THE BLOG
11/18/2014 06:19 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

A Home Creates a World of Possibilities

Earlier this year, the MacArthur Foundation released the results of a survey of U.S. adults that confirmed what we at Habitat for Humanity have learned in nearly four decades of serving families. Housing can play a key role in positively influencing a family's education, employment and health opportunities.

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we are grateful for the many volunteers and generous donors who have supported Habitat for Humanity since our founding in 1976 and who have enabled us to reach an incredible milestone: We have now helped more than 1 million families -- approximately 5 million people in more than 70 countries -- acquire a new or improved home.

I have had the awesome privilege of visiting many of those families -- seeing the deplorable conditions where they used to live and celebrating with them as they dedicated their new homes. Almost always there are tears from homeowners who are grateful for new opportunities and a fresh start. Many have no idea what transformations await them.

I have talked with families in the developing world who have started a business out of their improved homes and, as a result, have built a pathway out of poverty.

Stable housing is also crucial to health, education and dignity for families worldwide. One mother of five threw her arms around me as she talked about her new home and no longer having to make trips to the emergency room because of her son's asthma and the mold that was constantly making him sick in their old apartment.

I have looked into the eyes of proud children who are making better grades because they have a quiet place to study, and recently I learned about a powerful symbol of home for one new homeowner. The family's 16-year-old daughter used to be so embarrassed about the family's living conditions that she told her friends she lived in another home up the street from where they actually lived. She said she lived in the home with the red door. She would have rides drop her off at the red-door house to hide their poor living conditions. When her mother learned that she had qualified to be a Habitat homeowner, she had only one request: She wanted her new home to have a red door like the home her daughter always wished they lived in. The house was completed with a red front door and is a place the family is proud to call home.

In addition to revealing what a difference a stable home makes in the life of a family, the MacArthur study also found that more than half of all adults have made at least one tradeoff in the past three years to cover their rent or mortgage. Those adjustments include taking second jobs, cutting back on health care and healthy food and moving to less safe neighborhoods.

It is important that we continue to seek new opportunities to improve housing conditions because too many families know the impossible compromises that must be made to afford acceptable shelter. Those families include people like Soy Lorng in Cambodia who, just a few months ago, spent the night before the dedication of her new home on the street with only a tarp to protect her family's possessions from a pounding storm.

A home creates a world of new possibilities -- like the opportunities that Angel Meza of Denver is anticipating. Angel describes how receiving the key to her new home was the culmination of hard work that had finally paid off. It would open the doorway to a better future for her children, but it also meant the end to so much uncertainty. She no longer had to wonder whether or not they would have to move again. With expenses more predictable, she could begin to save money and think about college.

A home can be the foundation upon which a family builds a strong future. We can all help families make a new start by volunteering, donating or becoming advocates for affordable housing.