Gilas' Family Story
The journey to homeownership is a long one for many families – but for Gilas that distance has been physical as well as metaphorical.
Originally from Kurdistan, Gilas built a successful career as a teacher and later a school principal. When her homeland became too dangerous, though, the family fled to the United States—and she had to start over.
“I was the educated one, and I didn’t speak any English!” she says. “Oh, I cried a lot.”
She adds, “It was really, really hard for me to move here and leave everything behind, especially my [extended] family and my job.”
With the help of Lutheran Family Services, Gilas, her then-husband, and their son relocated to Colorado Springs—and she plans to remain here. “People here are so friendly. They’re really helpful,” she says. “I can never see myself loving another state. Here is so quiet; I like it, and I like the weather, too.”
After arriving in El Paso County, Gilas enrolled in English as a Second Language classes and eventually began studying at Pikes Peak Community (now State) College, with the goal of becoming a medical assistant.
After about a year and a half, she was hired as a vaccinator at the Broadmoor World Arena. “They trained me how to inject,” she explains, “and then I felt pretty comfortable with using the needle.” That led to a career as a phlebotomist, a field in which she’s worked full-time for the past two years.
Learning a new language and rebuilding a professional life aren’t the only challenges she’s faced, though. As a single mom, she struggles with the high cost of living in El Paso County. She and her 12-year-old son share a one-bedroom apartment. “I tried to get at least a townhome, but with one income it was so hard for me to afford,” she explains.
And she’s experienced some unsafe conditions in her neighborhood. “I was going to pick up my son from school, and then I got attacked by three pit bull dogs,” she says. “This apartment, I’m not saying it’s really, really bad, no; but that was one of the things.”
She’s looking forward to feeling more secure in her Pikes Peak Habitat home—“to live in my house and be safe and be happy and have great neighbors, neighbors to depend on!” says Gilas.
Homeownership is a key piece of the new life she’s building in the United States. She became a citizen a few months before her acceptance into Pikes Peak Habitat’s program.
“When you get your citizenship, it feels more that this is your home,” she explains, “but culturally, I grew up in a big house, great community, nice neighborhoods, nice neighbors, too. I’ve been dreaming about it.”
Unlike other families currently in our homeownership program, Gilas and her son will live in a recycled home – a house previously built by Pikes Peak Habitat and then returned to our stock of affordable homes through purchase, as an estate, or in other ways. Part of her sweat equity will include working alongside construction crews and volunteers to renovate the home, which is located in the Woodmen Vistas subdivision, so it meets current construction and energy standards before she and her son move in.
“It’s going to be a great memory that you worked for this house!” she says. “It just feels good. It’s not just something you get; you work for it. And then you know, when maybe your friends come over, then you will say, ‘Well, when they were remodeling, I did this, I did this,’ you know, ‘This looks like this and right now it looks like that’—you have something to tell.”
And knowing that people are volunteering their time to work on her home is powerful to Gilas.
“Especially when you have a different culture and different religion from where you come, it’s just great!” she says. “I got goose bumps. It just feels really, really good.”
Meeting other volunteers also motivates her. “How could I not work 200 hours?” she exclaims. “It’s just like it pushes you and tells you that okay, even when you get the house, you have to volunteer still.”
She looks forward to having her own space and especially her own kitchen – and her son is thrilled about the possibilities that having a home will offer him, too!
“Every single day, he’s saying, ‘Well, I’m going to put this in my room. We’re going to have a house; we’re going to have a backyard! I’m going to plant this; maybe I will get some birds,’” Gilas enthuses. “He is really, really, really excited!”
As a parent, she’s pleased that her son will have his own room and a stable place to live. As a Kurdish-American, she understands the need for him to have roots in the United States.
“It’s really, really important for my son, because I’m not going back home to live there,” she says. “Pretty much, English is the first language for my son. I cannot mess up with his education, so getting this house is really important. It made me settle more and work harder, honestly, and raise my son in the house. It’s really exciting!”
About Recycled Homes
A recycled home was built by Pikes Peak Habitat, sold to another homeowner, then returned to our stock for any of several reasons. Thus residence in the Woodmen Vistas subdivision will be renovated to meet current construction and energy standards before Gilas purchases it.