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The Story of a Movement 30 Years in the Making.

One story for every impactful year.

Since 1990

Thousands of people have had a hand in creating safe, decent and affordable housing in Northeast Los Angeles, Glendale, Pasadena, and the San Gabriel Valley. Despite the housing crisis still being a significant problem in our state and country, the impact that these people have had is substantial and generational.

Through the compassion and generosity of people from all walks of life, what was once a dream for Ace and Mavis Cain, the founders of San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity, has turned into a movement of housing for all – powered by the same community it serves – one nail, one brushstroke – one story at a time.

Join us as we look back at three decades of stories from people in your community involved in making home a possibility – for everyone.

Ofelia

Proud Homeowner and Board Member

Ofelia is no stranger to the impact of what having an affordable home can do for a family – in a state where 1 out of 5 people pay 50% or more of their income in rent.

Ofelia and her two sons, Andres and Jesus (above), moved into their Pasadena home in 2018 and have since seen dramatic changes in their lives. Having the security of an affordable and stable mortgage, Ofelia was able to purchase reliable transportation for her family.

Andres and Jesus have blossomed in their new home. With a quiet and stable place to focus on their studies, they’ve become great achievers in school. In fact – Andres is heading off to college in the upcoming semester.

Aside from being forever grateful, Ofelia says she “will always continue to pay it forward and do anything I can do to make this dream possible for other families.”

Cynthia

Single Power Mom and Habitat Team Member

Cynthia is fairly new to the SGV Habitat family. As a single mother of two, Cynthia was looking for a job that she and her daughters could be proud of.

After her time as a temporary administrative assistant was over, Cynthia left thinking her time with Habitat was over – but lucky for us, that was not the case! Just one week after leaving, she came back to fill one of our dedicated ReStore Donation Coordinator positions and now makes a difference in her community by processing all incoming ReStore donations and managing our ReStore social media pages!

Since joining the family, she’s been able to expand her knowledge of what the cost of home means for families including her own and has become a true ambassador for the communities she serves. Cynthia recalls her favorite memory so far with SGV Habitat:

“I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer during a home dedication ceremony. I helped set up and volunteer at the event and was blown away by the homes. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotion that I witnessed. As the extended family of a homeowner toured their family member’s new home. Her arms outstretched for an embrace, I heard through the tears in her voice, “You have a home!” That’s when it hit me, we are changing the lives of families for generations to come.”

Cynthia’s Habitat story is proof of the impact one person can have on an entire community. As the face of our ReStores, she’s brought awareness of the good our ReStore donors and shoppers do for families all over the San Gabriel Valley – each and every day! Want to see more of her? Follow our Azusa and Atwater ReStore Instagram pages!

Ricardo

Habitat Volunteer and Life-Changer

Ricardo’s story is one of perseverance and compassion. Growing up, he lived no differently than other struggling families in our world today. He has gone from having to sleep on the floor on a stack of blankets to serving his community as a Habitat volunteer. His struggles, like those of many, are what made him who he is today.

“I came from a family of nine kids…we grew up in the outskirts of South Central Los Angeles. We were latchkey kids. My dad worked two jobs and my mom worked one job. For the most part, the kids looked after each other.”

Despite the circumstances his family lived under, Ricardo was taught to be respectful and to give back to those who were less fortunate.

“My mom was always considerate of others. She would always think of those who were less fortunate. She always taught me to be respectful and was always giving back.

“I grew up with very strong Catholic Christian values. One of the passages in the Bible that speaks volumes to me is the parable of the Good Samaritan – where it says if you see someone suffering, you do something about it. You don’t just walk by and leave them suffering on the road.

“There is something bigger than myself. People are important. We need to take care of others who are less fortunate.”

Ricardo’s journey with Habitat was by coincidence, but it was something he knew he needed to do – and it started with an invitation from a group at work to volunteer with Habitat to build a home.

“I always wanted to do something like this. There is nothing more important than to provide someone with shelter. When I go home, I have a very comfortable house. There are lots of people out there who don’t have homes. I thought – what greater gift than to help someone have a home.”

What keeps Ricardo coming back? The experience and the people.

“They were so welcoming, so polite, and so friendly. […] What really impressed me was the way that they cared. They believe in what they are doing. There is a sense of family, cohesion, partnership, and friendship. That was the catalyst that made me want to be engaged with Habitat forever.”

The moment Ricardo cherishes most is no surprise. As many of our supporters have said, the home dedications are among the most emotionally charged events that leave a lasting impression.

“To see the families go into their [completed] homes for the first time – I could tell how excited and happy they were. That brought everything full circle. I could see the fruit of everyone’s labor. The expressions on their faces, their happiness, their sense of disbelief. Just seeing those emotions on their faces was very fulfilling.

