JOLIET — Lavonda is a mother, medical worker, and veteran who joined the Army on her 18th birthday and served as a cook.

Lavonda recipient of a new home through Habitat for Humanity

Eventually, Lavonda left to raise her son. After two failed marriages and the birth of her second child, Lavonda found professional success in the hospitality industry until COVID-19 shutdowns made work unstable.

After years of living in government housing, Lavonda heard about a program sponsored by Habitat for Humanity with a focus on helping veterans achieve homeownership, but to qualify applicants needed to have stable employment.

“I Made it my mission to go out and figure out how to qualify for this program,” said Lavonda. “So, for the next few months I just looked and searched.”

Lavonda’s work paid off – and she found a permeant position in health care.

“We give a hand up and not a handout,” said Nicole Murray, executive director of Will County Habitat for Humanity. “They pay a mortgage, they volunteer. And they go through financial and home ownership classes. We really do set them up to succeed.”

With help from Habitat from Humanity, things were starting to turn around. But Lavonda never imagined what happened next.

Nearly 100 volunteers came out to help construct the frame of her soon-to-be home and more than 75 local businesses participated in a whiskey festival that raised a combined $150,000 to build the new home.

“It feels good to be a part of something like this,” said Jamie Albert president of the Brewers Guild. “I’ve done a million beer festivals, a lot of them don’t have a cause, it’s just getting a group of people-likeminded beer lovers together, but having a cause like this, I can’t wait to get my team from the brewery out there.”

Lavonda may be a mother of two, but her family just got a whole lot bigger.