WINCHESTER — When Liliya El Abani’s husband died unexpectedly three years ago, she was left alone to raise three children and had no idea how she would make it.
Good fortune eventually led her to Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity, a Winchester-based nonprofit at 400 Battaile Drive that makes it possible for financially struggling individuals and families to buy a house with affordable mortgage payments in exchange for their help in building the structure.
On Friday afternoon, El Abani’s perseverance and hard work paid off as she and her three kids — Saber, Daliya and Amir — cut the ribbon on their brand new Habitat-built house in the 200 block of Baker Street in Winchester.
Despite the 90-degree heat, the ceremony attracted numerous local dignitaries including City Council members John Hill and Evan Clark, state Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, City Manager Dan Hoffman, Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum, other Habitat for Humanity beneficiaries, and representatives from several local businesses whose financial assistance and donations of labor and materials made the construction project possible. Sen. Mark Warner, R-Va., and Jonathan T.M. Rockford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, could not attend the ceremony but sent letters of congratulations to the El Abanis.
“This is an amazing day for our family, for the organization, for the community,” said City Councilor and Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Kim Herbstritt as she welcomed the approximately 30 people in attendance. “This house is truly a house of love.”
To comply with Habitat policies and to keep building costs as low as possible, El Abani and her children volunteered several days worth of labor to complete the construction project that began in October during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Herbstritt said building a house during the pandemic was very challenging due to supply shortages and transportation delays.
“Just getting the siding took eight or 10 weeks, whereas before it would have taken us two weeks,” she said. “We’re just so happy to be here today to finally pass this on to the homeowner.”
Lilaya El Abani wanted to thank those in attendance but was concerned people would have a hard time understanding her accent, so she wrote a speech that was delivered by her teenage daughter, Daliya.
“From filling out documents to physical labor, each one of you in the family of Habitat for Humanity has contributed to making my once distant dream into a reality,” Daliya said on behalf of her mother. “You’ve given me a home and an opportunity to be a homeowner, but most importantly, you’ve gifted me with stability.”
Herbstritt said Habitat homes provide clients like the El Abanis with more than shelter; they also help them secure a better, more prosperous future.
“This house will have an affordable mortgage for the family, which will have huge impacts for them to be able to create wealth, education, good health,” Herbstritt said. “It’s going to be a great benefit for them.”
“This is what the dream’s all about,” Wiley added. “Habitat for Humanity is a great program.”
The El Abanis will have lots of neighbors on or near Baker Street who have also benefitted from Habitat’s assistance. Their new home is located in a neighborhood already populated by about a half-dozen Habitat houses, and Herbstritt said another five dwellings are scheduled to be built there by her nonprofit organization starting in the next month or two.
“The organization is working hard to ramp up our production,” she said. “Rather than building one, two, three homes a year, we need to be building 10, 15, 20 and more because that’s the magnitude of the need in our area.”
To learn more about Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity, visit blueridgehabitat.org.