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Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

Fifteen years ago, Patricia Forest-Acy was living on the streets in New Orleans. She was trapped in a cycle of substance abuse. To find a place to lay her head at night she would sometimes resort to staying with a man who whipped and abused her.

In 2005, the ferocious winds of Hurricane Katrina came crashing in on her city. She didnt think she was going to survive as she watched the few possessions she owned wash away in the floods.

With no place to go she joined other storm evacuees who ended up in the neighboring state of Texas, where she found her way to McKinney and a new life. She quit using drugs, got married and found a job. On Saturday, with the help of Collin County Habitat for Humanity, she was given the key to a home of her own that she helped build.

God had his angels watch over me,she says, gripping the key tight in her hand during the house dedication. He took the taste of drugs away. He opened doors for me.

Forest-Acy, 55, who has worked for 11 years as a custodian cleaning schools for the McKinney Independent School District, danced and twirled as she opened the door to her new home in McKinney. 

She was welcomed by a parade of honking cars filled with church members, co-workers, neighbors and volunteers. Normally they would join her for a tour of her new home. But these are different times, when a world-wide pandemic has forced personal distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Volunteers and Habitat crew members worked hard to complete the Forest-Acy home, which she hopes to share with her 65-year-old husband, Billy Don Acy, when he is well enough to join her. 

Her husband, who served as a combat engineer in Germany in the U.S. Army in the 1970s, is a bone cancer survivor and has prostate cancer, making it too risky for him to be around people with a compromised immune system.  Since October, he has been living in a nearby senior care rehabilitation facility where he is recovering from a series of strokes.

Forest-Acy was visiting her husband every day after work or during her lunch hour until recently when the center only allows video calls once a week. They are both survivors. Battling addiction, they found love in each other and have been married for 12 years and sober for more than 10 years. Between them, they have seven children, 19 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.  

One of the first pieces of furniture I am moving into the living room is his automatic chair that helps him stand,she says. 

Their home had been under construction since last year with the sponsorship and volunteer help provided by local corporations including Developing Solutions, Republic Bank, CoServ, Capital One, GreenBrick Partners, MCDC, Harley-Davidson Financial and State Farm.

Forest-Acy, like all Habitat homeowners, also had a hand in constructing the house. The couple were able to apply and qualify for zero equivalent interest and low monthly payments. She has put in more than 400 hours of community service on two other houses, other community projects and on their own home. 

I have learned to use a gun hammer, I sawed and painted, I did it allexcept get on the roof,Forest-Acy says. It has been an amazing journey to see the empty lot where it all began and help build my house from scratch to what it is today.

Her husband was able to pack boxes and work on other community projects before he became too sick to help anymore.

Their journey began two years ago when the couple were living in a low income housing development just minutes away. 

God definitely had his hand in this; even the address numbers are the same, just flipped,Forest-Acy says.

Wearing a mask, she walks other masked volunteers through her new home, hanging tight to the key presented her. She points to the door thresholds. 

While building the home, she wrote a Scripture verse on the studs over doors in the house. She wrote a verse from John 3:16 over the living room door that reads: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

On a stud over the kitchen, she wrote a verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

During the dedication of her house, she accepted a quilt made by a volunteer given to her from her Habitat for Humanity mentor. They wrapped their arms around their own bodies and motioned a distant hug for one another.

Thank you for showing me what its like to be independent,she says. You motivate me to do anything I put my mind to. This is not the end of my journey. Anyone else who needs help, I will be there and pick up a hammer.

As businesses begin to open, Habitat is asking for donations and volunteers to work at the organization’s ReStore, which had to reduce staff. It sells used furniture and other household items to raise proceeds to build new houses. For more information, go to habitatcollincounty.org/ntx-giving-tuesday-now/ or call 972-542-5300.

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Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News,...