Home for the holidays: Habitat builder comes home to Habitat house

The Christmas tree is up. The wreath is on the front door — their front door.

“We’re going to host Christmas at our house. We get to have Christmas at our house this year,” says Mitch Carlson, who this year has a home to call his own, in the Park Vista Place pocket neighborhood created by Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity. “It’s definitely an amazing feeling. First house, first Christmas, and we’re going to host everyone.”

Carlson is used to being on the other side of the equation. 

For more than three years, he has been a construction site supervisor for Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity, ensuring volunteers “have a great experience and help our families complete their homes.”
 
Before that, Carlson, who grew up in Holland, spent more than a dozen years as a full-time volunteer with Youth with a Mission building homes in Mexico.

That’s where he met his wife, Johally. The couple helped more than 300 families during their mission work.

Their two daughters were born in Mexico. Their son was born in the Dominican Republic. Carlson likes to describe his life as “three nations, five people, one family.”

Moving home

The opportunity for Mitch Carlson to work with Lakeshore Habitat led the family to move to his hometown of Holland, but the wait for a Green Card kept Johally Carlson from working.

“To get into housing would have taken I don’t know how many more years if we hadn’t qualified for this opportunity,” he says.

Habitat homes go to families who make 30% to 80% of the median area income. 

Because Carlson works for Habitat, the organization set clear parameters to make sure every detail was above board. He had to meet every requirement any Habitat homeowner would, including volunteer hours, which he fulfilled on Saturdays to avoid mixing time with his regular work hours.

“Hopefully we set an example of ‘Hey, we can help our employees meet some of the needs they have. We just need to do it all above board,’” he says.

Helping the helpers 

“We are thrilled to help the Carlsons have a safe, decent place to call home,” Lakeshore Habitat Executive Director Don Wilkinson says. “They have dedicated their lives to helping others through providing stable homes for families in Latin America and locally, and it is exciting to see them celebrate the holidays this year in their very own home.”

While Carlson was helping to build his own house in Park Vista Place, he was working on two other Habitat homes at the same time. While he says it was important to him to put in just as much effort into someone else’s home as his own, building his own house was just different.

Building neighborhood

“You’re building the place where we are going to live, where my kids are going to grow up, where we are going to make memories and friends,” he says. “To be at my house dedication, one of the things I couldn’t forget was all the times I had given the house keys to someone else, and now I was the one getting the keys. I was really able to connect with how that must have felt for them.”

Habitat families have to spend time building their own home as well as at least one other Habitat home. He and his neighbors had the rare experience of being able to build their neighborhood together.

The Carlson family pays a mortgage now, but it is $150 less than what their monthly rent had been.

“That’s a huge blessing for our family to be able to use those resources in other places,” Carlson says. “I have something I can give my kids now. As a father, now I’m putting money into my family instead of other people’s families.”

Transformational

Home ownership has changed his outlook on life in a way he describes as “transformational.”

“You might come out for four hours to a job site, thinking I want to help someone, but you’re transforming a life,” Carlson says.

 While working on homes in Park Vista Place, one neighbor told him, “Thank you for helping me build my neighborhood.”

“We started calling each other ‘neighbor,’ and then it hit me,” Carlson says. “This place is ours. This is where we belong.”
 

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.