shares that the staff’s compassion and attention to detail were a great encouragement. Habitat’s site supervisor helped the volunteers and sub-contractors understand her mother’s needs. They performed their duties with gentleness, caution, and overall excellence.
“Never once was I made to feel I was ‘less’ because I was in need, or that I wasn’t worthy,” Priscilla says. “How the Preservation and Repair staff do business should be the benchmark for all other organizations that profess missions to help those in need.”
Her days of wondering if there’d ever be a light at the end of the tunnel are over. Habitat’s volunteers and sub-contractors made interior accessibility modifications, painted the house, tore down a rotting shed, removed dead trees, hung a “Welcome” flag, gave new life to the flower beds, and added a bird bath. Outside their living room window, a new light is shining. And no, it’s not a train. It’s one that Habitat’s Preservation and Repair team chose especially for this yard: a solar-powered flamingo light.
And how are you, dear reader, a part of this? Your support—by reading our newsletters, telling others, volunteering, and donating—has enabled us to reach more families who need a light at the end of their own tunnels. And the entirely unexpected, perfectly-poignant moment you helped create? Well…
“Each time my mom comes into and leaves our living room, she looks out the front window for that light.” Priscilla pauses, then smiles. “What all those people didn’t know is that my mom loves flamingos.”
So, keep reading. Keep telling others. Keep sharing what your Home Town Habitat is doing to lighten the lives of those who need a hand up, not a hand out. Together, let’s light up Lake and Sumter Counties!
Also, we’d like to pass along information about the team that Priscilla set up for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event in honor of her mother. The Walk is on October 6th at Lake Eola in downtown Florida, and if you’d like to support her and the cause you can do so by donating, walking with the team, or both! Information on both can be found here.