Imagine living in a home where your kids cannot get around or do things themselves because there are obstacles. Where the bathroom is too tiny to fit a wheelchair. Where drive-by shootings and drug deals are a regular occurrence. That’s the reality for Danielle Walker, a single mom to two disabled teenagers, who lives in Morgantown, WV.
Devin, 15, has been diagnosed with autism, bipolar and sensory processing disorders, and learning disabilities. He also had to have extensive surgeries to correct his feet, so he needs a wheelchair to get around. The anesthesia from the surgeries have caused even more setbacks and challenges, so Walker home-schools him. Demetry, 18, has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraines, and uses a walker to get around. He's now going to college.
But Walker’s tiny apartment isn’t handicap-accessible, so even the smallest task is nearly impossible for her two sons. The bathroom is too small for a wheelchair or a walker, so neither son can take a shower and must rely on sponge baths. Even getting in and out of the apartment is hard. Her mother, who lives nearby, tries to help out, but she has breast cancer, and Walker is currently taking care of her now.
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Every morning Walker wakes up at 3:30. She makes breakfast for her mom, Devin, and herself. Then from 5 AM until 9, she helps her mother with housekeeping, getting dressed, and taking her to chemo. Next, she takes Devin to physical therapy, and then does schoolwork with him.
But her life is about to change drastically. Two years ago, she read about Habitat for Humanity in the local paper, and made an application. Habitat builds or renovates homes that people buy through a combination of sweat equity--working on the construction for your home and others'--and an affordable down payment and monthly mortgage. Once she got the application in, the selection process started.
“I was very nervous about the home site visit,” Walker told FirstforWomen.com. “But everyone was impressed: My home is childproofed, autism-proofed, arthritis-proofed. We had all these assisted technologies throughout the house. The staff said, ‘Oh my goodness, how do you do this?’ I just do it.”
Walker and her family were selected—but they still had to do more work to get the down payment. “We had to sit down as a family and treat it like another job. My sons have to stay focused on schoolwork, since better grades help with sweat equity. We buy everything with coupons—if we don’t have a coupon for it, we don't buy it. We saved money for our down payment. It may not be much for anyone else, but it means the world to me,” she says.
Walker tries to put in several hours building, and incorporates the work with schoolwork for Devin. When Demetry is home from college, he helps out, too.
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Credit: Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity
In December, they’ll move into their new home. Unlike their current apartment, it’ll be completely handicap accessible. “My sons won't need assistance from mom to take a shower. They won't need assistance from mom if they want to fix dinner or lunch. That will give them a sense of pride—and freedom,” Walker says.
And because all the neighbors have helped build one another’s houses, there’s a sense of extended family awaiting the Walkers in their new home. “I won't have to worry about them playing outside,” she says. “My boys can succeed in other things in their life because they can apply the lessons they learned with Habitat for Humanity.”
Learn more about Habitat for Humanity, including how to volunteer at one of the organization's Women Build events.
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