A yard is never just a yard. It’s more than grass and dirt. For many of us, a yard is a place of escape. The solitary stretch of land that truly belongs to a person. In your yard, you are the undisputed ruler; at peace with the entirety of your kingdom. The rest of the world fades away for a while. Usually.
For Laquita, the yard was something entirely different. It was a realm of chaos, a signal that she was losing control. Even though she is a gardener and landscaper by trade, her backyard was her biggest source of stress when we met a year ago. She couldn’t look at it without seeing a long list of things that needed to be done. Things of which to be ashamed.
There were more problems, of course; broken windows, faulty insulation, and a leaky roof among them. But a year after her home was repaired by a team of volunteers during Community Powered Revitalization (CPR), the yard is still Laquita’s favorite talking point.
Life as a (Grand)mother
Laquita has served as the sole guardian for two of her three grandchildren for years. The boys, now pre-teens, have been with her for almost their entire life. The eldest came under her care five months after his birth. His younger brother joined the family before he could crawl.
“My daughter made a lot of bad choices in her life. CPS stepped in and I ended up with them,” she recalled. “I basically was raising the oldest one, anyway. So it wasn’t bad. It became a little bit busier at the house, but [I was never afraid to take them on]. They’re family.
“[Their mother] gets mad at me because I call them my boys all the time, but they are. They’ve been mine forever.”
Occasionally, the boys have to be reminded to call her ‘grandma’ instead of ‘mom.’ Superlatives aside, the family looks just like any other. The boys go to school every morning and Laquita sneaks off to work at a local plant nursery. She squeezes in a few hours whenever she can, but her age and the tight schedule of running the home limit her availability.
“[Life] was a little bit of a struggle. It’s just me and the two boys, and I only work 10 hours a week,” Laquita said. “They let me work the hours I can work so I can take kids to school, pick up kids from school, and do the whole Mom thing. Grandma thing.”
With a schedule packed with kids’ activities and work, Laquita struggled to keep up with her home. Her son did what he could to support her — mowing on weekends when he was available and dropping by whenever possible — but the house gradually declined. The property, Laquita’s home for a quarter of a century and the boys’ for half of that time, needed help. The family simply didn’t know where to look to find it.
“It feels frustrating. And it feels depressing,” Laquita said when asked about life with a deteriorating house. “I’ve lived in that house for over 25 years. It had just been me and my kids, and now it’s me and my grandkids. I’d never had any real major work done on it, so it was definitely starting to fall apart. The trees and the weeds and stuff were getting overran toward the back of the house. I had a leak in the roof… I had thought about having something like that done, I just never knew how to do it until my friend gave me your flier.
“There are days that I really don’t want to get out of bed, I want to stay in bed all day and just cover up my head. But you can’t do that. You’ve got kids to take care of and everything else. So that’s not an option. It would never be an option.”
On those days when life threatens to overwhelm her, Laquita turns her eyes upward.
The Quiet Place
“All I do is I pray,” she said. “Every morning. I pray every night. I pray in the afternoons. Because the only have to fight with is prayer. It’s the strongest thing I have. That’s what I do, and God will take care of it in His time, not in mine.”
While some of her prayer retreats take place behind closed doors where the children can’t see her tears, Laquita’s backyard has become her favorite place to sit and reflect. She likes to steal away to the backyard with the family dog and take in the now-revitalized lawn. What fleeting moments of quiet escape she can find are spent in the yard.
“It’s nice to be able to go out there and take a minute or two for myself and just enjoy everything that was done,” she said. “Usually, when I’m out there I’m talking to God… I’m usually thanking God for everything that I have instead of worrying about all of the things that I need. Or that I think I need.
“It definitely makes a difference. It makes a difference in your spirit; how it makes you feel. It makes you feel a lot better when you can go and see that your front yard is clean and your backyard is mowed. You can see kids playing in the backyard instead of sitting on the front porch waiting… it makes you feel better about yourself. Better about your home. You want to feel good about your home. You want to come home to that instead of dreading going home.
“It’s really nice when you know that a prayer got answered because you can see it.”
Beyond the Fence
The most exciting thing about Laquita has nothing to do with her property. It’s encouraging to see that she has maintained the home in the months that followed the CPR blitz. Even more so to know that she and the boys are working hard to keep the yard in top shape. It’s exciting that she sees God in the work volunteers did there, and that their work has deepened her prayer time.
But the best thing about our interview was the moment when we asked her why programs like Community Powered Revitalization are important for our community.
“It’s important as a community to come together. It shows unity. It shows that people care; that we’re all neighbors. We’re all family, you know? Going and doing this not only helps the person that you’re helping; it helps the whole neighborhood. By cleaning up that one home, it kind of cleans up the neighborhood.”
And her neighbors took notice. Laquita says that the work done on her property has prompted more interaction with the people living around her. Some have volunteered to lend her their lawn care equipment or even come by to lend a hand in the yard. But the most valuable thing for her has been the conversations that started with her restored home.
“We speak more,” she said of her neighbors. “We became friends, I guess you could say. Because it’s hard to make friends, even with people in your neighborhood, when you’re always going and going and going. You’re never home… it’s a tough reality out there because most people are always working. It’s hard to make neighbors friends, even with the ones that live right next door to you or right across the street.
“I’ve needed help, and the husbands would come over… it helps to know neighbors, especially people that are willing to help. That came about because of the blitz.”
For Laquita, a yard is much more than a yard. It’s an answered prayer; a starting point for new friendships. That’s what we mean when we say that we want to change lives, one home at a time.