Story by Kathy Oxborrow
Being a single mother is one of the hardest jobs one can have, but Mel in an exceptional case. In her life, Mel has adopted and raised three children with various degrees of developmental disabilities.
Mel lived next door to the children and their grandparents for eight years. She spent time with them trying to offer some stability in their troubled home life. Fed up with the gang violence and the occasional drive-by shooting, she moved a short distance away. Eventually the children were removed from the home and put in foster care. Because Mel had fostered two other children and she had established a relationship with the children, they were placed in her care leading to their adoption.
The two oldest children are out on their own now and doing well, but 16-year-old Angelo, who is the most severely disabled, still lives with Mel. “Angelo will always need an adult in his life,” she said.
Raised in Portland, Mel moved back from Colorado with her children to care for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “I thought, oh I’m moving to Portland, this liberal enclave. I’m sure I’ll be able to get a job in my field,” she explained.
But she couldn’t find work as an elementary school art teacher and was only able to secure employment as a teaching assistant. Income from that job limited her to a one-bedroom apartment, which consumed more than half of her paycheck. And the rent kept rising.
She said the apartment was really hard on Angelo, who was living in a group home while learning to manage his behavior. He would visit on weekends, but there was no stable place for him to call home.
Mel was no stranger to Habitat when she applied last fall. Twenty-five years ago she had served as volunteer coordinator for a Colorado Habitat affiliate.
“I was thinking one day and wondering if I would qualify for Habitat and did the application and here we are today,” she said. The family was accepted into the program and Mel got to work completing her sweat equity hours. Mel remembers the exact time she moved into her new Habitat home—June 29, 2016 at 10:00am.
Things began looking up for the family. In addition to being accepted into Habitat’s homeownership program, Mel found a part-time job teaching art to elementary students to supplement her income as a substitute teacher.
Now settled in, her background as an art teacher shows through in her brightly decorated Habitat home, filled with objects she has collected and refurbished. “I found these chairs on the side of the road and then recovered them,” she says. “I’m a scavenger.” Her kitchen features a colorful backsplash made from Mexican tile that she installed herself with the help of some friends.
She says Angelo loves his new home where he has his own bedroom. He is transitioning out of the group home and comes to their Habitat home every day after school and on weekends. Entertaining friends wasn’t something he was comfortable doing in the small apartment, but now he’s inviting friends over on the weekends. Next February, Angelo will leave the group home and live full time with Mel.
“I’m very fortunate to be blessed,” she said, “and to have a home where Angelo is transitioning back so nicely.”