Santana Eppinger grew up with an alcoholic father and physically abusive mother in Cleveland, Ohio. She was also sexually abused throughout her childhood, which led to ongoing bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. Reflecting on that time, Santana said, “I didn’t understand why I was in this world being a good person and so many bad things happening to me.”
At the age of 24, the bad kept coming when Santana was diagnosed with breast cancer. The chemotherapy was the worst, and Santana felt like she was watching herself die. With the help of her faith, she kept the fear at bay.
Santana survived and emerged with a new perspective on life. Her depression was mostly behind her, and she woke up each morning thankful to have another day. She had survived not just cancer, but so many difficult situations in her life. She told herself it was time to go after all the things she always wanted for herself – to leave Ohio, to graduate college, and to own her own home.
On February 9, 2018, Santana will celebrate six years of remission! One week later, she will work alongside volunteers to raise the walls of her new Habitat home in Mansfield, Texas, just 25 minutes south of downtown Fort Worth. Her dream of becoming a homeowner is so close, and it is in large part thanks to the Mansfield community coming together to contribute their time and money in support of Santana.
Santana is also studying social work at Tarrant County College. Her plan is to get her associate’s degree and then transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington to get her bachelor’s degree in social work. Given her own experience with cancer, she is specifically interested in oncology social work. Volunteering at Cook Children’s reading and helping children with cancer also led Santana down this path. “I originally wanted to become a nurse, but realized I prefer being an emotional support, rather than dealing with medicines.”
All Trinity Habitat families, including Santana, are required to invest 250 sweat equity hours in place of a down payment. These are hours the families spend helping build their neighbors’ homes, building their own home, attending homeownership and financial education classes, and volunteering in the community where they will live.
By volunteering with Meals on Wheels, Santana was able to meet neighbors and discover how “kind the people of Mansfield are.” She also volunteered at the Wesley Mission Center thrift store. However, her favorite place to volunteer has been Community Hospice of Texas. In fact, even though she is done with her community sweat equity hours, she still volunteers in support of the hospice patients and their families.
In addition to her sweat equity hours, Santana also had to show at least 12 months of steady employment to be approved to purchase a Habitat home, which she was able to do. After leaving home at 17, Santana has had many different jobs supporting herself. She is so happy to have landed at Bank of America, who happens to also be a major sponsor of Trinity Habitat.
Santana is looking forward to the financial stability her new Habitat home will offer. She will have a quality, safe, and affordable home with an affordable mortgage. Because of her breast cancer, Santana has annual testing and regular treatments she is supposed to do, but has not been able to afford. The financial stability of her Habitat home will help her afford the high cost of these vital procedures.
Additionally, Santana has been foregoing her important lymphedema treatments, because there isn’t enough space in the small room she rents and purchasing a new sleeve is too cost-prohibitive right now. She will have plenty of space to set up her equipment and regularly do these treatments in her new three-bedroom, 1,150 square-foot Habitat home. A home that she will have helped build alongside volunteers, sponsors, and donors from the Mansfield community.
Because of her health challenges, living a healthy lifestyle and eating well is extra important to Santana. One of the things she is most looking forward to in her new Habitat home is a clean kitchen all to herself. Santana currently rents a single room and bathroom in a home where there is a shared kitchen. Getting a mini-fridge and microwave in her own small room was a necessity, because her roommates don’t clean up after themselves and steal food. Ditching the microwaved food and preparing her healthy meals in her own kitchen can’t come soon enough for her!
Later this year, Santana’s home will be finished, and she will be able to purchase it and move in. Never again will she have to move from apartment to apartment to avoid ever-rising rents. Never again will she have to deal with landlords that never fix things and unjustifiably take her deposits. She will own her own home that she can afford. She has been taught how to take care of her home and her finances. She is prepared to end the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck and to begin building equity in her own home. Thanks to this hand up from volunteers and donors, she is ready to thrive!
If you would like to learn how you or your organization can get involved with helping wonderful families, like Santana, we would love to have you partner with Trinity Habitat by volunteering or making a financial gift.