“I’m proud to be part of the Habitat legacy because I can put my Christian values into action. It is one thing to be able to talk the talk and the other is to walk the walk. When your actions match the words and you’re doing something you believe in and helping others at the same time, there is nothing that makes me prouder.”

Sayaka

Habitat Team Member and Proud Mom

Sayaka is no stranger to Habitat’s mission. In fact, she’s been an SGV Habitat employee since January 2007! As our Director of Finance, her Habitat story is one of determination, adaptation, and 13 years of dedicated service to families all over the San Gabriel Valley.

In 2007, Sayaka was job searching with no luck. “I came to study in the United States […] and received my MBA. As a non-native English speaker from Japan with limited work experience, it was so hard to find a job,” Sayaka said, but that didn’t stop her. “After applying for so many jobs, I got an offer to join the Habitat team!”

Once onboard, Sayaka leveraged her education, honed her skills and grew with Habitat – first as accountant, then as senior accountant, and, eventually, as director of finance! “I’ve learned so much about Habitat and fell in love with my job because it touches all aspects of what Habitat does to help families. I love the mission and the staff! I get to work with people who are just as passionate as I am to help families in my community every day.” Among the many things she loves about Habitat, the traditions are what she enjoys most.

It is Habitat tradition that once a project is completed, a home dedication takes place where public officials, donors, and other supporters join the new homeowner families as they receive the keys to their new homes. When Sayaka’s son, Aiden, was born, she couldn’t wait to bring him to home dedications. He is now a regular at Habitat events—hardhat and all!

“Every time I bring him to the home dedications, he really enjoys and plays with the homeowners’ kids. At the Desiderio home dedication, he kept going back to one of the houses and saying ‘I love this house so much!’”

When Sayaka reflects on her years as a Habitat employee, she encourages everyone take part in this tradition. “Go to the home dedications. There is nothing more precious than celebrating, with everyone, the moment a family gets their keys.”

Greg

Dedicated Long-Time Habitat Volunteer

Greg has been a Habitat volunteer for over ten years. He has impacted the lives of families throughout the San Gabriel Valley by lending a helping hand and a lot of elbow grease at our home repair and new home construction projects.

“I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s home repair projects in Temple City, Azusa, Altadena, San Gabriel and El Monte. It was a way to keep busy after retiring from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. I also worked on new home construction projects like the Kenwood, Geneva, Chestnut and Lomita condominium builds as well as the more recent home construction sites – the Desiderio, Manzanita and Collegian projects.”

Greg was inspired to volunteer with Habitat after learning more about our home repair and homeownership programs. He appreciates the skills that homeowners are able to achieve when building or repairing their own home.

“I choose to volunteer with Habitat because I truly believe in the principle of sweat equity and affordable homeownership for first-time homebuyers. I have met great people through volunteering and have built strong relationships. I’ve enjoyed meeting the first-time home buyers and helping new volunteers develop some skills along the way.

“I would tell anyone that is considering volunteering to just do it!  Everybody has something to contribute. And it is very satisfying to know that you are helping these deserving families acquire their first-time home and have a new beginning.”

Being on time is important to Greg, but he recalls the days when he wasn’t as timely. This was just one of the many fun moments he had out on the construction sites.

“Being a volunteer, it’s very important to be on time for work. It was especially important to the superintendent. As each year passed, my ‘on time’ promptness began to lag; prompting one of my friends to faithfully greet me with, ‘What happened? Did your alarm clock fail again?’ To which, I replied, ‘What’s an alarm clock?’”

Greg continues to volunteer when he can – and we asked him what keeps bringing him back.

“What I appreciate the most about San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity is the friendships that I have developed with volunteers and staff. I especially enjoy the small group of volunteers I call, ‘The Regulars.’ We have been working together for many years. We usually work on the same projects, helping and relying upon each other when needed.”

There is no doubt that over the years, Greg’s impact on families has created a ripple effect of self-reliance and independence. His Habitat legacy is a 10-year effort of giving back – and one that will last for generations to come.

Crissy

Women Builder and Habitat Volunteer

Crissy’s three-year story with Habitat starts before she moved to California.

“I wanted to work specifically with Habitat for Humanity. Having been personally involved in some ambitious home restoration projects that were very satisfying, I was very excited to have the opportunity to work on a home construction project.  I wanted to go big and wanted a weekday, hands-on volunteer project that resulted in an outcome that I could see and touch. [Habitat] was a great fit for me.”

“I continue to support [Habitat’s] mission in a number of ways. I worked on the Lomita and Manzanita homesites and completed some home repair and painting projects in Pasadena.

