Left: Duera Mae Everett stands on the street in Harlem Heights named after her in 2001. Right: Joy stands in front on the same street 21 years later, honoring the legacy her grandmother has made in Harlem Heights.
In the Harlem Heights neighborhood of Fort Myers, mom of two, Joy, is working hard making sure the fourth generation of her family not only stays rooted to their past but continues to build toward their future; and she’s making it happen by partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. You may even say Joy’s partnership is preordained.
Walk around Harlem Heights and you’ll come across “Duera Mae Drive.” It was named after Joy’s grandmother, the matriarch of Harlem Heights, Duera Mae Everett. She was also one of the founding members of Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. A tireless advocate for affordable housing, Duera Mae transformed the area into the thriving community you see today. Growing up, Joy saw firsthand how the “unofficial mayor” of Harlem Heights empowered families through decent housing.
“If you asked anybody in the Habitat community about her, they’re going to know her,” Joy recalled proudly.
So, when Joy recently found herself in need of an affordable mortgage, there was no question where she was going to turn for help. The signs were all around her.
“I know now that she [Duera Mae] would be glad that I would be getting my own place, especially in the community she worked in.”
Even though Duera Mae is no longer with us, her legacy lives on. You can still see her strength, determination, and drive in Joy’s actions and voice.
“Sometimes I get tired, but I keep going because I know that in the end, it’ll be great for the kids to have somewhere to call their own.”
Joy is one of two single mothers partnering with Habitat through their 2022 Women Build Campaign. During the campaign, strong and determined women across Southwest Florida will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with Joy to help her build a decent and affordable home. She is also completing her homeownership courses, financial counseling, and is saving up the two-thousand dollars needed for closing costs.
Joy admits, it is a lot of work, but she is doing it all for the next generation. Just as her grandmother did before her, Joy keeps moving forward to a better future. And hopefully one day, when her children are older, they will take the helm and continue the tradition of making Harlem Heights a wonderful place to call home.