Next week, Jamilah Najeeullah will sit down to a table surrounded by family and spread with a large turkey, turnip greens, dressing and all the trimmings that make Thanksgiving Day special.
And in keeping with family tradition, she and nearly 20 others will take their turn at reciting the thing for which they are most grateful.
For 64-year-old Najeeullah, this Habitat home, the first she has ever owned, wins hands down.
Indeed, Najeeullah is among nearly 50 families across metro Atlanta who will be dining in their own homes this holiday season thanks to Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.
In all, Atlanta Habitat, one of the top 10 largest affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International, has built, rehabbed and repaired nearly 1,500 houses in metro Atlanta over its 34-year history in the city.
We’re not talking peanuts here. That’s an annual $6 million economic investment in Atlanta.
In the process, Atlanta Habitat hasn’t just changed lives, it has helped change streets, blocks and entire neighborhoods.
Lisa Y. Gordon, president and CEO of Atlanta Habitat, said Najeeullah represents the nonprofit’s expanded mission to revitalize neighborhoods and keep affordable housing an option across the city.
“As Atlanta Habitat continues to work with hardworking homeowners like Jamilah to buy their first home, we are improving neighborhoods, block by block,” Gordon said. “Our investment in the English Avenue, Historic Westside, and other neighborhoods involves building quality affordable houses, performing critical home repairs for longstanding homeowners and reducing blight by purchasing vacant lots and dilapidated properties. By doing this strategic work, we are helping more families to live affordably in Atlanta and to be invested in creating vibrant neighborhoods where everyone thrives.”
Just a few years ago, Najeeullah, a mother of five grown children, was living with her ex-husband in a dilapidated rental, pretty sure she couldn’t do any better even though her oldest daughter, Tarajee, had been living in a Habitat home for a decade.
“You teach your children and then they teach you,” Najeeullah said as a big smile leaped across her face.
Tarajee first encouraged her mother to come live with her, then she walked her through the process, attending orientation and other required classes with her, helping her navigating the credit and mortgage maze, and encouraging her at each step she made.
Suddenly, Najeeullah was dreaming again. A home of her own looked possible.
If at all possible, she wanted to be close to Tarajee, the daughter she calls Miss T. That was possible, too. Less than a block away from Miss T was a three-bedroom woodframe Hab II, a home previously owned by another Habitat family.
And instead of building from the ground up, the nonprofit comes in, guts it and starts from scratch. They paint. They replace the flooring. They install new cabinets and kitchen appliances.
Sometime around Aug. 23, Najeeullah was ready to get started.
“The first day, 30 volunteers showed up to help,” Najeeullah said.
They finished the work Oct. 17 and Najeeullah moved in.
“I was smiling the whole way,” she said.
She doesn’t have much: bedroom furniture she saved for, a television, and a sewing machine she hopes will help launch a tailoring business.
Recently, she was already prepping food for the big day and trying to decide if she’ll make a pan of mac and cheese for great-grandson Amir. He turns 5 on Thanksgiving Day. Mac and cheese is his favorite.
Either way, between her and Tarajee, there will be plenty of food, dancing and family, including her sister Beulah from Cincinnati.
Then come that Friday, they will share leftovers like the rest of us, but it won’t matter. At least, they’ll all be home, the place where family and friends gather and memories are built.