Habitat home life-changing for local woman


Her name is Tracey. She’s a courageous, resilient woman who has endured more than her share of adversity. Talking about it, her voice cracks, though never when describing the hardships she has faced. Instead, she becomes emotional when speaking of the kindness of those who have helped her, particularly her employer and the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

A native of Maine, Tracey earned her degree in music and worked as a jazz performer on nights and weekends in places like Boston and New York. During the week, she worked at large corporations as an administrative manager. Later, she taught jazz, pop and Broadway music lessons.

But in 2008, she learned she had advanced degenerative disc and bone disease combined with advanced osteoarthritis. The frequent surgeries and constant pain forced her to end her administrative career and curtail her music lessons.

The Road to St. Augustine

In 2013, after her daughter went off to college, Tracey moved to Naples, Florida, where she would be near family. But it was very expensive, and she needed roommates to help pay the bills.

“It was tough,” she said.

After five years, one of her friends moved to St. Augustine and invited her to come along. She agreed and rented from her friend, relying on her disability check and occasional music work. Finding regular full-time employment was hard; she was upfront about her physical limitations when interviewed, which tended to cause employers to look for someone else.

“I have seven screws in my right foot, six in my left, a replaced right shoulder, a plate and six screws in my neck, and I’ve had five lumbar back surgeries,” she said.

About this time, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. And, if finding work was not difficult enough, COVID-19 arrived early in 2020, and places that needed musicians were suddenly closed.

Finding a home

Not wanting to overstay her welcome at her friend’s place, Tracey found a trailer in St. Augustine. But it wasn’t anyone’s idea of a dream home.

“It was really junky and very, very, very old,” she said. “When you looked down between the walls and the floor, you could see the ground.”

There were broken windows, and the air conditioner didn’t work. Summer heat turned the trailer into an oven. At one point, Tracey had to sell all her music equipment and 150 music books just to pay the rent.

A friend suggested she apply for a home through Habitat for Humanity. But Tracey didn’t believe she would qualify.

“That’s for people who really need it,” she told her friend.

In the end, her friend prevailed. A corporation purchased the trailer park and gave residents 45 days to vacate.

So in May 2020, Tracey applied for a Habitat house. A month later, she was told she qualified, though one condition posed a dilemma: Due to her physical limitations, she couldn’t perform the usual “sweat equity” work on her home, which is required of applicants.

By special arrangement, she was allowed to work for other nonprofits instead. She worked for Epic-Cure, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Hugs Across the County.

Another condition also threatened to end her hopes for a home: She had to have an income to have a Habitat house. She did get a job in October 2021, two months before closing on her new home, but it was hard labor, and she knew the days of her employment were numbered.

“By February, I was realizing: I can’t keep doing this; this is killing me,” she said.

Fortunately, The St. Augustine Distillery Co., one of the big supporters of Habitat for Humanity of St. Augustine/St. Johns County, had volunteers in the neighborhood. When told about Tracey’s plight, the business agreed to interview her.

“They hired me on the spot,” Tracey said. “It’s been two years. I love my job. I love the people there. They’re very helpful and kind and accommodating and nice people.”

Today, she is living comfortably in her Habitat home.

“I’m so, so, so, so grateful to have this house and this roof over my head,” she said. “You know, I feel like God put these people in my life. It’s a big deal.”

Today, she has advice for anyone needing a home but who avoids applying to Habitat for Humanity.

“If they’re not sure, I would encourage people to understand that it’s not a handout; it’s a hand up,” she said. “If you think you might qualify, then just look into it.”

Habitat for Humanity of St. Augustine/St. Johns County can be reached at 904-826-3252. Learn more at habitatstjohns.org.

Click HERE to read about how Habitat for Humanity of St. Augustine/St. Johns County is helping to mitigate the local housing crisis.