Indianapolis woman gets back on her feet with help from Angie's List and Habitat for Humanity
Lena Allison knew she wanted her own home when she was 5 years old and helped her mom look for houses to rent. She would sit down with a newspaper and circle the listings that looked nice, with multiple bedrooms and several bathrooms. Her family moved at least once a year.
Now 26, the Indianapolis resident lives between two homes: her cousin’s apartment on the westside and her grandmother’s house on the eastside. She keeps most of her clothes in her truck, and she’s grown accustomed to sleeping on couches. The arrangement is temporary, however, because she’s about to have a home of her own.
Angie’s List plans to participate in a Habitat for Humanity program to help build Allison’s first home — a three-bedroom, two-story structure, which will be partially built on the Angie's List Campus June 7 and then moved to its permanent spot on the Near North Side. She says she views the home as an important step to becoming successful in life. Along with getting a home, she’s completing her associate degree, pursuing a bachelor’s degree and planning to start a career in nonprofit work.
Angie's List teams up with Habitat
Her blooming success follows a two-year struggle to recover from bankruptcy. “I’ve been telling people this is my year,” she says. “It’s been hard, but I’m finally seeing the finish line.”
Allison’s struggles started in 2005, after graduating from high school and moving to Bloomington to attend college at Indiana University. Like most young people, she says she quickly developed a habit for spending money she didn’t have and racking up debt. It wasn’t long before she was forced to file bankruptcy. “It was depressing and stressful,” she says. “You can’t get the things in life that you need when your credit is ruined.”
Allison says she became homesick and left Bloomington to return to Indianapolis after one semester. She worked at various places — a payroll business and a cargo company — but didn’t see her life going anywhere.
One day she decided to change all that. “It was one of those things where you wake up in the morning and want to change,” she says. “I thought to myself ‘what’s important in my life? What do I want?’”
One of the first things that came to her mind: her own home, a symbol of success.
She’s already made plans for her new house. She wants a guest bedroom with bunk beds for her 2-year-old nephew and three godsons, ages 2, 6 and 7.
They’ll have a backyard to play in too. Allison plans to buy play equipment of some sort, whether swing sets or jungle gyms — or maybe both. “That’s always been a dream,” she says. “If I don’t have kids of my own, I want a place for my nephew and godsons.”
Family has always been a cornerstone of her life. Her grandmother has nine children and 20 grandchildren.
Sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters come and go from the house all day, whether to visit or just stop by for lunch or dinner. Their family is close enough that cousin Stephanie Wilson didn’t mind opening up her apartment to Allison, even though her brother was staying with her too. “My brother’s an introvert, and Lena’s always at work, so it’s not too crowded,” Wilson says.
Allison spends about half her time living at her cousin’s apartment — where she sleeps on a couch — and the rest of her time living at her grandmother’s home. Her grandmother’s house is closer to her job at Goodwill, so where she stays the night depends on how long she’s willing to drive to work the next day.
Allison knew she needed help to get a home of her own, so she started looking for housing programs to get started with her dream. Her mother ended up finding a flyer for Habitat for Humanity, and she suggested that Allison contact the organization.
Allison spent two years working with Habitat for Humanity to prepare for owning a home. She took about 400 hours of classes teaching everything from managing finances to fire safety.
Meanwhile she finished her bankruptcy, paying off all her debt except for her student loans. She started saving money and living within her means. “I’ve become a budget freak,” she says.
In four months, Allison finishes her associate degree in business science through Indiana Wesleyan University. Her next step is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree and pursue nonprofit work.
Ideally, she would like to work with children and adults struggling to plan a path, she says. “I never knew what I wanted to do with my life [before now],” she says. “I’d like to work with others who are going through the same thing.”
Click here to see a video of a Habitat for Humanity build in action.