Lakeisha Reid never thought she had a chance.
She never thought she’d be able to break the cycle she’d seen lived out by her family her entire life — until Habitat for Humanity stepped in.
“I don't think they even realize what they were doing for me in the very beginning,” Reid said.
To understand her story, though, you’ve got to go back to the beginning, back to when Reid was 13 years old — and pregnant. She said it happened after one shortsighted decision.
But at the time, Reid, now 39 years old, wasn’t really aware of the consequences. She thought that was just what girls were supposed to do.
“I wasn't that type of teenager that went out and partied or slept around or anything like that, it really was just this guy asked me and I just did it,” Reid said. “I just thought that's what you did for boys to like you.”
What she found out, she said, was, “They get you pregnant and then they leave.”
After having her first child, Je’vanta, Lakeisha didn’t find much support from her mother at home. So she bounced around with her baby, living with her grandparents and friends.
She made it through eighth grade with Je’vanta, but dropped out of high school about halfway through ninth grade after dropping into the same cycle.
She was pregnant again, this time at 15 years old and from a different man.
“I had to go to work,” Lakeisha said.
She moved back in with her mother while pregnant with Anquesha Millsap, and started working at Burger King on Athens Street to bring in some money to raise her family. At the time, it was just a family of three, but she got pregnant again with Jala. And again with Jamaya Williams.
She left home at 18 to live in government housing at Harrison Square Apartments and by the time she was 21 years old, she had four children.
“I know it's pretty scandalous,” Lakeisha said, laughing. “But it's the truth. Talking out loud about it … there were some voids there. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol, I turned to the attention of a guy.”
Her father walked out of her life when she was nine years old, so maybe that was the void she was trying to fill. Or maybe she was following the track of others in her family who had children before marriage. Regardless, she was struggling as a single mother.
Each time she became pregnant, she found herself at Gainesville Care Center, now known as Choices Pregnancy Care Center — she had to have confirmation she was pregnant in order to get government support to help raise her children.
She also would have liked a nicer place to live to help raise her children, but for Lakeisha, that was just a pipe dream.
“I dreamed about it, but I never saw myself living anywhere different than where I was,” she said. “At the time, I thought I was living the high life because I had an apartment with AC.”
Jala, 19, never dreamed of living in an actual house either.
“We don't come from poverty, but also, it's just like, you're satisfied with where you are,” Jala said.
But in 2004, on a whim, a friend asked Lakeisha if she wanted to go to a class at Habitat for Humanity. The only reason she agreed to go was because it was an excuse to get out of the apartment.
While at the class, she learned about what it would take to receive Habitat house. It seemed inconceivable.
“I had to do volunteer hours and I had to have a $50 down payment, which to me was crazy because I didn't even have an extra $20, let alone an extra $50,” Lakeisha said.
But she got a call from Habitat and they told her she was a candidate as long as she could do the volunteer hours and fill all the other requirements.
So Lakeisha went to the place she knew well in order to fill the volunteer hours — Gainesville Care Center. But she wasn’t really going to help out. When she started volunteering, she said she simply saw the care center as a stepping stone to get something for herself.
But during those volunteer hours, Lakeisha actually received something much different than just a straight path to a new home.
She found a woman who in turn found Lakeisha a savior.
Alicia Davis saw Lakeisha looking at a Hopewell Baptist Church pamphlet that was advertising a single mother’s group. So she started talking to Lakeisha about it.
“She never invited me to church, which I love that,” Lakeisha said. “She met me where I was. At the time in my life, I don't even think I would have walked into a church … She started taking me and my kids out, paying for stuff for us, taking us out to eat, taking us to the movies, things like that.”
Over time, they began to talk about faith and come Christmas 2004, Lakeisha went to a women’s ministry event at Hopewell Baptist.
“They served the single moms that night and my mindset was, ‘I'm going because it's free food and they're probably going to buy my kids Christmas,’” Lakeisha said. “I get there and put on the show or the front.”
But everything changed at that event. Someone asked if they could pray for her and something in Lakeisha’s mind clicked.
“I can't even remember what I said, but I know that I went there one way and came out another way,” Lakeisha said. “It was like for the first time in my life, I was 24 years old and someone genuinely asked me if they could pray for me.”
She became a Christian that night and said her life has never been the same. She started to see that “it was OK to give of yourself and not always expect people to give to you.” So she continued to go to Hopewell and get involved there, learning about her newfound faith and doing her best to help others, including her children.
“Her being that example in my life has kind of pushed me to be who I am today,” Jala said. “All four of us have gotten out of high school without having kids. Something that in our family — we're the only sibling group in our family who’s completely graduated out of high school and that's something we wouldn’t have done without her.”
As Lakeisha continued learning and helping, about a year later in 2006, the family had a new house courtesy of Habitat.
“It was crazy,” Lakeisha said of the home. “I was the first person in my whole entire family to ever become a homeowner … I never thought that was going to happen.”
The family was happy where it was: together, in an actual home. They were content. The home they were in was more than they ever thought they would have.
But after 13 years of living in that Habitat home, Lakeisha, who works for ExamWorks Clinical Solutions, got a flyer in the mail from a realtor at her church. So, making another impulsive decision — in this case, for the better — she decided to ask about selling her home.
With some information from her fellow churchgoer, Lakeisha put her house on the market and it sold in less than a week. She made $100,000 on the sell, and she found a new home in East Hall and the family moved in Aug. 9.
“I love the East Hall community,” Lakeisha said. “That was major for me, because even though I grew up kind of in the city, moving into that Habitat home and being a part of the East Hall community was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere.”
In order to sell a Habitat home, Alison McElvery, executive director at Habitat for Humanity of Hall County, said it’s similar to any other home. The Habitat homeowner has to pay off what’s remaining on the mortgage and then gets the rest to use for their new home. And in Lakeisha’s case, pay off all her debt, too.
“As a Habitat director — and I met with other metro Atlanta directors — a Habitat homeowner like Lakeisha doesn’t come around every day of the week,” McElvery said.
Lakeisha went through all the steps, putting in the time and effort to receive the Habitat home and continued working hard until she was able to sell that home and move into a new place that truly felt like her own.
And ever since McElvery’s known Lakeisha, she’s been impressed.
“She’s just a special, special person,” McElvery said of Lakeisha.
And Lakeisha couldn’t be more grateful for Habitat.
“They were probably the first ones that ever took a chance on me,” Lakeisha said.