“I am a member of the Women Build Planning Committee where I offer staff a volunteer perspective and enjoy my duties helping to recruit and coordinate crew leaders for the event. I am also really thrilled about volunteering at the new ReStore in Duarte.  You can bet I’ll be there as a customer as well as a volunteer!

“I also feel very fortunate to be a member of the Builder’s Club. I feel really good about giving monthly because I know those dollars are going to help support the mission and strengthen our community.”

Some of her favorite moments with Habitat have been at construction sites – where the magic really happens.

“I have had the opportunity to not only meet but work side-by-side with several of the homeowners. They are so grateful for the opportunity to obtain homeownership through Habitat and appreciate the help of volunteers. They take pride in working on not only their own home, but the project as a whole – as a community. This is what it’s all about – giving back.”

As a parting thought, Crissy has this to say to potential volunteers and donors:

“A safe and secure home provides stability for families, it is an investment in the health of the family and is a foundation for the success and future of children. We see first-hand living in the current pandemic that we have an obligation to help one another. Now more than ever, investing time and financial support in Habitat is so important to help meet the housing needs of families and to help strengthen our community.”

Elaine

Home and Relationship Builder

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Elaine Wilkerson began her planning career in the private sector. Elaine’s commitment to excellence and passion for public service opened new opportunities for her as a consultant, city planner and community development professional in Canada and the United States.

In 2005, as part of her work as Planning Director for the City of Glendale, Elaine attended a San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity home dedication on Pacific Avenue where she and hundreds of attendees celebrated the completion of four new homes. After Elaine retired in 2006, she became a Habitat volunteer. “The wonderful experience I had at the home dedication of watching families open the doors of their new homes inspired me to get involved,” said Elaine. “With Habitat, I knew I could help make a difference in the housing crisis.”

Elaine fully invested herself in helping families, in need, become Habitat homeowners, as she moved from the site selection committee to the SGV Habitat board and the homeowner selection committee. In 2012, she was appointed to board of directors. In 2014, her leadership propelled her into the role of Board President.  Just as in her professional career, Elaine approached each of her volunteer roles at Habitat with the same tenacity and persistence. Habitat staff, donors, supporters, and homeowners would agree!

“Something I will always remember about Elaine is her leadership and commitment. Elaine would show up at the construction site nearly every morning at 7:50 am to thank the volunteers and give the usual morning talk. No matter how many times she’d give her talk, her speech never grew old. It was so inspiring that volunteers would start their shift with a smile and end their day inspired to come back.”

– Alejandra, Habitat Homeowner

“When I was on the design review board for the City of Glendale, [Elaine] was planning director. I can’t tell you how much she supported me and helped me. When I ran for city council, Elaine was my campaign manager. She got me elected. If it wasn’t for Elaine, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. In terms of my political life, she is the foundational woman in my political career.”

– Laura Friedman, Habitat Advocate & California State Assembly Member (District 43)

Elaine retired from the board of directors in 2018, but her legacy and involvement continues to this day. Thanks in part to her efforts, more than 50 families, including Alejandra’s, live in safe, decent and affordable housing in the San Gabriel Valley region.

Jonathan

Educator and Dream Maker

From Sierra Madre, Jonathan has supported San Gabriel Habitat for Humanity for decades. A dedicated community member and Director at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, Jonathan’s journey with Habitat started off in a unique way – beginning with a group of empowered high school students!

“Over twenty years ago, I was a faculty advisor for a program called Habitat for Humanity High School initiative. This program was a consortium of high school students that got together to raise money to build entire houses for Habitat.

“These kids were actually raising enough money to fund an entire house and would go on the weekends to work on a house. When the program ended, I started working directly with San Gabriel Valley Habitat on the board of directors for a number of years and was the board president for one year. I have been a donor for the last ten years.”

His love for Habitat is deep – and for so many reasons.

“You’re doing so much more for a family than just affecting how much food they’re getting at a particular time, you’re affecting their entire life and the trajectory of their children. We know that when folks have stable and safe housing, their level of income will increase and their children are more likely to go to college, so you’re making a profound effect on a family.

“All donations, whether that be time or funds, go towards the building of a house for a family. ReStore [sales] fund the organization and then anything left over goes towards the actual mission of building houses and creating good living situations for families.”

Jonathan’s most memorable moment during his time with Habitat was actually before he even started as a board member – while he was still the faculty advisor for the Habitat for Humanity High School Initiative.

“These kids raised 80,000 to 100,000 dollars each year. The fact that they saw they could do it and the effect they could have was very gratifying to see. Not many high school kids come together and raise that much money and do that much good work – it empowered them.”

He has this to say to potential San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity supporters:

“Look at the mission that Habitat has and what it does. There’s a misconception that Habitat builds houses and then gives them away – which it doesn’t do. It provides the [affordable] mortgages and the families put in their own time and effort on their houses. It is not just an organization that hands out houses to people, it’s an organization that creates affordable housing and increases the stability and success of families through empowerment.”

