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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

March 4 is a great day. That’s the day, back in 1970, when Willa* moved from Jamaica to the States, following many of her friends who had done so in the ‘60s. First living in Fairfax, Willa and her husband moved to northwest D.C. after he joined her here in 1976.

Once in D.C., Willa started working at the Marriott on M Street NW in the kitchen and as a station attendant. Later she would become a supervisor for Marriott — a firm for whom she worked 26 years. Shortly after moving to D.C., Willa transferred to the Crystal City Marriott and with her husband, rented a home in Alexandria — one large enough to house three of their seven children who decided to join them from Jamaica.

On her way to work one morning, waiting at the bus stop, Willa met a woman from Trinidad and struck up a conversation about renting. The woman encouraged Willa to look into homeownership, something Willa and her husband thought would be out of their financial reach. With some work and discipline, Willa and her family bought a home in Hume Springs in 1978 — they’ve been there ever since. At the time, Willa paid $248 a month for her mortgage.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Willa recalls that the neighborhood had a minor drug problem. She credits her son (who became a pastor) with turning it around after a two night church event he held in the community to rally “anti-drug” troops. Since then, the neighborhood is much quieter, friendly, and safe. And for Willa, who does not drive, still very convenient to mass transit, parks, shops, and a bank.

Though her husband passed away and two of their children moved out, Willa still loves the convenience of her two-story row home. Her favorite room is the “Florida room,” a small room at the back of the house on the first floor, which is now her bedroom. When times were tough for the family, Willa tried to convince her husband to rent out the room, but by the time Willa got home from work that day, the space had been transformed into a family entertainment room — much to Willa’s chagrin, much to the children’s delight.

Helping maintain 78-year-old Willa’s Florida room and the rest of her home is volunteer-based Rebuilding Together Alexandria, providing home repair services free of charge that keep her warm and safe at home.

Rebuilding Together Alexandria is an award-winning, non-profit organization dedicated to repairing and revitalizing homes at no charge for homeowners in need, including elderly, disabled, military veterans and families. To date, in-kind donations of labor and materials have resulted in $6 million worth of value on more than 1,547 properties. If you would like to apply, volunteer or donate, visit www.RebuildingTogetherAlex.org or call 703-836-1021.

*It is RTA’s policy to not disclose full names.