Thankful Daughter

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DURHAM HERALD SUN—Heather Graham, Durham Habitat Communications Manager
Heather and her youngest brother, Mason, on the Habitat construction site during the framing of their home.

My mom is the no-nonsense kind of woman who credits success to hard work.

I am thankful this holiday season and every time I’m faced with any challenge that she is my role model.

She has been through a lot – taken some missteps, learned some hard lessons, and had some great successes. She doesn’t talk about fate or luck when she tells her life’s stories. She talks about fighting through hard times and taking ownership of her circumstances.
Heather’s sister, Crystal, waving from the framed basement of her new Habitat home.

Marilyn (that’s my mom) grew up poor, the daughter of a volunteer church leader and a handyman. She got married young and had babies young – four of us! That marriage was sour and eventually ended. She, as a single mother of four, worked multiple jobs and depended on government assistance to keep bellies full. 

Habitat for Humanity presented my mom an opportunity to turn everything around. She partnered with Habitat to purchase a home with a zero percent interest mortgage – understanding that paying a mortgage is an investment and understanding that four kids and an ailing mother in a two-bedroom apartment doesn’t cut it.

She added Habitat’s required home ownership classes and 350 hours of volunteer labor on the construction site to her busy schedule. This meant long days and long nights. It often meant hauling the
Heather’s brother, David, sitting on what would become the foundation of his new Habitat home. kids with her for volunteer shifts.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m constantly reminiscent of those days. I recall helping my mom earn “sweat equity” hours by sweeping the Habitat warehouse and organizing office supplies. I’m so thankful to have contributed in my small way to building a better future for my family.

I was proud to help her – so proud to be like her. I’m proud today to see so much of her in myself – her smarts, her determination, her compassion, and yes - even her good looks!

I’ll sit at the Thanksgiving table in my mom’s Habitat home (with just a year left on the mortgage!) this week. We’ll feast together on home-cooked food and laughter. We’ll talk about what we’re thankfulMarilyn and her kids at her pinning ceremony. Marilyn went back to school and is now a registered nurse. for and I’ll make it a point to thank my mom for all that our family has become. I’ll thank her for working hard to invest in our future and for teaching me to own my circumstances and create the life I want.

We’ll talk about Habitat for Humanity too; we always do. I have worked at Habitat of Durham for three and a half years now. I meet families every day that look just like mine – with the weight of life’s circumstances on their shoulders and the dream of home ownership in their eyes.

It’s my great pleasure to help empower these families – to continue building on a community of more than 315 Habitat homeowner families with more than 750 kids, like me, growing up in safe, decent, affordable homes.Heather and Marilyn at Heather’s college graduation. Marilyn and her children became the first on either side of the family to graduate college. Crystal in December 2010 from NCSU, Heather in May 2011 from East Carolina, Marilyn in March 2014 from Durham Tech, David in June 2014 from Wake Tech, and Mason just started college this year at Wake Tech.

I invite you to join Habitat in making dreams of home ownership come true this holiday season. Visit or email me at

Happy Thanksgiving.


Habitat Success Stories

Martha partnered with North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to build and purchase a Habitat home for her and her two sons in East Durham. "God's got a plan," Martha said. "His timing is perfect."