By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
Get our newsletter
ROCKFORD — Charae Howard needed a moment to herself the first time she stepped into one of the newly carpeted rooms of her first home.
“I was crying, and I closed the room door and I just kind of laid there, making a snow angel,” Howard said. “That’s how I felt, blissful. It still feels like that, like a dream right now.”
Howard shared that story Sunday at the culmination of a more than two-year process to build her new home with Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity. After the coronavirus pandemic delayed construction for roughly a year, Howard was finally handed the keys to her home Sunday during an emotional dedication ceremony.
The mother of four said her new house in south Rockford has the potential to be transformational for her family, who were living in a two-bedroom apartment in the Concord Commons housing project on the city’s west end before being accepted into Habitat’s program. She has lived in the Orton Keyes public housing complex for nearly two years since while waiting for the home to be completed.
“I’m so glad my kids have somewhere where we can live and be proud,” Howard said. “My kids will be able to go out and play in the yard without me having to worry about them being in a dangerous environment.”
Howard’s home is one of six Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity is building this year and next. It was funded in part by Thrivent Financial, which provided a $70,000 gift covering roughly half the cost, and the Blazer Foundation, which helped make the home accessible for people with disabilities.
(story continues below photo)
A team of volunteers started building the home in 2020, but construction was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic not long after the foundation was laid. Work picked up again this summer, with Howard alongside the volunteer construction team helping to clean, paint, caulk and do any other odd jobs she could to help build her home.
“I can truly say I know my home inside and out,” she said. “We are definitely going to turn this house into a home.”
After being handed her keys Sunday, Howard told people gathered for the dedication about the trials she faced before connecting with Habitat. She had struggled to keep steady work, in part because she lacked access to child care. Her children are ages 11, 6, 5, and 4, and the youngest has microcephaly, a developmental disability that requires extra care.
“I was not this same person three years ago,” she said. “I was lost, I was unhappy with myself, my life.”
She said she asked God to help her do three things: Find steady work, get a college degree and move into a new home.
“God gave me everything I asked for, plus more,” she said, powering through tears. “I couldn’t be more grateful and humble to go through this and share this with everyone.”
Howard now works in Rockford’s Human Services Department for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. She earned a degree in paralegal services and, starting Monday, will live in a new four-bedroom home with a garage, two full bathrooms, a yard and washer and dryer.
“Just those small things are everything,” she said.
Habitat’s program gives access to homeownership to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford their first home. Recipients must pay 30% of their monthly gross income as mortgage.
Keri Asevedo, executive director of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity, said she remembered when Howard told her about her three goals. Hearing her say she had achieved them on Sunday was emotional, rewarding and humbling, Asevedo said.
“These are my favorite days,” Asevedo said. “Charae is such a caring, kind spirit. She’s one of the few people I’ve met that’s thanked me for a mortgage payment.”