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A Home for Thanksgiving

Brittany Ford has one of those stories that could be turned into a heartfelt movie that opens on Christmas day and makes everyone cry those happy and sad tears. She’s soft-spoken and polite. Even at 27, she makes a lot of minivan-driving supermoms look unprepared as she heads home from work to cook dinner for her family.

However, things weren’t always so calm.

Brittany grew up in a part of Huntsville that is known for crime. Drug deals regularly went down in the public-housing apartment she grew up in. She’s seen people get shot at, but thanks God she never saw anyone get hit with a bullet. That would be too traumatic.

“You can have it right in front of your door,” Brittany said. “People just pull up, they make drug sales … Out there you have shootouts. It’s a lot. I done seen it happen. Like people just pull up, sell their drugs and go on about their business. People get mad about it, and they (get) to shooting in the back alley. It was a lot.”

Even in the crime and poverty, Brittany had a strong home life. Her grandmother was on the board of the housing authority. She was such a big deal that she now has a street named after her — the Dorothy Ford Lane downtown.

Instead of getting involved with the wrong crowd, Brittany worked hard in school, stayed busy and began working toward a cosmetology degree after high school.

Her mother was involved with the six kids — Brittany has three younger brothers and two younger sisters — but it was Brittany who took it upon herself to keep them all busy after school. She rushed home to help them with their homework and made sure they didn’t get into any trouble.

They had a good life —that is until tragedy struck.

By 2014, Brittany had moved into a nearby apartment in the same public housing complex where she lived with her young daughter. Her siblings called her when they couldn’t get their mother to wake up, and Brittany ran over only to discover that their mother had died in her sleep.

From One to Six

From there, everything moved quickly. There were foster families willing to step up for some of the siblings, but they could each only take one child. The kids would have to be split up if they went the foster-care route.

Brittany wouldn’t allow that to happen, so in 2014, at age 24, she got custody of all five of her siblings, officially making her the caretaker for six children overnight. They weren’t easy ages, either. One brother and one sister were in their teenage years while the others were in those hard in-between years where they aren’t exactly kids but the teenage angst hadn’t set in yet.

While she didn’t hesitate, she also had times when she didn’t know how to make it work.

“Sometimes it’s just like wondering how ends are going to meet, how I’m going to be able to clothe all of them, feed all of them,” Brittany said. “It’s a lot, but I pray about it.”

Those first few years were tough with all seven people living in Brittany’s three-bedroom apartment, but things started looking up when someone mentioned she should apply for a home from Habitat for Humanity.

It was the opportunity she needed, because her brother was already starting to fall into the wrong crowd.

“I wouldn’t say it would be the perfect place to raise kids because of the crime rate,” Brittany said. “It’s a lot of drug activity and things out there, where kids can fall easy victims to wandering on the streets.”

Home Sweet Home

In 2015, Brittany started the process for Habitat for Humanity. It’s intense, so intense in fact that the majority of people don’t even finish filling out the application. Habitat for Humanity does more than partner with families in need of housing.

After completing the application, those chosen to more forward must go through more than 50 hours of home ownership and financial education classes. Then they have to help build their homes, something Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.”

Even after they get a home, they are required to pay back some of the cost — basically the cost of building materials with a 0 percent interest rate.

For Brittany, it was worth it. She moved into her new home on September 29 and is gearing up to celebrate her first Thanksgiving in her house.

“It’s a blessing, and the people you meet, that you run into, are all blessings,” Brittany said about the Habitat for Humanity employees. “They there to help you. You will not ever get criticized or nothing. If you ever need help with anything, they’re there. Any questions they answer.”

The five-bedroom home gives them all more room, but it’s also far enough away from her old neighborhood to keep her siblings and daughter out of trouble.

“I’m blessed that I can get the kids out of that environment so they won’t have to really be around that or get traumatized,” Brittany said.

She’s adapted to the mother-of-six role well. Every night they go around the dinner table and talk about what they’re thankful for before praying over the food. Once a week, they have to talk about their goals for school and life.

The good folks at Habitat for Humanity have noticed her determination as well.

“Meeting Brittany for the first time, you are amazed by this quiet soul,” said Jeremy Foulks, director of operations for Habitat for Humanity of Madison County. “You would never know she is carrying the weight of her family’s world on her shoulders. Today, you do not find many people in their 20s — or for that matter, in their 30s, 40s, etc. — who are capable of being a single parent, caring for their five siblings, and is a manager at their job …There was no question of who was going to step up and care for her brothers and sisters. But that is part of who Brittany is. She is also God’s way of reminding us He is with us always. When times are dark, He makes sure — working through His people — that this family is spending this Thanksgiving and Christmas together. And this year they are doing so in their home.”

Now Brittany wants to give back. She starts nursing school in January because she wants to help others. The death of her mother and grandmother — both mysteriously died in their sleep — prompted Brittany to change her career from cosmetology to nursing.

But before she gets back into the hustle and bustle of school and work, Brittany is going to host her first Thanksgiving dinner in her own home. She will make some of her grandmother’s recipes in the new kitchen she loves so much, and spend time with those siblings and daughter that mean everything to her.

“I can’t stop smiling thinking about it,” Brittany said.

We can’t stop smiling either, Brittany.

And that brings us to this: The work Habitat for Humanity of Madison County does is only possible through the generous, financial contributions of their donors — people just like you. Would you consider supporting them this holiday season? Your contribution will help more people in our community, people like Brittany Ford, celebrate future holidays in homes of their own.

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