As the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, I get to witness firsthand what great joy owning a home can bring. For example, each year, lumber from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is donated to create the frame for a house that a family will purchase. Many times, those homeowners speak with deep gratitude as they recall the gift of the lumber. Often, they say that having their own home is like experiencing Christmas every day.

I also hear joy in the voices of families who are eager to tell me about their homes.

Building a dream

It’s the kids who always get to me the most. Several years ago in El Salvador, I bent down and looked into the eyes of Alexandra, a little girl who told me her dreams of becoming a lawyer so she could help other families. Her mother, Azucena, was already living her dream. Azucena had always wanted to be a hairdresser and own her own salon, but as a single mother that had been impossible. For many years, she struggled just to survive.

When she became a homeowner, however, she was able to set up a shop in the house where she could also be near her girls. The business grew, so she added on to her home, and eventually one of the other daughters joined her as a hairdresser. They were thrilled when they finally felt like they were moving forward. I got to visit with Alexandra again last year, and, with those same twinkling eyes, she told me she is doing well in school and still wants to be a lawyer.

Healing families in need 

“Accruing equity and improving their financial situations by purchasing a home provides many families with a new sense of security and hope for the future.”

On another occasion, I found myself being half-smothered by the embrace of an incredibly effusive woman who had come charging at me from out of nowhere at an event in New York City. She wanted me to know how much better her family was doing after moving into their own, healthy home.

Daniel, her youngest, had been rushed to the emergency room with asthmatic seizures far too many times. His condition was aggravated by rodents and mold in the apartment where they formerly lived. After the move, however, everything changed. Daniel became a lively, talkative little boy who rarely became ill.

Fortifying after misfortune

And sometimes, the happy moments come in totally unexpected ways. Helen is a homemaker in the Philippines — in every sense of the word. She is a wife; she is a mother to three beautiful children; and she is a certified carpenter and mason. She built her family’s house with her own hands.

She explained how she placed the concrete foundation, wove the bamboo strips into walls, plastered them with cement to make them stronger, welded the steel frames and riveted bolts to the roof. When she got hot and tired, she said all she could think about was giving her family a better home.

The shanty that her family once lived in was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. As a result of the disaster, she learned skills working on her new house and ultimately trained to become a formal builder. Her great joy was that she was able to get a job and that the family could finally start saving money.

A new lease on the future

Accruing equity and improving their financial situations by purchasing a home provides many families with a new sense of security and hope for the future. Often, they invest themselves in their communities and create a ripple effect of strength and success as well.

Many homeowners also point to the little things. For example, they often beam when they tell about all the “firsts” in their new homes — like holiday celebrations when they gather with those they love and offer thanks. Emotions run deep when dreams finally become a reality.