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AEP Texas employees build a home, change a family

by on December 19, 2013
AEP Texas employees — along with family members and friends — helped frame up two houses recently for Habitat for Humanity. Photos by Omar Lopez.

(Story by Omar Lopez)

For the past 18 years, Norma Resendez has never had a place to call her own.

Resendez has never been homeless, but she has always raised her children under someone else’s roof. She has lived in apartments and in shared houses all over Texas — from Beaumont to Pittsburgh. Today, she lives in a garage of sorts in Pharr, Texas, measuring 60 square feet.

All of that will change this Christmas.

Resendez, her husband and her two sons will finally live in a home of their own, one that Rio Grande Valley employees helped to build recently for Habitat for Humanity of the Rio Grande Valley. Nearly 50 AEP Texas employees — along with family members and friends — framed two houses for the organization.

Habitat for Humanity is a worldwide Christian ministry devoted to making sure families have the chance to live in safe and affordable housing. The organization builds and repairs houses, and then sells them to families using non-profit, no-interest finance options or alternative financing methods. Across the world, Habitat for Humanity has helped over 4 million people find housing.

This year, the chapter in the Rio Grande Valley celebrates its 25th anniversary. Veronica Villegas, executive director of the chapter, said the group has built over 36 houses in the Valley, including Habitat Circle, a neighborhood built entirely of Habitat for Humanity projects.

Villegas said company efforts and volunteer labor, like the AEP Texas RGV initiative, are the magic that makes the mission of the non-profit work.

“Our lifeline is volunteers,” Villegas said. “Without groups like AEP Texas who come out and provide us with these services and volunteer labor, we are unable to help families. Through these kinds of donations we are able to build homes.”

Employees on this day donated labor – a lot of it.

The Resendez house is being built in a neighborhood in San Juan, Texas, next door to another Habitat project. In fact, four Habitat houses will eventually stand next to one another on this street. On this day, employee volunteers framed two houses, side by side.

From left, Areli Serna, daughter of Jesse Cedillo, meter electrician, Pharr Service Center; Marissa Espinoza, daughter of Frank Espinoza, community affairs manager in San Benito; and Susie Cedillo, wife of Jesse Cedillo, work on the Habitat house.

Families must also contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity” to the house before they are handed the keys.

Resendez was at the work site with her two sons, Octavio, 16, and Abraham, 11. The boys hammered and nailed and Resendez combed the work site with a magnetic roller, picking up nails and screws.

Community affairs managers Frank Espinoza and Lee Jones teamed up to coordinate the activity. He said that exercises in culture like the building day define what he feels is the strongest component of the company: our people.

“The AEP Texas employees of the Rio Grande Valley gathered to assist a family secure a home, a dream that they have wanted for many years,” Espinoza said. “More importantly as a company, we engaged our employees in our community.”

Employees who volunteered work Valley-wide, from Post Isabel to McAllen.

“Our employees wanted to work on a project where they could ‘get their hands dirty,’ and immediately we thought of Habitat. Habitat for Humanity is an organized, respected organization with an established blueprint on how to do something like this,” Espinoza said. “For me, this day is a reminder that when we give back, we increase our self-worth. When you reach out and meet the people who you are building the home for, and you see them working along with you, that in itself will builds self-esteem in our employees. We will all be able to say, ‘My fellow employees and I took part in that. We helped to make that happen.’”

Villegas agrees. She said the day would give back to AEP Texas much more than the employees contributed.

“Not only have the employees helped someone in need in their own community, but we have built a lot of camaraderie today,” she said. “People come together on different days and build a home, but they build a team. When you lift a piece of plywood, you have to depend on someone to share the load. The family we help today gets to see that, and the employee volunteers get to take that with them.”

Best of all, Resendez said for the time, her family will be together under their own roof.

“We have been renters for 18 years or living with family,” Resendez said. “This is the first time we’ll be alone, as a family, together in our own home.”

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