Caring. Willing to help people. A blessing.
These are the words Mary Derico thoughtfully chooses to describe Habitat for Humanity. When you first meet Mary, she puts you at ease with her warm personality and kind eyes. And Mary is a hugger.
Challenging does not begin to describe the journey of Mary and her husband Mark. From teenage pregnancy to battling addiction, they struggled early in their lives, in every sense of the word. Resolved to get their lives together, 17 years ago they moved from Gary, Indiana to Bloomington in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children Felicia, Mark Jr. and Sean.
With empathetic hearts and a desire to change the lives of others, Mary and Mark began fostering adult children whose parents were drug addicts. They took in those who had spent most of their lives in foster care, but had aged out of the system – 18-21-year-olds who had yet to graduate from high school and were not prepared to be on their own. They excitedly celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and welcomed their first grandchild, Isiah, into the world.
Just as they had turned a corner, however, Mark was diagnosed with diabetes, vascular disease and kidney disease. Mary would spend the next four years as his primary caregiver as Mark endured dialysis and 17 surgeries, including the amputation of both his legs. Understandably, they began to question the future. Mark asked Mary, “do you think we will ever own a home?” Mary found a possible answer to that question in
a Facebook post announcing a Habitat Homeowner Information Meeting.
“It was almost a divine intervention,” Mary tells us. “It was a sign from God at the right time in our lives and we determined this was a path we would try together.”
She and Mark completed an application, worked hard to eliminate student loan debt and were accepted into the program. With joy and pride they began working on their sweat equity and after 30 years of marriage, homeownership was finally within reach. After all that Mary had endured and overcome, though, nothing could prepare her for the next defining moment of her life.
On January 1, 2019, Mary came home to find Mark unresponsive on their bathroom floor. She called 911 and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. She spent the next two weeks clinging to hope and Mark’s hand, yet Mark died just a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday. Mark was Mary’s first and only love and she struggled to figure out how to move forward without him by her side. But, after encouragement from the Habitat staff, Mary did indeed move forward with a resolve to stay on track and the commitment to fulfill the dream of homeownership she shared with her late husband.
“I cannot thank Habitat enough for their support and for standing by me,” said Mary. “I didn’t give up on my dream, on Mark and I’s dream because of this incredible program.” Mary explains that going through the homeowner process has driven her to stay focused and to hopefully one day pursue her dreams of going back to school and working in a hospital as a nurse. “The support has been abundant and motivating at the same time,” she said. “It is a constant reminder that even in sadness, good people still do exist and are willing to come together and help you.”
This sense of community is most appealing to Mary as she heads into Women Build. One of her favorite Habitat memories to date was the Women Build kickoff event in February where her family was present and they were all surrounded by the positivity and energy of the women volunteers. The excitement in the room was contagious and Mary is ready to work alongside everyone to help build her, and her neighbor Keba’s, new homes.
Along with excitement there is some sadness knowing Mark can’t be here physically to enjoy the new house. “He may not be here in person, but he is here with me every day and has been through every step of this process spiritually,” said Mary. “His soul will be in every inch of this house and I know he is looking down on me and the kids and is so proud I never gave up.” She will hang pictures of Mark all over the house as
a reminder of their life together and all that he did to help her become a homeowner.
“I can’t wait to move into my home and to host family celebrations and get-togethers where we can all make new memories,” Mary shared. “I want to show my children and my grandchildren that I put my mind to it and I did this—that they can do anything they put their minds to as well.”
The Derico family home is sponsored by Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County Women Build.