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Donna, Christopher and Family
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Planting trees and putting down roots

After a 13-year wait, Donna learned that her mother’s petition had been approved and she was being offered a U.S. visa. The decision to leave the Philippines and move her family to the U.S. would, at times, prove gut-wrenching. It would mean leaving her children and husband behind until she could get settled. “I didn’t want to go, but then I would think about my kids,” Donna says. “I didn’t want to deprive them of the opportunities here. And I knew that if I didn’t go, I would lose the chance forever. I cried every day. The only time I wouldn’t cry was when I was at work.” She saved her money to move her family as soon as she could. A year later, her children joined her, but it would take several more years before her husband, Christopher, could join the family. “She sacrificed a lot for us,” Christopher says.

As Donna, a paraprofessional, struggled to find a place that she could afford, apartment life took its toll on her and her three kids. They were cramped. The children — 16-year-old Tristan, 13-year-old Tyler and 9-year-old Amber — all shared a room. No apartment in the budget had a laundry facility. Donna carried the family’s clothes to the laundromat through rain and snow. “It got so hard,” Donna says.

Donna knew it wasn’t realistic to consider buying a home, but it was still her goal. Any time she saw a flyer for a homebuying fair or classes, she would go. “I knew I couldn’t afford it yet,” she says. “But I wanted to learn, prepare myself and do everything I could.” It was at one of these fairs where she learned about Habitat. After Christopher joined her in the States, they applied as soon as they were able to meet the qualifications, and they were delighted to be quickly approved. “Donna studied,” says Christopher, who works as a maintenance technician. “She learned everything she could for us to be ready to apply to Habitat.”

The couple fulfilled their sweat-equity hours around their work schedules. They spent many Saturdays on the build site. “Volunteering was really fun,” Donna says. “There were people who built with us who had been volunteering with Habitat for 15 years. The days would fly by working with them. They are beautiful people.”

Their home is everything they hoped. There’s plenty of room for the children to have their own space and discover who they are. There is one moment Donna looks forward to most of all. Everything will be perfect, she says, when the weather’s warm enough to plant an apple tree. Apples don’t grow in the Philippines. “An apple was the first food I wanted to taste when I came to America. I loved it,” she says. “And now I’m going to grow an apple tree in the front yard of my new home. It’s a dream.”

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