CINCINNATI — Kimmi Washburn can hardly wait.
Later this summer, she’s scheduled to leave her subsidized apartment behind and move into a house she’s helping to renovate with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati.
Her new home is just two doors down from where she lives now in Lower Price Hill, but it represents miles of progress for Washburn and her 8-year-old daughter, Haylee.
“My apartment’s falling apart,” said Washburn, who was only 19 when she moved there with Haylee. “I’m looking forward to being able to fix things myself without having the risk of breaking the lease and getting evicted.”
WCPO first met Washburn two years ago. Back then, she earned $10 an hour working full-time at a local childcare center and worked as much overtime as she could. No matter how much she worked, her paychecks were barely enough to cover the bills and buy Haylee the occasional bag of chips for a treat.
Still, Washburn did not consider herself poor. She's worked hard to pull herself up since then, too.
She now works as a paraprofessional in Oyler School’s preschool, earning about $5 an hour more than her last job. She has a far better schedule and gets insurance through her job, and she was recently elected vice president of the Lower Price Hill Community Council.
“Over the past couple of years, Kimmi has just continued to blossom and grow into an amazing community leader,” said Mary Delaney, executive director of the nonprofit organization Community Matters in Lower Price Hill and a close friend of Washburn’s. “She’s been at the forefront of a lot of change that’s happening in the community.”
Washburn and her family are living that change. The house is a big part of it.
Early modern ‘galaxy unicorn’
At 25, Washburn is one of the youngest homeowners that Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati has on record. The house she'll soon call her home is among a few renovated by Habitat in conjunction with Community Matters.
She walks past it every day. She helps work on it every weekend and as much as she can during the week.
The house means Washburn will have more than one bathroom for the first time in her life, and Haylee will have her own bedroom.
Haylee has requested the theme “galaxy unicorn.” She wants her bedroom walls to be pink, purple and blue, a color palette that Washburn continues to negotiate.
Washburn has picked out her house’s carpet, flooring, cabinets and countertops and is excited that she will be able to put nails in the walls to hang her pictures.
But mostly she’s excited about what being a homeowner will mean for her future.
Washburn expects her mortgage to be more affordable than her rent, and unlike the rent in her subsidized apartment, her house payment won’t change with her income.
“I can get a second job to become more financially stable or I can go back to college,” Washburn said.
Education is important to her.
Washburn got pregnant with Haylee when she was 16 and gave birth when she was 17. She not only finished high school but also was salutatorian of her 2011 Oyler School graduating class. She earned an associates degree at Cincinnati State, graduating with honors in 2014.
Haylee just finished third grade at Oyler with mostly As and Bs on her report card.
“I tell her that Cs are bad because when you go to college they want to see As and Bs,” Washburn said. “I tell her, ‘If you only get two Cs, I’ll still be happy.’”
Washburn should have a lot to be happy about this summer.
‘The sky’s the limit’
“She’s exactly the type of person we were targeting: A parent of an Oyler student. Now she’s demonstrating that it’s possible, that home ownership is possible,” said Ed Lee, president and CEO of the local Habitat organization. “We’re just happy to be part of her journey and maybe light another rocket to help boost her to another orbit.”
Lee was among a few dozen people who stood outside Washburn’s Saint Michael Street house on a blustery April morning to take part in a kick-off celebration for the project.
Washburn got the morning off work to be there with her fiancé, Brandon Thomas.
Delaney spoke at the event.
“Bringing the buildings back to life is important for the street,” she said. “But it’s the families inside that make the biggest difference. This home is going to be an incredible place because of the family that’s going to live here.”
Washburn said a few words, too. She didn’t realize she would be asked to make a speech and had not prepared anything.
“This is my dream. This is a dream for my whole family,” she said. “I’m happy to help build it myself.”
A lot has happened with the house since the kick-off. The new windows are installed, interior framing has begun, and soon the brick exterior will get a fresh coat of paint.
“Brandon wants to get married as soon as we get the keys to the house and unpack,” Washburn said. “So the sky’s the limit for us.”
Delaney can’t help but smile when Washburn talks like that. She tutored her back when Washburn was in high school and encouraged her to go to college right away.
She has helped Washburn with these big steps forward, and Washburn has helped Delaney and Community Matters understand what the neighborhood needs to support the people who live there.
“Her journey captures the power of one family and the impact that one family can have on the entire neighborhood,” Delaney said of Washburn. “She’s going to be running the world.”
First, she has to figure out the whole “galaxy unicorn” thing.
“I found a sticker that had a unicorn with galaxy stuff inside the unicorn on Walmart.com,” Washburn said. “So I might do that.”
With that problem solved, Washburn stands ready for whatever comes next.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.