The Story of the Johnsons, Habitat’s 35th Family

by Camaron Brooks


The smell of fresh paint still dwells in Helen Morales’ memory. It was a fall day in 1991. Ismael and Hilaria Johnson and their five children opened the door to their new Habitat home. Morales was the oldest of the five.

“This is a happy day, you see my dad’s big smile and my mom, all of us,” Helen said. She pointed to weathered keepsakes from a joyful time in her family’s past.


Helen was in high school when her family moved into their Habitat home. Their house was the 35th one built by Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio. The Colonial Hills United Methodist Church partnered with Habitat and the family to build the home. The home offered a fresh start and a path out of poverty. They moved to a new start, just blocks from the rundown rental her family endured for years.


The Johnson’s journey to Habitat started with a TV news segment and a San Antonio Express-News article about the 1990 Habitat Miracle Build. Ismael and Hilaria Johnson wondered if they too might qualify and give their children a better life.


That summer the Johnson’s built their home. After their acceptance into the program that summer, Helen remembers building alongside Colonial Hills UMC volunteers. 42 volunteers showed up for framing day in May of 1991. The family purchased their “dream home” for $27,000 (paying off their zero percent interest loan in 2011).

Ismael and Hilaria Johnson passed away in 2019 and 2021 respectively. The devastating loss—a clear reflection of the size and scale of their love and legacy. Helen sifted through newsletters and news clippings hidden in a dusty Habitat toolbox as she prepared to say goodbye to the family home (it sold in 2021).


In December of 2021 she celebrated the first Ch

ristmas without her mother. Helen saw pictures of current Habitat families receiving their keys on Facebook. Shortly after that, she decided then to honor her parents with a donation in their name. She even asked if her husband’s company would match the donation, and they did.

“It was such a wonderful feeling to give back to the organization that made me into the person I am today because of the opportunities I was given,” Helen said.

As a homeowner, Helen believes her parent’s legacy and the kindness of strangers paved the way for her life today. The freshly painted house on Euclid opened her eyes to the generosity and power of community. The “hand-up” her family received continues to carry her family forward. Her kids won’t ever know poverty. Helen says she’s grateful to the donors and volunteers who continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of families in need.

“You’re making someone’s dream come true,” said Helen. “You’re impacting the whole family and their future, their path, their perception, their way of thinking.”

The paint faded over the decades, but Helen’s future was painted brighter because of Habitat’s supporters. Her story is a reminder that at Habitat—it’s a long game. We’re framing homes not just for the families in our program today but for generations to come.


Words from the faded newsletter found in the family’s old tool

box: “Faith in GOD is a reliable foundation for seemingly impossible Christian service projects.”


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