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Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East homeowner

When Cecelia received the keys to her brand new home at Cully Place during Habitat for Humanity’s Home Dedication this summer, she was overwhelmed with gratitude. It was another moment in her life when all the connections she nurtured over the years finally came to light. Standing next to her longtime partners at Proud Ground, a special friend listened in the crowd as she recounted the many steps that led her to this day.

“I’m so blessed,” she said. “All of the people in the Proud Ground, NAYA, Habitat family, and all the people who are helping to build my house; my circle is growing.”

As joyful tears came to Cecelia’s eyes, she extended her hand to Loretta, that special friend in the crowd who now works at Habitat and believed in her, years ago, when she was just recovering from a dark valley in her life. She had just completed 90 days at a treatment center in Oregon and was committed to renewing her life in sobriety. Although unemployed and experiencing houselessness, she set out to find a job and a home.

During her eight-month-stay at a women’s shelter, she applied for an internship with Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA). It was here that she met Loretta who, after three months, offered Cecelia a full-time job and championed her to keep going.

“I had to learn how to be the survivor again,” Cecelia said. “If something was there and I needed to work hard to get it then that’s what I would do. I really do feel like I was blessed that I had a good mentor.”

And just like that, she began to rebuild her life piece-by-piece. She entered into the Family Housing program at Home Forward, learned to make peace with her past, and opened a new chapter with her Native community at NAYA. Now, as an IDA Coordinator, she’s revived facets of her previous life working as a civil engineer for the Department of Agriculture where she created bridges between federal and tribal governments. Just like she made sure the elders of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs had their voices heard during policy making decisions about how to take care of Oregonian land and wildlife, she advocates for every NAYA participant to work beyond their current circumstances and find strength in themselves and their community.

“Something I say during my financial wellness class is: ‘If anyone can come up through the ashes like me, so can you,’” Cecelia said. “I’m a firm believer that Creator puts people, obstacles, and good things in my path for a reason so I live every day with an attitude of gratitude.”

As she packs boxes full of vintage and ancestral pieces spanning from her time in Portland all the way back to her pueblo in New Mexico, she counts down the days until she finally gets to move into her new home. She’s excited to meet her new neighbors and, once settled, wants to give back to the Cully community in ways that help people feel the way she felt during the Home Dedication. When people she’s never met before, walked up to her and said, “I just live right over there; I’m your neighbor. You’re really going to like it here.” That simple, yet unexpected kindness reaffirms Cecelia’s belief that every step of her life has been purposeful; every decision has led her here, right where she needs to be.

“I’m so excited to move,” she said. “It’s a different chapter that I’m really looking forward to. I’m going to be part of this neighborhood for a long time.”

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