Annette Tommila, an only child, grew up with a mother that struggled with alcohol addiction so house parties and domestic fights were not uncommon. Between the ages 14 and 17 Annette lived in foster care until moving out on her own at 17. By the young age of 19 she'd had her first child, Jennifer, and by 21 her second, Nash. During this time her mom passed away, meaning she lost the only family she had to addiction. Married at 22, Annette had four more children, Christopher, Katrina, Kari, and KayDee. In 2008, Annette made the difficult decision to leave her youngest four children with their father and filed for divorce.
Johnny Tommila grew up in a two-parent household with 5 siblings. They were very close but, in spite of his supportive family, John began his struggle with alcohol at a young age. He dropped out of high school and started down a path of trouble with the law but later obtained his GED. Similarly to Annette, he was married and divorced early in his adult life.
Annette and John met in 2009 and have been married since 2015. Together, they bought a mobile home in 2010 but lost it to fire in 2013. During this time, Johnny had to have back surgery, which started his next chapter of chemical dependency and Annette’s first. Together they traveled the path of addiction until they hardly recognized themselves. They realized that quitting and reforming the people they were no longer proud of would require the help of others.
In 2016, the pair were arrested due to drug use, and the experience began their road to recovery. They found a higher power, started to understand and deal with the pain of their past, and gained the confidence to know a positive life without addiction was possible.
As a couple, John and Annette are pursuing their desire to become better people. They have many short- and long-term goals on their new life journey, wanting most to be positive role models for Annette’s children and granddaughter Audrey. They feel very blessed to be living the life they have now and dream of the place that will be their forever home, welcoming family and friends to gather and enjoy holidays.
Would you like to help families realize their dream of homeownership? Donate or volunteer with us!
The Jensen Family is excited to be the newest partner family for Itasca County Habitat for Humanity. Justine Jensen, who grew up in Marble and attended Greenway Public Schools, is a very determined individual. A mother of three, she earned her GED while working full time in order to better provide for her family.
Justine went back to school in 2016 to obtain a 2-year Industrial Power Generation degree with a diploma in Pulp and Paper from Itasca Community College. In 2018 Justine started working in her current position in the distribution center for ASV. “ASV is a great family friendly place to work. They’re always willing to work with you if you need time off” says Justine. For the last few years she has helped with the highway clean-up project for ASV and says it made her realize how much she enjoys giving back.
Some of Justine’s hobbies include cooking, gardening, hunting, and fishing. She just loves anything outdoors! With her boys getting older, the prospect of having a house in town is exciting. They can then be more social and get involved in extracurricular activities. Justine states, “I have been working toward my own home for a long time. This will be our first actual home and I am so thankful to get this opportunity.” Justine has already been putting in volunteer hours and has attended financial classes offered through Habitat even before becoming a partner family. She is excited to learn more about building and maintaining houses.
The Jensens will be on schedule to purchase and move into their home in early summer 2020. This will be the 44th house that Itasca County Habitat for Humanity has built.
Donate to Habitat to help more families like the Jensens realize their dreams of homeownership. If you’d like to assist with the construction of the Jensen’s home, volunteer with us!
It was great to get to know the Care-a-Vanners while they were in town! Most of them spend about 6 or 7 weeks on the road a year, visiting different Habitat build sites across the country. Sometimes they visit sites close to home in Minnesota, but they’ve also gone as far away as Texas and New Mexico to help out at build sites there. We interviewed a few of the volunteers about their experiences and relationship to Habitat.
Sue & David
Sue and David were looking for a project to do after they retired. A friend suggested they try Care-a-Vanning, and they found that it was the perfect way to do good while traveling and having new experiences. The first build site they visited was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and they remember that their GPS kept bringing them to a cemetery instead of the build site!
Sue and David find it particularly rewarding to work alongside partner families and see their excitement about having a home of their own. Sue tells a story of running into a woman who was two years away from paying off the mortgage on her Habitat home. As a Care-a-Vanner Sue usually only gets to meet partner families at the beginning of their journey with Habitat, and it was inspiring to meet someone who had successfully owned a home for so many years.
Lowell, from the small Wisconsin town of Milton, was the only non-Minnesotan Care-a-Vanner who traveled to Grand Rapids this year. He and his wife, Linda, have been traveling around to different build sites for almost ten years! Lowell’s favorite part of Care-a-Vanning is the people he meets. Some of his favorite Care-a-Vanning memories include sitting around the fire at night with other Care-a-Vanners, relaxing and getting to know each other. Lowell and Linda have stayed in touch with some of the Care-a-Vanners they’ve met. They call Care-a-Vanning “a worthwhile way to spend retirement!”
Diane worked in social work and education for years, and saw up close a need for affordable housing. After retiring she sold her home, and before moving into a new home she saw an opportunity to help. She just started Care-a-Vanning in the past year, beginning with a long stint in Florida, visiting Myrtle Beach and Panama City.
Diane describes her time in Panama City as ”eye-opening” – she saw a lot of inequality and met a lot of people living in transition. However, she also saw that a lot of people were there to help, and she was able to meet people from all over the country. She’s grateful that her only Care-a-Vanning mishap so far has been a flat tire in Panama City, and she immediately found someone to help her out.
The Care-a-Vanners finished their work early enough to visit the office and shop at the ReStore before having one last lunch and taking off. We’re so grateful to have spent time with so many dedicated volunteers, and it’s inspiring to see so many people come together to build a family’s home. If you’re interested in volunteering with us, you can learn more and sign up on our website.