The Aldabea family in Northeast Portland's Cully neighborhood

When Syrian refugees Samer and Fatema Aldabea emigrated to the U.S. more than four years ago, they found sanctuary, knowing the devastation of their country’s ongoing civil war was behind them. With their four children, the couple settled in Portland and found a three-bedroom apartment to rent, and although their arrival marked the end of a long and arduous journey, many challenges still remained for the family.

Samer lives with a condition that requires the use of a wheelchair, yet he and his wife cannot afford living accommodations suitable for his accessibility requirements. In their apartment, all of the rooms and doorways are very small, and they often sleep with their belongings crowded around them. Poor ventilation increases humidity and grows mold, so they are forced to open the windows, even when it’s cold outside, exacerbating Samer’s allergies and asthma.

Now that they’ve partnered with Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, the Aldabea family will be able to breathe easier, in a space that meets their needs. “The day we were accepted by Habitat is the day we consider with the utmost happiness,” Samer says. “We cannot express enough how grateful we are. Practically the only dream that we’ve had is to own a house. We know that by owning a house we are guaranteed a stable place.”

Since 1981, Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East has built and repaired over 450 homes for families in the Portland Metro area, with plans to greatly expand their construction efforts in 2021. Habitat’s work is funded largely through the support of local community partners, including Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.

A Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East work crew

Regence understands the deeper impact that safe, stable, and affordable housing has on an individual’s health and well-being. Earlier this summer, the local health insurer announced a multiyear investment toward Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build safe, affordable homes for Oregonians impacted by health and socioeconomic disparities. Of this contribution, half will go toward the completion of 42 homes in North Portland, providing housing for 200 Oregonians. The remaining amount will support Habitat’s 10-home community in the Cully neighborhood, where Samer and Fatema’s family will reside.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the gaps and disparities that exist within our health and social care system,” said Peggy Maguire, Regence’s senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and palliative care solutions. “Guided by the core beliefs that health disparities are not inevitable and that access to safe, stable, and affordable housing is a key social determinant of health, Regence is proud to partner with Habitat for Humanity to improve overall individual, neighborhood, and community health.”

When the Aldabeas first fled Syria, they lived for years in neighboring Jordan; on the outskirts of society, they endured constant fear of retaliation from the locals, never venturing anywhere after dark. With Habitat’s help, they can finally lay down roots and create a prosperous future for their children among a diverse, welcoming community in Northeast Portland. Their youngest daughter will be free to learn and play with all of her toys. They can pick out furniture and comfortably host guests. Samer will enjoy unrestricted movement in his ADA-accessible house, and he can pursue his love of gardening. But more than anything, it means peace of mind.

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