By Monicia Warner, Volunteer Storyteller
By the time Molly O’Donnell got involved with Habitat for Humanity, she had already been working with Habitat as a volunteer alongside friends and family. Molly and her four sons had relocated to Portland from the east coast and were residing with her parents in their home in NE Portland.
“I was a single mom, I raised four kids and left a domestic violence situation,” Molly said. “I lived with my mom and dad, I lived with my sister for a while, with the kids. You can only do that for so long.”
Molly was working towards financial independence post-divorce and assisting families with low-incomes in her role as Director of Save First at Catholic Charities. Despite her busy schedule, she often made time to volunteer with Habitat. One day on the build site, a friend recommended she apply to Habitat’s affordable homeownership program. Despite thinking that she wouldn’t qualify, Molly submitted an application and spent some time working on her finances. She began paying down her debt, setting budgets, and saving. By the time she got the call from Habitat, she was ready to start a new chapter.
“It was a dream come true for us,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly exciting. I could still cry about it.”
Molly had plenty of help accruing the hours she needed to make homeownership a reality for herself and her sons. All four of her kids pitched in with “sweat equity” hours, regularly volunteering at the Habitat office and building their own home alongside one another, picking up skills that would later help them perform maintenance on the property.
“All of them felt a very vested interest in the house,” Molly said. “For me it was character-building, for them, it helped them provide a home for their family. It was very cool.”
Molly credits Habitat for helping change her family’s trajectory. Since moving into her new home, she’s hosted several family gatherings including college graduation parties for her sons. With an affordable mortgage, she was able to save even more and invest in her home; making improvements that have turned heads in the neighborhood.
“We landscaped the yard and put in a patio and added a roof over the patio,” she said. “I had a neighbor say to me ‘I landscape my yard because yours looks so nice.’”
Although Molly has experienced a few challenges as a first-time homeowner, she’s grateful for the stability it provided for her family. She even recommends it to families in the course of her work.
“It’s a program that empowers people – to me, it’s one of the best programs around,” she said. “I’m in social services, so I know what’s out there and I highly recommend it.”