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People on Campus: Denise Miyajima

October 24, 2005

Photo of Denise MiyajimaUndergraduate Admissions Assistant Denise Miyajima never thought she'd learn to build a fence, mix concrete and tie rebar -- or that her coworkers would want to learn, too. It's kept her busy the past year, however, after being selected by Habitat for Humanity to own a home in San Francisco.

Miyajima's current two-room, in-law apartment is small enough that there are no secrets between her and her two children. The family has survived the challenges of living in tight quarters -- cooking with little counter space, seeking a quiet spot for the children to do homework, and most of all, living in places that don't feel like "home."

So last fall the excitement had to be contained when a Habitat for Humanity volunteer called and said her family was selected as a "partner" in the De Long Terrace Homes project. Miyajima asked him, "You mean I get the house?"

"We screamed, and the kids were jumping up and down," said Miyajima, who assists prospective students and applicants at the undergraduate admissions counter at the One-Stop Student Services Center. "I had to calm them down so I could hear what he was saying."

Miyajima's family was one of four chosen, among about 200 who applied, to own new homes near Daly City BART. The 1,231-square-foot house will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a one-car garage and a small backyard. They plan to move in during the summer.

"With something to hand down to my children, they won't have that hopeless feeling I had for so many years," Miyajima said. "A lot of the stress and anxiety about our future is just gone."

Miyajima, a single mother, was previously only able to dream about owning property in her hometown. She has never wanted to leave her job nor San Francisco. Miyajima and her children -- Christian, 12, and Taylor, 10 -- love the city, but not its high cost of living.

In exchange for investing 500 hours of "sweat equity" labor to help build the home, Miyajima will buy it for $243,000 with a 30-year mortgage of zero-percent interest. The median price for a single-family home in San Francisco is more than $750,000.

Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization, has built more than 200,000 homes for low-income families.

Many of Miyajima's SFSU colleagues have asked to help build the house. "People I don't even know keep asking when they can volunteer," she said.

Kathy Burke, an undergraduate admissions counselor, has known Miyajima since 1979. At the time, Burke worked at SFSU with Miyajima's mother, Aida, and Denise was in the eighth grade.

"She's such a good person and been through so much," Burke said. "She is a great mom and raising great kids, so people naturally want to help her. To know her is to love her."

The Miyajimas are already looking forward to potlucks with friends and coworkers, walks to restaurants and the movie theater, and slumber parties -- activities that weren't feasible in previous living situations.

Getting a dog, however, will have to wait an additional year. "I want them to first see how clean the house can be," she said with a laugh.

-- Matt Itelson

Note: This story also appears in the Oct. 24 edition of CampusMemo.


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Last modified October 24, 2005 by University Communications