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Habitat for Humanity welcomes newest Chestnut Street residents

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

For Gidith Jean, finding a permanent home for herself and six children was a process years in the making.

The Jean family's home is in the brand-new row homes built in the 700 block of Chestnut Street in York City as part of York Habitat for Humanity's revitalization project following a disastrous 2009 fire that gutted 16 homes.

"My mom was always working jobs and saving money with the goal of giving her kids a better place to stay," said John Jean, Gidith's 15-year-old son. "She worked jobs in food processing spending entire days in a freezer. Despite the fact that the work can be tough she doesn't complain about it because working gives her freedom."

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Gidith and her children came to the United States from Haiti in 2016. John helped translate for his mom — who speaks predominantly Creole — at the ceremony, as she struggled for words to describe the feeling of finally having a home.

"Thank you, God," Gidith said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. "I was told about this program and this company from my mom while living in Maryland. I started checking it out, the opportunity to relocate and work in York."

Gidith Jean, center, flanked by her six children, from left, Juan Derival, 10, Djemica Derival, 8, John Derival, 14, and from right, Doodjnyah Derival, 12, Djoumyah Derival, 15, and Djemissa Derival, 8, cuts a red ribbon strewn across the top of the porch steps while Habitat for Humanity Associate Director Natasha Kukoro, back looks on during the dedication of Jean’s Habitat for Humanity-built home on Chestnut Street in York City, Monday, March 20, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When Gidith first arrived in America, she struggled to find permanent housing for herself and her children, all the while dreaming of a home they could share. Before moving into the Chestnut Street home, the Jean family — seven people in total — shared a two-bedroom apartment that cost Gidith half of her monthly income.

Even the journey to starting the homeowner program was not a straight line. The Jean family arrived in Florida in 2016 and later moved to New York and then Maryland, finally moving to York just over a year ago, John said.

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The new homeowner program takes about 12-18 months for most families, and the Jean family finished the process in exactly 12 months, said Natasha Kukorlo, Habitat for Humanity's associate director. The multi-step homeowner program includes an initial application, a financial review and 225 hours of "sweat equity" work from each adult in the household.

The program helps recipients learn what it takes to navigate homeownership and maintain a new home.

"The home itself is invaluable, but what makes Habitat work is the program — the financial budget, the homeownership training," Kukorlo said. "When we hand over the keys we are not just saying 'good luck.' They can come back to us at any time."

From left, Djoumyah Derival, 15, Doodjnyah Derival, 12, Juan Derival, 10, John Derival, 14, Djemissa Derival, 8, Gidith Jean, and Djemica Derival, 8, look on as Habitat for Humanity Family Services Manager Terri Abruzzese speaks during the dedication of Jean’s Habitat for Humanity-built home on Chestnut Street in York City, Monday, March 20, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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During the dedication ceremony, Habitat for Humanity welcomed the Jean family into their new home with several gifts to represent different aspects of life in a home.

"We give you a candle, so your home will never know darkness. Second, we give you bread, so that you will never know hunger. We give you salt and pepper, so you will always have a life full of flavor," said Terri Abruzzese, Habitat's family services manager, offering the Jean family the housewarming gifts. "We give you flowers, so your home may always know beauty. We give you a blanket so you will always know warmth and love. We give you a welcome mat, so all who come to your home will be welcomed. And we give you a toolbox so your home will always be in good repair. And last but not least, we give you a Bible in Haitian Creole, so God will always bless your home."

Gidith Jean, front center, surrounded by her six children, receives a tool box as one of several gifts given to the family during the Habitat for Humanity home dedication ceremony on Chestnut Street in York City, Monday, March 20, 2023. Jean’s home would be the fourth of six completed in the complex, with the remaining two to be finished by the end of May. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As soon as the ribbon was cut, Gidith looked on with pride and gratitude as her children ran inside, kicking off their shoes and running up the stairs to explore their new home.

— Reach Noel Miller at or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.