Back to School – Three Simple Words

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By Blake Strayhorn 
Heaven and Nevaeh

Back to School - I can't read the words without thinking of Habitat youth past, present, and future. Back to School - three simple words that evoke a range of emotions from pride, to joyful optimism, to
a bit of remorse. 

I’m proud of AJ, my young friend who is now a sophomore in college. AJ tells about Apartment 17-D, where he and his family stayed until AJ’s mom bought their Habitat home near Golden Belt. 17-D had concrete floors and block walls; AJ remembers it as always cold. In 17-D, AJ learned to tell gunshots from fireworks. Before he was 10, AJ saw a man shot as he took out the trash. 

AJ says the scariest part of his day back then was the walk from the school bus to 17-D’s front door. 

Back to School was scary for AJ. But his mom, Cynthia, bought her Habitat home, and AJ worked hard to achieve his dreams. Now Back to School means AJ returns for his sophomore year at NC A&T
Khyra and Tavner - here he promises he will make the Dean’s List! Again!

I’m optimistic when I think of the youth whose families have built and purchased Habitat homes near Joe’s Diner within the past year. Their parents are building brighter futures for their children with their investment in a Habitat home.

They come from different places, different neighborhoods. Some are close by, others further away. They’re neighbors now, and they have fun together. Many of these young neighbors gathered at a
nearby playground to play and take some pictures in their last week of summer. 

It was a joyful hour with friends coming together to look forward to a new school year, their first or second back to school after their parents bought their Habitat homes. 

Prior to buying from Habitat, they lived in rental apartments. The unfortunate fact is that affordable rental in Durham is often crowded, drafty, and unsafe. And affordable usually means temporarily
Sayvion and Khyraaffordable; if rent goes up, families very well may have to move… often to another substandard apartment and another school. 

For these young people, a Habitat home provides a safe, stable, well-lit place to dream… and to achieve those dreams. Heaven, a 4thgrader at Eastway Elementary, loves math, and her sister, Nevaeh, a 3rd grader, loves to read. Sayvion wants to be a neurosurgeon, and he’s excited about starting violin lessons. A’Niyah has already started her 5th grade year at the new KIPP:ENC school on Holloway Street. Yasmine walks two blocks to Maureen Joy Charter School, and her neighbor, Viviana, a rising senior at Northern High School, wants to go to UNC to pursue a career in healthcare.

All that optimism and youthful energy makes me empathize with my friend, Demesha, a new Habitat homeowner who drives a school bus. Good luck, Demesha! 

When I think of the many Durham youth who still live in substandard housing, I feel remorse that we haven’t done more. Durham Habitat builds and sells around 20 homes a Repairyear and repairs homes for another 35-40 homeowner families, but the fact remains that we turn away far more because we simply can’t build and repair fast enough. 

We invite you to help build brighter futures for more Durham youth. Visit or call 919-682-0516 x101 to learn more about sponsoring a Habitat home or supporting our homeowner repairs program. 

In the meantime, celebrate with us the brighter futures of these Habitat youth!

Group at the bus

Habitat Success Stories

Anita and her sister thought they were experiencing night sweats but realized that it was raining inside their home. Habitat partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield to replace their roof. "I used to go to bed every night and the rain would be all over my face but not anymore. Thank you."