The Merello family is home for the holidays

Story by Kathy Oxborrow

Lluvia Merello was only three when her family moved to the United States from Peru. Escaping from domestic violence, Lluvia’s mother relocated her four children to California where Lluvia’s grandmother lived.

“We camped in my grandmother’s backyard when we first arrived,” said Lluvia.

Eventually the family packed up again and moved to Eugene. Lluvia’s mother made jewelry and found Eugene to be a more lucrative marketplace for her creations than southern California.

After graduating from high school, Lluvia moved around a lot, living and working in Texas and Louisiana as a cook, baker and cake decorator. She had her son, Ahmand, and when he was school age she decided to move back to Oregon and work toward a college degree in social work at Portland State University. During college, Lluvia interned at the Native American Youth and Family Center and never left. To this day, she still works in their foster care support program.

Arriving in Portland from Texas, the only place she could afford to live was in very bad condition. But the apartment building afforded her a supportive environment from neighbors.

“We created a really awesome community there,” she said. “Without the support of my neighbors, I don’t know if I would have been able to finish college.”

Lluvia applied to other affordable housing programs without much success, but she decided to try applying again at Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East. “This time everything fell into place.”

She and Ahmand discussed adding a foster child to their family before applying for her Habitat home. During the Habitat application process, two-year-old Brayden, a member of the Warm Springs Tribe, came to live with them. A year later, Christopher, who is Rosebud Sioux and Cherokee, increased the family size to four.

“Native American youth are disproportionately represented in the foster care system,” Lluvia said. “Every effort is made to place them with families that can keep them connected to their culture.”

Because of her indigenous heritage, Lluvia is a prime candidate to foster Native American children. And her three-bedroom Habitat home is perfect for the family, plus it is close to her work.

“Habitat was one of my only chances for homeownership,” she said, “Because I had zero credit.”

Lluvia had never borrowed money before. She said it would have taken her years to build up the kind of credit she would have needed for a conventional mortgage.

“Every day I wake up and am thankful that I have a home for these boys,” she said.

She knows that her two foster children may not spend all their lives with her, but there will always be a connection to her family and her home for them. “We will be here for them,” she said.

As a single parent, she has her hands full raising Ahmand, Brayden, and Christopher, plus working full time. Lluvia exudes a quiet certitude and grace that gives one confidence in her ability to handle the responsibilities she has undertaken.

Lluvia thoroughly enjoyed putting in her 500 hours of sweat equity before moving into her Habitat home, even if meant shoveling dirt and sometimes mud. She liked working alongside other Habitat families and getting to know the Glisan Gardens community.

“Every time I’m at Glisan Gardens it’s going to have those memories and those connections,” she said.