For Mel and her son, Angelo, having a home of their own has been life-changing. Mel went back to school and earned her Master of Art and Art Education degree from New Hampshire School of Art and now teaches K-5th graders about the joys of creation. After attending a Habitat homeownership education class about community development, she joined East County Rising—a Portland advocacy group focused on fueling more civic engagement. And in addition to exhibiting her artwork at local galleries, she wants to get certified in respite care.

She lives each day purposefully–at once an artist, mother, and advocate. She wants a full life for Angelo, who’s disabled, and is currently co-parenting in order to give him a more diverse upbringing.  With their new home just a couple blocks away from a MAX station, Angelo has learned to navigate the whole city by himself. He hops on the train to go to school and the Boys & Girls Club. And he just graduated from New Avenues for Youth where he learned life and job training skills to apply once he completes high school in June.

“It has been blessing after blessing,” Mel said. “I don’t know where we would have been if we didn’t have Habitat. None of this would have been possible.”

Before Mel applied to Habitat’s homeownership program, she was working two part-time jobs in addition to caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s. She moved to Portland in hopes of landing a full-time career as an art teacher, but instead entered an extremely competitive job market where she had to pay half her earnings in rent. Still, she was determined to provide stability to her family.

Two and a half years later, she and Angelo are part of a community where they feel supported. They know their neighbors and it’s a place where everyone has each other’s back. Her daughter, Josette, and granddaughter live across the street in a mobile community. Mel said having her family so close is a gift and having such good neighbors ties everything together.

“It’s more than just a home,” she said. “Having been fortunate to become a Habitat homeowner, I feel strongly that not everyone gets this opportunity. I have to give back within the Habitat organization and within the community at large.”

Mel said her end goal is to see Angelo be more independent in a community that supports him and for him to find meaningful work. Once that’s accomplished, Mel would like to retire and join the Peace Corps.