Habitat families grateful to be home for the holidays | Winchester Star


WINCHESTER – Nobody appreciates the expression “There is no place like home for the holidays” better than a person who did not always know if they would have a house for Christmas.

Take, for example, Karen Burrough, a single woman raising four children in a rented house her owner is eager to sell.

Or Jasmine Edwards, the mother of two boys who was once forced to live out of her car because she couldn’t afford a house.

Or Liliya El Abani, a lawyer who fled war-torn Libya with her family and had to start over in the United States.

Fortunately, the Winchester-based nonprofit Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity was there to help these three women build a better future by providing them with affordable, quality housing.

Today, a few hours before Christmas, Karen, Jasmine and Liliya reflect on their difficult journey, from unstable housing to owning a home for the holidays.


Karen Burrough has yet to move into her own home, but she already knows how she will decorate it for her first Christmas.

“We’re going to have a real tree, nothing artificial, because I want the smell of Christmas,” she said. “And I will definitely decorate every year. My stepfather was an electrician, so he has a large ladder that can reach the roof. He’s going to be tricked out, that’s for sure.

In just over a year, Karen will be moving into a new home to be built in Norris Village II, a conglomerate of homes built by Habitat along West Lane in Winchester’s North End. Even though her house isn’t expected to be ready until 2023, she is already putting in place her “sweat equity” – a Habitat requirement that requires clients to help build their own home.

In some cases, including Karen’s, it may not always be possible for clients to participate in the construction process. For example, Karen takes financial management classes, helps build another Habitat home in Strasbourg, attends events offering advice on home repairs and improvements, and prepares a will to ensure that the timing is right. come, his house will be adopted. up to his children.

“I have almost 100 hours already,” she said of her sweat equity.

Karen, a single mom raising four children aged 3 to 12, came to Habitat because she couldn’t buy a house on her own. She had applied for traditional mortgages but, although she was earning a stable income, she was refused due to her student loan debt.

Karen and her children currently live in a rented house in Strasbourg. It’s a very nice house, but her owners want to sell it and she can’t buy it. Fortunately, her owners understand her situation and have agreed to let her stay there until she can move into her new Habitat home in Winchester.

Karen said she can’t wait to celebrate her first Christmas at a house named after her on the mortgage.

“The tree will go through the front window,” she said. “I already know where it’s going to go.”


Jasmine Edwards, a single mother with two boys aged 3 and 17, makes a lot of money as a restaurant waitress, but most of her income comes from tips. When she tried to get a mortgage to buy a house, financiers only considered her hourly wage of $ 2.13 and did not approve her for a loan.

This left Jasmine with no choice but to rent, and her monthly rent payments were so high that she couldn’t save any money. At some point before the birth of her second son, Zachary, she and her eldest, Marquise, were between two apartments and had to live in their car for several weeks.

Fortunately, Jasmine connected with Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity and moved into her own house next to Norris Village II last year. It will be her second Christmas there with the kids.

“It will be just us,” Jasmine said. “We will be spending the whole day at home.

She will be waiting for the boys downstairs on Christmas morning, impatient to see them open the presents that Santa Claus will leave for them under the tree.

“Then we’re going to bake cookies and watch Christmas movies,” Jasmine said. “And I have a closet full of board games so we can play all day.”

Zachary said he hoped for snow so he could see a snowman on Christmas Day. When asked if the 3-year-old would go outside to build his own snowman in the garden, he replied, “No, it’s cold. “


Liliya El Abani was a lawyer in her native Bulgaria who fell in love with a Middle Eastern man named Wyle El Abani. They were raising a family in Libya but had to flee in 2011 when a civil war that ultimately toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi made the country too dangerous for children.

The El Abani ended up in Winchester, but because Liliya’s law degree was European, she could not practice law in the United States. Instead, she accepted a job in retail at TJ Maxx department store in Winchester while her husband started a transport company, Win Transport Corp.

“He was a really nice husband, the best you can imagine,” Liliya said of Wyle. “He always took care of us.

Just as their fledgling family business was starting to turn a profit, Wyle was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away on December 29, 2018, leaving his heartbroken wife to raise their three children on her own in a foreign country.

“When I lost him, it was like I was dead,” Liliya said. “I had $ 350 in my bank account, but I had to fight for them to have a good future. As parents, we must be a good example for our children.

The transport company had gone out of business during Wyle’s battle with cancer, so Liliya’s only source of income was the weekly paycheck from her full-time job at TJ Maxx.

Last year, a friend encouraged her to contact Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity to see if the nonprofit could help her buy a house with a lower monthly mortgage payment than she paid in rent. .

“I said, ‘OK, let me try,’” Liliya said. “For me, a house is stability. This is where your children feel safe.

June 12, 2020 – her husband’s birthday – Liliya learned that she had been accepted into Habitat’s home ownership program. The news was so good and the timing so perfect that her children feared she had misunderstood what the Habitat representative said and insisted on accompanying her when she signed the documents.

Liliya immediately began to dedicate her sweaty hours to fairness, working in the Habitat outlet, Restore at 400 Battaile Drive in Winchester, and helped build her new home on Baker Lane, right across from Jasmine and one block from where Karen will live in 2023.

“I loved working with the guys [on the construction crew]”Liliya said.” They were so nice. They taught me a lot of things.

This knowledge came in handy when Liliya and her children moved into the house in August. With the help of her father, who came from Bulgaria with his wife to be with their daughter and grandchildren, Liliya installed an electric fireplace with a stone mantel and a decorative backsplash on the kitchen walls.

The fireplace is currently adorned with holiday decorations. Next to it is a large and beautiful Christmas tree that sparkles with brilliant white lights.

On Christmas Day, Liliya said that her parents would come and that she, the children and the Zeus family dog ​​would open presents and enjoy a holiday feast.

“It’s going to be an amazing Christmas,” she said. “I can’t believe we’ve come to this. “

Liliya always cries when she talks about her husband, but her tears dissipate whenever she thinks about the future that she has worked so hard to provide for her children.

Her eldest son, Saber, 22, studies criminal justice at Radford University; her daughter, Daliya, 18, is president of the Student Government Association at Handley High School; and her youngest son, Amir, 8, is a student at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School.

And one more thing: Daliya just received a full four-year scholarship to Yale University in Connecticut.

“It’s amazing,” Liliya said. “You can’t believe how happy I am.”


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