Jonathan’s commitment to advancing affordable housing and serving the community has impacted several generations of families throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

Nick

Habitat Family Member and Community Builder

Nick’s (Pictured Right – Rear) life is an example of how a stable home can lead to brighter futures. As the eldest of five born in Manila, Philippines in 1986, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1994. As successful as he has become, however, his family didn’t always have it easy.

“We [used to] moved around often. The factors that usually contributed to my parent’s decision to move included rising rent, relocating to a better school district, and finding more space for a growing family.”

Like so many families, overcrowding was also a challenge, but his parents tried their best to make a better life for their children and relatives.

“We usually had my aunt or grandmother also staying with us. My parents worked very hard to make sure we had the essentials.

“It was difficult finding quiet times to study when living in a crowded room. There were plenty of times when it was easier to do homework in the very early mornings or the very late evenings when everyone else was sleeping in order to help me focus.”

Living in these conditions was difficult – but then things changed for the better after moving into their Habitat home.

“Our home certainly solved the practical day-to-day concerns such as making sure we had adequate space to study, but I know that it also alleviated stressors and concerns that burdened their thoughts.

“My parents were patient with me and helped me understand that this was far from ‘charity’ and that Habitat’s mission was to provide a ‘hand up’. Moreover, being involved in the actual build process of our home only solidified this notion and helped me gain a unique perspective to home ownership.“

After moving into his new home, Nick got more involved with SGV Habitat, including participating in a six year term on the board of directors.

“My time on SGV Habitat’s board was my way of paying forward all the amazing things the organization has done to help my family and the community. I look back at my time on the board as a reminder that for meaningful, worthwhile things to happen – people need to come together and dedicate their time to solve complex issues that usually don’t have a clear path forward.”

Nick was able to flourish in his own career as well.

“I graduated from the USC Marshall School of Business and Leventhal School of Accounting. From there, I started my career as a CPA with EY before moving on to PwC as a management consultant in its Deals Advisory group. Following my stints in the financial services industry, I moved on to the media and entertainment industry, where I’ve largely worked in finance and strategy teams.

“In 2017, I moved to Singapore with my wife as she pursued a career opportunity. I was fortunate enough to find a role in The Walt Disney Company as part of its strategy and business development teams overseeing efforts across Asia Pacific.”

Throughout his life, Nick has seen the value of stability at home. Today, he shares his story and encourages others to get involved.

“I can’t think of a more effective way to raise current and future living standards, increase opportunities, and elevate the trajectories for families than giving them a chance to own their own homes. Families are increasingly excluded from the chance to own a home, whether it be for economic or regulatory reasons. Habitat is fighting that uphill battle to try to remedy this less than optimal situation.

“there are few missions that organizations strive to achieve that directly improve the lives of families and the community at large. Housing, especially in California, is a dire need and Habitat is working towards bridging the gap. There is no price that can be given to the peace of mind home ownership can give to a family.”

Donna

Dedicated Habitat Volunteer and Affordable Housing Advocate

Donna’s life was certainly not without its challenges. She grew up in a home with limited resources, but resilience prevailed – and she has devoted herself to a life of service and to her community.

“I grew up not having the world handed to me, and I’m very fortunate that I was able to make a success out of my life.”

As a Monrovia resident and local real estate agent, Donna knows first-hand the importance of affordable housing. For nearly three decades, Donna has built Habitat homes locally and abroad.

“Working with Habitat is a very rewarding experience. I get to see people in need […] live in and afford their very own home…”

In the early 90s Donna helped San Gabriel Valley Habitat wherever she could, including stuffing envelopes. She even organized the first-ever Women Build event, an initiative that  has since grown into our largest annual event where women from all walks of life come together to solve the housing crisis right here in San Gabriel Valley!

Eventually, Donna advocated for the successful construction of four Habitat homes in her hometown of Monrovia, and even volunteered as a plumber at a Carter Work Project in Thailand.

“85 houses were being built in a week’s time to honor the 85th birthday of the king of Thailand. 3,000 people from 57 different countries were involved. Our team built two houses! That was one of the best experiences of [my] life.”

Back home, Donna served on the family selection committee, a group of volunteers responsible for processing homebuyer applications. Through her involvement in the committee, she selected the families that now live in the Burkett Homes in El Monte.

“That was a really eye-opening experience to be involved like that. I learned so much about Habitat offering a hand up and not a handout.”

Donna continues to grow in her commitment to serve and help others. Today, Donna serves on the affordable housing committee she helped create in Monrovia and is never shy to return to her Habitat roots as a volunteer.