Guerra family, 2020

Elaina Guerra grew up in the Bloomington-Normal foster care system. After high school graduation, she was looking forward to a future full of possibilities. She started at Heartland Community College, while working fulltime as a teacher’s assistant in a day care. Elaina also found love. She married at age 18 and they started a family shortly thereafter.

When their first child was diagnosed with autism, everything changed for Elaina. She and her husband made the difficult decision that Elaina would stay home to care for their daughter. Three more children were born into her family, with her third child, a son, also diagnosed with autism. Despite the challenges Elaina faced, she valued her family above all else, especially because it was not something she had growing up.

Unexpected events “turned her life upside down” resulting in the loss of everything she knew as a complete family and home. Finding a new place she could afford, with four children relying on her, alone, meant public housing. Though she was grateful to have anyplace to live, it was a time of emotional and financial struggle for Elaina. She was determined to create a different life for her children.

Better housing was Elaina’s top priority. Five people living in a crowded three-bedroom apartment means there isn’t enough space for her family, let alone for the speech and occupational therapy both her autistic children needed. She is concerned about the safety inside and outside their apartment complex, which also impacts the willingness of her children’s therapists to do in-home visits. She needed a healthier solution for her family.

Elaina heard about Habitat McLean County through friends, but put off getting more information. She didn’t think she would qualify as a partner family. When she finally visited our website, she learned what she needed to do to better her chances of selection. She began chipping away, working on her credit, and getting her finances in order, so she could be in a stronger place to be approved.

Recently, Elaina’s life was turned upside right due to her focused efforts. She was getting groceries when she saw a call from our Family Services Manager and describes the moment, “I will never forget that day! I went outside to take the call and ripped my mask off. When Holly told me I had been approved, I just smiled and smiled - and I think I squealed. I was so happy!” Elaina was pretty sure people in the Walmart parking lot were wondering what was going on with this happy, squealing woman.

Having a home represents “everything about being a family” to Elaina, a place where everyone can be together safely and thrive. Her autistic children can have their speech and occupational therapy. She was recently approved to have 90 hours a month allocated to in-home care for her autistic children during the day, which will allow her to get a part-time job. Most importantly, she will be able to go back to school to finish what she started. Her goal is a degree in special education, because, she said, “I have gained so much knowledge from my personal experience. I feel I have a lot to give to special needs kids and their parents.”

With a couple of her children starting to think about their futures, Elaina added, “It’s important to me to be an example for my children.”

Your hard work is already setting an example, Elaina. We celebrate you joining the Habitat partner families and your thriving future ahead!