Deron and Karen Lee aren't used to luxury. While living in a HUD-subsidized apartment in Tulsa, they thought their dream of owning a home was just that A dream. Now their dream is coming true through a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and the Mental Health Association in Tulsa.
Karen Lee helps secure the plywood sheathing to the front of her future home
The Lees, who recently celebrated their second anniversary, both suffer from bipolar disorder. They were selected last spring for their new home through Habitat for Humanity's Mental Health Partnership program. A 12-week build kicked off on June 26, 2004 with the traditional Wall Raising Ceremony. Tulsa's Mayor proclaimed it Mental Health Partnership Week. This is the first Mental Health Partnership home to be built in Oklahoma.
The couple met almost six years ago on Thanksgiving at Crossroads Clubhouse, a social and advocacy setting for mental health consumers. Although they have each been hospitalized in the past five years because of their mental illness, they have both been stable for the last two years. They are ready to realize their dream of homeownership.
Even before the wall raising, the Lees often went to the lot, took walks around the property, admired the big old oak tree at the front of the yard and imagined their new home. Once they even took a picnic dinner with them to the lot and imagined sitting in the kitchen. The Lees both glow when they talk about their new home. "We're pretty blessed," said 46-year old Karen Lee. "It's a wonderful thing because there are probably thousands of people in Tulsa who need a home like we do."
Like all people who get a home from Habitat for Humanity, the Lees must take a 10-month long money-management course and work 500 "sweat-equity" hours, which can include time they spend learning building techniques, hours helping to build their house and the homes of others, volunteering at Habitat's local office and attending other preparation classes. Before the wall raising, the Lees worked in the wood shop and the office. Now they're driving nails knowing they will move in soon.
Recognizing the important role housing plays in the recovery of people with mental illness, the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, in conjunction with HUD and a number of national leadership partners, will host the 2004 National Zarrow Mental Health Symposium (www.mhat.org/zarrow/overview.htm) - A Place to Call Home: Exploring innovative approaches to housing for people with mental illness. Conference dates are September 29 - October 1, 2004.
A dedication of the Lee's new home will open the conference with the fulfillment of a dream and inspiration to create new homeownership possibilities for people with mental illness.