Two years ago, Julio Estrada Jr. stood next to his parents Luz and Julio as they received the keys to their Habitat home during their family home dedication ceremony. Surrounding them were members of Christ United Methodist Church volunteers, sponsors and Habitat staff that walked alongside them on their journey to homeownership. This past Saturday, Julio was once again amongst Christ United Methodist Church volunteers. This time, he had a hammer in hand, helping build the Villeda family home. I sat down with him during lunch break and spoke with him about his experience with Bryan/College Station Habitat for Humanity.

His memories of his first build are of his own home. He remembers how fun it was painting their walls, learning about flooring and getting dirty sodding their yard. He also remembers the long conversations with Jim Davis, Bryan/College Station Habitat for Humanity’s former longtime volunteer and staff member, and listening to the many stories Jim shared.

Over the past two years since moving into his home with his family, Julio has returned to the build sites numerous times to lend a hand. He has chosen to volunteer with B/CS Habitat to fulfill his community hours required to graduate from Bryan Collegiate High School, where he is currently a junior. He has also selected B/CS Habitat to be the focus of his Junior Service Project. For this project, in addition to volunteering more hours, he will present B/CS Habitat to the underclassmen at the Junior Service Project fair.

“Bryan/College Station Habitat for Humanity is a great cause,” Julio explained, “And it has helped me as well.” Most significantly, they had moved out of an overcrowded trailer home in a neighborhood that Julio described as an environment where there was always a sense of unease, tension, where everyone was on guard because of the fighting and random violence. In their new neighborhood, Angel’s Gate, B/CS Habitat’s largest neighborhood development, “everything is quiet and calm, except when there are parties. Then it gets loud!” Julio said smiling. During the first week of moving into the neighborhood, kids across the street invited him to play soccer. His family also hosts family gatherings at the house regularly.

Julio hopes to attend Texas A&M University and study nursing upon graduation from Bryan Collegiate High School. He is well on his way to attaining his goal, having taken numerous classes at Blinn College as part of his high school curriculum to get a head start and already written a couple of the college application essays.

Listening to his story, I am reminded once again that we are not just building houses, we are building homes, communities and hope. Since B/CS Habitat for Humanity formed in 1989, we have built 282 homes, and helped 757 children move out of overcrowded and/or substandard housing and into an environment that fosters safety and stability where the children can flourish. Community partners like Christ United Methodist Church believe in Habitat’s mission, and together we are making a difference.