Santana Eppinger has a twinkle in her eye and a broad smile on her face. It’s the look of someone who is grateful and appreciative — a woman who has battled through terrible abuse and a life-threatening illness, and is winning.
On Feb. 9, Eppinger will celebrate her six-year anniversary of being cancer free. Next week, she’ll start building her new home in partnership with Trinity Habitat for Humanity and city of Mansfield volunteers.
Her story is one of triumph over adversity. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, she was subjected to an alcoholic father and a physically abusive mother. Eppinger said that throughout her childhood, she was sexually abused, which led to depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Life went from bad to worse when, at 24, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said chemotherapy was the worst, that she felt like she was watching herself die. But with the help of her faith, she persevered.
“I don’t know where I’d be without God in my life,” Eppinger said.
After making it through treatment for cancer, she decided it was time to go after the things she had always wanted — to leave Ohio, to graduate from college and to own her own home.
She is studying social work at Tarrant County College, and will soon see that last goal realized, thanks in large part to the Mansfield community coming together to contribute time and money. Among the Trinity Habitat sponsors is Eppinger’s employer, Bank of America.
Susan Luttrell, former Trinity board member and active Habitat advocate in Mansfield, said all of the home builds are special, but Eppinger’s is unique.
“I was so impressed with her,” Luttrell said. “It could have been two or three years out before she would ever build a house. But she began volunteering and wanted to be a part of the community. So this build is special.”
Luttrell has been involved with the organization since 2006 and has high praise for Habitat homeowners.
“They are so invested in their homes,” she said. “They’re not your typical homeowners. They truly have blood, sweat, and tears in their homes.”
Mark Rummel, marketing and engagement manager for Trinity Habitat, said stories like Santana’s serve to inspire.
“When families are open to sharing their stories, that’s how we’re able to help the next family,” Rummel said. “It inspires people to get involved. It shows them these are real people they can help in their own community.”
On Feb. 23, Eppinger will work alongside volunteers to raise the walls of her house, located in the 300 block of Billingslea. It will take about 12 days to finish the project. No doubt her favorite room will be the kitchen. She currently rents a room with a shared cooking space, which has its challenges.
All total, Trinity Habitat will be building 59 homes in Tarrant, Parker, Wise and Johnson counties in 2018.
In fact, one upcoming build in Sundance Square in Fort Worth — with the home to be moved to its final location afterward — will be completed in just four days. It will mark the end of XTO’s sponsorship, in light of the company’s headquarters move to the Houston area, according to Rummel. “This will be their 10th home in 10 years,” he said.
All Trinity Habitat families, including Eppinger, are required to invest 250 sweat-equity hours in place of a down payment. Those hours include helping build their neighbors’ homes, building their own home, attending homeownership and financial education classes, and volunteering in the community where they live.
In addition to her sweat equity hours, Eppinger had to show at least 12 months of steady employment to be approved to purchase a Habitat home, which she did. When she moves in, she will have an affordable zero-percent interest, 30-year mortgage.
“It’s hard to explain how much this means to me,” Eppinger said. “Being a part of Mansfield, just feels good to be part of a family.”
Habitat House Party
6 p.m. March 22
Downtown Fort Worth
Live music, tour of the Habitat home
Interested in volunteering to help build Habitat homes? Email Meagan.Bordelon@TrinityHabitat.org. No construction experience is required.