Leanne DeFrancisco learned about Habitat for Humanity from a friend of the family 18 years ago after coming to Atlanta to be closer to family, and leaving a very difficult personal situation in Florida behind.
Determined to make a new life for herself and two daughters, she contacted the Habitat Affiliate in Gwinnett County to learn more about their home ownership program and attended one of their informational meetings and submitted her application to become a Habitat home owner.
Leanne was not accepted on her first attempt. Although she was disappointed, she did not give up and used the denial reasons as a basis to remedy the matters that needed work, then resubmitted her application the following year. Believing in the mission and vision of Habitat for Humanity’s homeowner partnership and focused on becoming a part of the program, Leanne never lost hope in the future she knew a home would provide for her and her daughters. She was overjoyed to be accepted on the second attempt.
While spending many hours helping other families construct their homes over the next year, Leanne started to discover the partnership with Habitat for Humanity was becoming foundational in developing life skills and community relationships. She also realized, over time, the equity she could build in her home might provide her the resources she would need to help send her daughters to college.
With the confidence gained from classes the Gwinnett Affiliate held for new homeowners and a vision in mind for her children’s future, Leanne decided to return to school while working and serving her sweat-equity hours. She earned credentialing of Graduate Gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America and launched a career in the jewelry industry.
The house, the career, and a bright future were so close. Finally, the following year good news came that construction would actually begin on the house that would become the home she would share and cherish with her daughters.
The relationships Leanne developed with the people who helped build her home were life changing. She had never met so many wonderful and kind people so willing to help and she treasures those relationships to this very day.
One of the financial sponsors for her home was a very successful car dealer in the community. His wife hosted a housewarming party for Leanne. This woman opened her lovely home and invited her friends to help Leanne furnish her home. Spending time with those kind and loving women inspired Leanne in ways she had never expected. Her Habitat for Humanity Family Support couple had a 60th birthday party for the husband where all of the gifts showered Leanne and her children with just about everything needed to set up house from toolkits and cleaning supplies to bedding. The encouragement and help of so many wonderful volunteers and sponsors over the four years it took to complete her home gave Leanne a deep sense of gratitude and pride.
All of these blessings and experiences gave Leanne courage and self-confidence she had never had before and although they faced challenges in their journey, they never lost their faith in God and His goodness. Their hearts were so often filled with thanksgiving for the kindness and love they received from so many people.
In the years to come, there were many unforgettable milestones for this family as they lived in their home. One such story Leanne shared with tears in her eyes, of the first Christmas she could afford to buy presents to put under the tree for the kids because of the ability to work and live in a solid, affordable home withiN a good community. Leanne made a vow that when the time came she would pass forward the kindness and generosity she and her family had received.
Time has passed quickly it seems for this wonderful family. In the years to come, knowing that the house was a stabilizing and affordable footing for her family, Leanne raised her daughters and learned to make sound business decisions. Her daughters are grown up and beginning their journey into adulthood and Leanne paid off her 20 year mortgage in just 10 years. What a remarkable accomplishment that is.
Leanne’s 18 year journey has come full circle. She is now, in fact, paying it forward by serving on the Board of Directors of the same Gwinnett Affiliate who helped build her home. Her personal knowledge and experience bring valuable insights to the Board in their decision making process.
She is passionately committed to providing other families the “hand up” and opportunities that can change their lives forever, empowering them to build strength, stability and self-reliance as she was taught by Habitat for Humanity: through hard work, service and volunteerism.
Leanne’s story is an enduring testament to the generations of families that have been uplifted and supported in amazing ways by the grace of God and help of so many volunteers , sponsors and donors. These inspiring people have carried the mission of Habitat for Humanity in the hearts and on their shoulders over the last 40 years in our local communities and around the world.
We are so grateful Leanne shared her story with us all.