When paralyzed Rock Island High School football player Travis Hearn died in December 2008, the Habitat for Humanity house that was built for him went back to the organization, and Habitat looked for another buyer who would benefit from the specially constructed home.
Today’s occupants are Alexis Gluck and her family, including
7-year-old Cecilia, whose bright smile belies the multiple health challenges the girl faces every minute of every day.
Ceci was born with spina bifida and cannot walk. She scoots around on her own in a wheelchair, but her bones are brittle and break easily. In March, she will undergo her 28th surgery.
“She sees eight different doctors now,” Gluck said. “Our life is full of appointments.”
Gluck and her family are among the 80 households in the Quad-Cities whose lives have been impacted by the nonprofit organization that builds affordable homes and sells them to working families. The goal is to get families out of housing that is substandard or not adequate for their needs. As Habitat celebrates its 20th year in the Quad-Cities, the Quad-City Times looks in on the lives of four partner families.
Having the opportunity to buy the Habitat home was a “lifesaver” for several reasons, Gluck said, dating to the time three years ago when she became eligible to move in.
Before that, she had been renting a second-floor apartment in East Moline. The apartment was fine, but it was built on a hill. Gluck had to carry Ceci in her wheelchair up 15 steps to the complex, then up another flight to their unit.
The Hearn house is one-story with a wheelchair ramp in the back, has wide doorways and hallways for accessibility and has a roll-in bathroom with a shower.
Also, the affordable house payments — less than she had been paying in rent — allow Gluck to purchase other things for Ceci to make her life better, such as membership in the Girl Scouts and a theater program.
Finally, Gluck is looking ahead to the time when the house will belong to Ceci, allowing her to live as an independent adult. Gluck is already checking ways the kitchen might be altered to allow her daughter to use it.
Meanwhile, Gluck’s own life has changed and the house is also home to two sons, their dad and a stepson. Gluck has a new job, too, as office assistant for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 25 in Rock Island.
“We go through a lot of hard things, but we can’t dwell on how bad it was yesterday,” she said. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
Roberto and Julia Medrano: ‘Dream come true’ for Mexican immigrants
Knock on the door of the two-story house on Davenport’s East 15th Street and you might be greeted by Roberto Medrano Jr., a 7-year-old with a mischievous smile and — as you may discover if you stay long enough — a precocious ability to play the drums.
The door opens to an L-shaped living/dining/kitchen combination that is whistle-clean and clutter-free, with three pieces of furniture: a sofa, a large-screen TV and a dining table with chairs.
Roberto’s parents, Roberto Sr. and Julia, were born in Guanajuato, Mexico. Julia came to the United States when she was 15, her family settling in the Quad-Cities because they have relatives here.
Julia returned to Guanajuato for a wedding and became reacquainted with Roberto. He came to the United States, too, and after several years of dating, they married.
But he wasn’t cleared to live in the United States, so he returned to Mexico. Julia and, eventually, their two sons, lived with her mother as she worked two jobs. Five days a week, she was a para-educator at Davenport’s Jefferson School and the two other days, she was a restaurant cook.
Julia saved her money, waited for Roberto to be approved for immigration and applied to purchase a Habitat home. “Until they decide his case, it was a really hard time,” she said. “It was very hard for me to stay here. I miss my husband.”
In time, both the home and her husband were approved, and the couple moved into the house during December 2009. Their family now includes a daughter, Nelly, 1, in addition to Roberto and Juanpablo, 6.
When Julia talks about what the home means to her, the words tumble over themselves.
“This is love,” she said. “This home comes from many people who help us. A lot of people take days off to help us have this home. There are a lot of memories. I see it. I still see the people working, putting in the doors. Without them, this couldn’t be possible. It’s like a family together. It’s a team.
“I had nothing. I had no beds, no dishes, no table, no nothing. The refrigerator, stove, laundry — the main things you need — you don’t need to spend money. It (the home) comes with that.
“What else can I say?”
Elizabeth Thompson: Hard-fought prize for ex-public aid mom
When she was 29 years old, Elizabeth Thompson returned to the Quad-Cities from Japan to escape an abusive, alcoholic husband. She was 32 weeks pregnant (40 weeks is full-term) and had two sons, ages 6 and 2½, in tow.
Struggle was a constant companion as she started on public aid, returned to college, worked part-time jobs, arranged for child care and found places to live — first with her parents, then in a one-bedroom apartment and finally a three-bedroom.
The latter was through an assistance program that required her to set and work on a goal.
By then, it had been five years since she fled Japan. She had earned her bachelor’s degree, taught at Seton Elementary School in Moline and was off public aid.
She decided her goal would be to buy a home.
“They tried to talk me out of it,” she said recently while sitting in the kitchen of her Habitat home “on the hill” in Moline. The people running the program didn’t think home ownership was realistic.
But Thompson is a pit bull.
“My dream was to have a home for my sons, and there was no way in hell I was going to give that up,” she said. “Poverty is a nightmare, but it does teach you a lot.”
Her home is one of three Habitat houses built on land that had once been the grounds of a mansion. The front of her driveway is made of bricks that were part of the original circular drive.
There’s a deck (a special gift from Wells Fargo) overlooking a wooded ravine, a storage shed (new to Habitat homes at the time) and a two-car garage that Thompson built herself. Habitat does not build garages, but it does pour a concrete pad so a family can add its own. In addition, Thompson has installed a bathroom in her basement.
She also has earned a master’s degree in math from Western Illinois University, teaches geometry and algebra at Alleman Catholic High School in Rock Island, and her sons are now 25, 22 and 19.
“It takes your breath away,” she said of her home. “Every time I pull in the driveway, I can’t believe it. This is my house!”
Koffi and Essi Tete: Leaving Toga in search of better life
It’s a cold winter day, and Koffi Tete is helping to build what will be his two-story house on Davenport’s 8th Street, across from Zion Lutheran Church.
It’s been a challenging site for Habitat. Two of the portable toilets dropped off for workers were burned, and the grounds are attracting trash, such as an old TV, that must be hauled away.
But Habitat and Tete are undeterred.
The house will mean a better life for him and his family — wife, Essi, two daughters and a son — and that is the reason he emigrated from Togo, a country in west Africa, in the first place. He is driven, he has goals.
He arrived in the Quad-Cities in December 2003, and although he is a graduate of the University of Togo and had been a math teacher, his first job here was as a meat cutter at Tyson Foods in Joslin, Ill. After nearly five years, he worked his way up to a management position in the production process.
Now, he is an internal auditor at Blackhawk Bank & Trust in Colona, having started as a teller. He also has completed a master’s degree in economics from Western Illinois University and has his sights set on a Ph.D.
His family lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Moline.
His home will be Habitat’s 79th in the Quad-Cities, and it will be dedicated with a celebration in April to mark the organization’s 20th anniversary here.