DeAsha Russell visits her family’s home country of Jamaica often. She loves her homeland, but is a determined young women with dreams of building something for herself here in America. Her mother, Dahlia, immigrated to Portland while she was pregnant with DeAsha. The family spent the first two years in Portland living with her grandmother.

DeAsha’s family is very close, always has been. “In Jamaica if you can’t do something on your own, family will do it for you,” she said. They were lucky to have family in Portland that could take them in but it was tight living quarters and not a permanent option. With 10 people living in a house, crowded was an understatement.

DeAsha’s grandmother told Dahlia about Habitat for Humanity and felt that it would be a good option for the family. Dahlia was finishing school and worked nights. Even though Dahlia’s schedule was full, both Dahlia and DeAsha’s older brother, Damien, put in sweat equity hours to help build their future home. When DeAsha was two years old, they moved into the family’s new Habitat home after purchasing it with an affordable mortgage.

At age three, she befriended a girl named Shaylee who lived in the Habitat home next door. DeAsha quickly became best friends with her new neighbor. They did everything together–walked to Vernon elementary school, played in the nearby park, and they even created a secret knock code between the walls of the two homes. With birthdays only three days apart, these best friends celebrated together like family.

As they grew up, DeAsha and Shaylee both attended Benson Polytechnic High School. DeAsha took communications and technical classes. Through her radio classes, she pursued her love of communication and set her sights on becoming a lawyer.

DeAsha now attends Warner Pacific and Portland Community College, all while working two jobs at OHSU and as a TSA agent. She still aspires to have a career in law, but recently took some psychology courses that sparked her interest. Her best friend Shaylee still lives next door and is working as a teacher.

Dahlia has been a postal worker for as long as DeAsha can remember. DeAsha credits her mother’s hard work and determination for where they are today as a family. As she stands below the certificate her mother received when they first purchased their Habitat home, Dahlia smiles. “Our family has grown a lot but we’re still always here for each other. My mom has done a lot for all of us.”

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