Tonya and her children moved into their York Habitat for Humanity house in 2017. In March, she and daughter Sadiyah volunteered during York Habitat’s Women Build Week to say thanks for their lives being changed.
Tonya wanted to write a different story for her family than the one she grew up with. She was a single mom, living in York City with three daughters and a son in a two-bedroom apartment. Her children were struggling in school and she was afraid her son would drop out as she had.
“We had times where we came out of our house and literally ducked because there was shooting,” Tonya remembers.
Feeling that she had nowhere else to turn, Tonya reached out to York Habitat for Humanity. She had applied for a mortgage with another company but was approved for only $85,000 in spite of having a good credit score. Tonya knew she wouldn’t be able to find the home her family needed on that budget.
Tonya previously had been denied entry into the York Habitat for Humanity program, and with a felony in her background and her struggle to make ends meet and care for her family, Tonya worried that she would be rejected again.
This time the story was different. Tonya was approved.
Building equity and learning skills
Applicants who are accepted into York Habitat for Humanity’s home ownership program are required to put in 225 hours of “sweat equity,” working on York Habitat projects around the county. While Tonya could have asked friends or family to serve some of those hours, she was more than ready to do the work herself so her family could have a home to call its own.
Between working full time at a factory and taking care of her children, Tonya began chipping away at her sweaty equity hours. In the process, she learned how to insulate walls, install siding, and paint walls and ceilings.
“It makes you feel valued. It gives people responsibility. It gives people something that they didn’t know that they could attain,” Tonya says. “A big thing with people who come from unfortunate backgrounds—their upbringing or parts of their environment—what it does is it shows you that there is something that you can attain and then it asks you to give back. It’s a wonderful program.”
Tonya was inspired to take on her own projects once she finally moved into her new home in Dover in August 2017. Tonya and her daughters love renovating and decorating their home, picking out new décor and even swapping out a light fixture. In March, they decorated their home for the month of Ramadan for the first time.
A place of their own
Daughter Sadiyah and her younger sisters, twins Khaleesah and Jaleelah, remember initially coming into their new five-bedroom, two-bathroom home, divvying up bedrooms, and then helping to pick out wall colors. The twins were about to start fifth grade while Sadiyah was going into sixth. For the first time in their lives, each had her own room.
Now 17, Sadiyah recently volunteered with her mother at York Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Week to say thanks for the help they received.
“I’m really grateful for York Habitat,” Sadiyah says. “They helped me a lot.”
Beyond having their own rooms and getting to choose paint colors, the family was in a new school district where the children could thrive. Tonya’s son graduated high school and her daughters are looking to the future, with Sadiyah exploring college options.
Tonya no longer is stretching every penny to pay rent. She was able to get out of factory work and now serves as a career counselor with PA CareerLink.
“It’s not heat or eat anymore. It has changed our lives,” Tonya says of York Habitat for Humanity’s program. “I can wake up every day and still feel that same gratefulness and appreciation as I did when (the home) was given to us.”