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Ornelas is fighting to not be homeless

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The house she grew up in is charred beyond livability, but Nivia Ornelas is working to return it to a safe, comfortable condition so that she can enjoy time with her children and friends. Ornelas moved into the house as a child, 25 years ago with her parents who died last year. (Curtis Michaels Photo)

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The American dream. A loving family, a safe, comfortable home and steady work that pays enough to take care of both. Nivia Ornelas grew up in the American dream.

“I’ve lived in Roswell since I was 4 years old,” Ornelas said. “We moved here when I was 13 years old. We used to live in a trailer, and my parents worked in the fields. They saved up enough money and surprised us and bought this house.”
The boy next door would park his Chevy Nova under her bedroom window until her mother planted a tree in his parking space. The tree is now the king of the front yard. The boy next door won the girl’s heart.
“I met my husband here, he grew up next door,” Ornelas said. “We’ve been married 20 years. We raised four children.”
Just now dealing with the loss of her husband, Ornelas has lost a great deal over the past few months.
“My mom died April 4 of last year, my dad died seven months later. He had Alzheimer’s. I had to quit my job to care for them both.”
Then she suffered a loss that has her fighting tooth and nail to keep from becoming one of Roswell’s homeless.
“On Aug. 11, my son and his girlfriend were sleeping in the den,” Ornelas said. “My dog was barking and woke them up. It was arson. They were barely able to get out. My dog went back into the house, I believe he was looking for me. He didn’t make it.”
Ornelas had to leave her work to care for her parents. Her husband’s illness has taken its toll as well. Fortunately, she has loving neighbors.
“I’ve been staying with my neighbor,” Ornelas said. “She’s been very kind in letting me stay. We were struggling to pay bills without me being able to work. I am looking for a job, trying to stay strong for my kids. It’s what my parents would want.”
Her parents were industrious, hard working people who left their daughter a paid-for home, but they didn’t plan for every contingency.
“My parents worked at Levi’s after they had worked in the fields,” Ornelas said. “When the plant closed they had enough money to pay off the house. We had no insurance.”
Ornelas, like her parents before her, is not afraid of hard work and she hopes her work ethic will motivate an employer to want her around while she rebuilds her life.

“I’ve always worked,” she said. “I was going to school after my boys were born and I graduated. I want to get back to work and get my home back. I’m not asking for a hand out, I need a hand up.”
She knows that much of this is out of her hands, but she’s hoping to save the home that has meant so much to her.
“This was our first home,” Ornelas said. “I don’t want to give this place up, but I’ll do what I have to. I’m hoping to rebuild the house. I got the permit from the city. The inspector said to keep them updated. Right now I feel so lost.”
She has been applying for jobs. She applied for assistance and is waiting for approval. Once approved, she can get a phone, which will make job hunting easier.
“The kind of work I get right now doesn’t matter,” she said. “My phone and my tablet were in the house so my neighbor is letting me use her phone number.”
She has approached local charities for help as well. Most were unable to help.
“I reached out to Goodwill and they don’t have this kind of services,” she said. “I called Red Cross and they said it’s been too long. I didn’t know that you have to call within a week. It’s been three weeks. I called the United Way. Harvest Ministries helped me with food.”
Trying to get her footing on the road back to independence has been frustrating.
“It’s a small town and there’s a lot of limitations,” Ornelas said. “I’ve always worked and paid for my own and I’m alone now and it’s hard. I dream that the house is still here. My pictures, my clothes, everything is gone.”
Ornelas is not giving up.
“If I knew who did it I wouldn’t retaliate,” she said. “God above is our judge and I believe that one day something good will come out of all this. I believe there are good people out there.”
With all that’s gone wrong in her life, Ornelas did get some good news recently. She’s about to become a grandmother. She was also reminded that she is loved.
“I got a birthday cake yesterday though,” she said, “with ice cream.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.