The way Sirica Hereford describes her mother-daughter nights, you’d think they were on one of those sentimental Hallmark commercials that air before Mother’s Day. Her daughter, Essence, is 12, and the parents of any soon-to-be teenager will tell you how important it is for parents to be involved in their lives at this age. So Sirica and Essence grab their blankets and snacks and settle in for some one-on-one bonding time watching their favorite show. It’s the 21st century version of a Norman Rockwell painting, but it almost didn’t happen. If it hadn’t been for Habitat for Humanity of Madison County, Sirica and Essence might still be living in the housing project off University Drive.
It took Sirica two tries to get approved for a house through Habitat for Humanity. She has gumption, a rare trait these days. She’s a hard worker, and she is someone who is willing to heed advice from people who know things — another trait lost in the masses.
Sirica, 36, is a Huntsville native with a close family, adding that she was raised properly. But when she got out of high school, she went a little wild and started hanging out with all the wrong people. After Essence was born, it was Sirica’s aunt who recommended Habitat for Humanity.
“She had talked me into it, saying that it was a good program. It gives you structure, responsibility. It uplifts you,” Sirica said.
Structure and stability were things Sirica needed. Her wild days were over, and she was turning her life around. Her only focus was raising a happy, healthy daughter.
“When I had her … I started to see my purpose, but along the way I needed somewhere where she could grow up safe and be able to be stable in a stable environment and not always moving here and there,” Sirica said.
A stable home life is important for any kid, but even more so for one like Essence. She was a quiet child who had trouble opening up to new people. Sirica knew a house with a yard and the safety both of those offered would be just what her little girl needed.
Sirica went to the Habitat for Humanity office in Huntsville to pick up an application. A lot of people don’t know that getting a Habitat for Humanity home requires a lot of work on the part of the applicant. There are classes to attend and work hours on the weekends, and for people like Sirica, that is extra work on top of the everyday life of being a single mother.
She was chosen to be in the program, but then Essence started kindergarten. Sirica knew the home was important, but she also knew she needed to be involved with Essence’s school. Her job didn’t allow for much free time, either, so that would take away from helping with homework and going to school functions.
“I decided I wanted to focus on my daughter’s school and being able to take her to school, pick her up, keep in track with everything she had going on,” Sirica said.
Something had to change. Sirica got a new job at Target, which gave her more time to spend with Essence, but it also meant she didn’t make enough money to be in the Habitat for Humanity program. Participants must make enough to pay back the 30-year mortgage on their home. It isn’t a lot, mostly the cost of materials since labor is all volunteer-based, but it is still a monthly payment.
Once Sirica got promoted at Target, she went back and applied for Habitat for Humanity again. Remember how we said Sirica had gumption? Those applications aren’t easy. In fact, most people who pick one up never even return them.
No Giving Up
The second time Sirica applied, she had just bought a car — something she needed in order to get back and forth to work — and her debt ratio wasn’t where it needed to be for her to get a Habitat for Humanity home. So, she listened to the experts on what she needed to do in order to get back on track, and she got it done.
One of the Habitat for Humanity of Madison County employees gave her this advice: Use your tax refund to pay off your car, then come back to the program.
So, she did.
“(They) were not giving up on me whatsoever through this whole process,” Sirica said. “They motivated me every time. They gave me the stuff that I needed to get where I am today.”
During this time, Sirica and Essence moved into Northwood apartments, a housing project off University Drive. It’s a rough place, but Sirica promised herself and her family that it would only be a temporary, cost-saving solution.
After Sirica got rolling in the Habitat for Humanity program, there was no stopping her. She learned to save her money, manage her money, get out of her comfort zone, how to build a home, and even how to fix her own appliances before calling someone else. She boasts that she has successfully fixed her kitchen sink, toilet and her heater.
Little Eyes Looking On
The obvious goal was for Sirica and Essence to have a home of their own, but what the mother didn’t realize was that having her impressionable daughter watch her work for what she wanted would be beneficial as well.
“Me being in the program and us getting our own home and her watching her mom work so hard to get the home and watch the process of it getting built and going through the steps with me, it opened her up,” Sirica said. “She started not to be so standoffish with people.”
After they moved into the three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home, things just got better. The neighborhood has a lot of other Habitat for Humanity homes, so Sirica can trust that her neighbors understand exactly what she went through.
“It’s nice that our kids can play outside, and we don’t have to be worried about them because I know if I’m not looking out the window, another mom is.” Sirica said. “I don’t have to worry about if somebody is selling drugs on the corner or somebody is going to drive by and shoot or if my neighbors are drunk and going to get into it. … That’s where we came from before we came to Habitat.”
Essence continued to blossom as well. She’s almost a teenager and actively involved in sports — she loves basketball — and even started playing the flute in the school band this year.
“When you can tell your child this is theirs, this belongs to them, this is ours, no one can take it, I think that says a lot,” Sirica said. “It makes your child feel pride and have something to look forward to.”
We couldn’t be more proud of Sirica and Essence, who we look forward to cheering on in the WNBA one day. If you want to donate to help more families, check out Habitat for Humanity of Madison County.
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