Vernante Thélusma started Presidents’ Day at 7:30 a.m. at a South Miami Heights Habitat for Humanity building site.
By 11 a.m. the 27-year-old was in the midst of building her dream home, alongside dozens of volunteers from various faith traditions taking part in the second annual Habitat for Humanity Interfaith Build.
“It’s amazing that they’re all taking time out of their day to help me,” Thélusma said.
Monday’s build drew dozens of volunteers from Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions to the Habitat for Humanity community, dubbed Habitat Landings.
“This is a positive way of telling people we have to work together,” said Abdulrauf Khan, assistant executive director of the Islamic Circle of North America USA Relief. “For one day, if we can make one person happy, that’s a success.”
Khan attended the build with about a dozen volunteers from ICNA.
“If one day of our lives can make a difference, I think it’s all worth it,” he said.
Rabbi Tom Heyn echoed those feelings.
“Interfaith work is really important,” said Heyn, of Temple Israel of Greater Miami. “The Jewish community is pretty involved in that, but we can always do more, not just talking but actually doing things together, working together on projects that really make a difference in the community.”
As they worked on the house, Thélusma made sure to get to know the volunteers. She came up with nicknames for some of them, and engaged in conversations.
“I’ve spoken to a few of them about faith,” Thélusma said. “We spoke about how we’re able to come together for one purpose. It’s not like you’re a Muslim, a Christian or Jewish — we’re here for one purpose.”
Thélusma, who is studying to become a social worker, grew up in the foster-care system and says she’s “happy and grateful,” to be able to give her daughter Melissa, 4, a place to call home.
“Now, I am able to give this to my daughter,” said Thélusma, who plans on painting her house gray, to compliment a red front door. “She gets to have neighbors, and they get to see her grow up.”
As the day went on, there was a happy mood at construction site, and lots of laugher in the air.
“It’s the community coming together, making a difference. It’s just so nice to see the smile on her face,” said Sarah Zabel of North Miami Beach, a Miami-Dade Circuit judge and volunteer at the build. “She’s an incredible woman, she inspires me.”
When Zabel noticed Thélusma was smiling because she’d overheard her comment, she looked over at Thélusma and added: “I hope that smile stays with you forever, because it’s infectious.”
Mario Artecona, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, visited the site and said he’s looking forward to expanding the interfaith build next year.
“It’s a reminder that what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” Artecona said. “To see people put their faith into action, it’s a model that more people should follow.”
Thélusma’s three-bedroom home is slated to be finished by the end of the month. Before the volunteers left for the day, she made sure they signed a poster board, which she plans to hang-up once her home is completed.
“I want to remember them,” she said. “My house is blessed.”