Ashley family, 2021

Ariell Ashley's Story

Ariell Ashley spent her first 18 years in Chicago, then moved to Memphis, Tennessee for another 13 (yes, she lived just down the street from Elvis’s Graceland). She missed Chicago, but it was not always the safest place to raise children. As an employee of Sam’s Club, she had the chance to transfer back to Illinois. Bloomington was a safer community for her children, she had a support system of family friends here, and she could live close to her job, so she accepted the position of manager of pickup services at the Normal store.

When the Ariell and her kids, now aged 14, 13, 11 & 5, first moved to town a few years ago, she was staying at Home Sweet Home shelter. She could look out the window and see the government subsidized Woodhill Towers, which is where she currently lives. She and her kids share a cramped apartment, with very little access to outdoor play areas that are safe.

“There are so many challenges raising kids,” Ashley says. She just wants to be able to let them “play outside without having to worry about them.”

She knew about Habitat through a cousin in Memphis who was a partner family. He was one of the honored homeowners who had help building his home from Jimmy Carter, Habitat’s most well-known volunteer. Ariell didn’t think she would qualify, but did some research online to get more information and learned it was a perfect fit for her. She applied late 2019, was accepted, then had to wait for a Covid year before she finally got her lot and the green light for her build.

Growing up, Ariell did not have one stable place to live and was moved around a lot. She wanted something different for her kids. “I’m doing something important for my kids and generations to follow,” Ashley says. “A house is a stable place for them to grow up and something I can pass down to them.” She’s already envisioning her kids bringing their kids to show off the room they grew up in.

Ariell’s journey has taken her so far, yet she’s hardly gone far at all geographically. The fact she started her life in Bloomington at the Home Sweet Home shelter on Oakland, then moved to subsidized housing on Oakland, and is now building her future and her very own home – on Oakland – was not lost on Ariell. “I think this is really symbolic,” she shares.

She has already worked hard to get to this stage in the Habitat process. Finding 250 hours of build time on top of working full time and raising 4 children on her own will be no small task. Ariell is determined, though. Determined to build a better future for her family as she builds their home.