A Self-Help Legacy with the Adame Family

A Self-Help Legacy with the Adame Family

Posted on October 31, 2019

The longevity of SHE’s mission was felt by the Adame Family, who can attest to the life-long impact of SHE’s work. Sally and Elijio Adame were part of the very first group who built their homes in 1963. Along with 5 other families, the Adame’s embarked on their journey to homeownership, a journey that would become the early beginnings of SHE.

Before meeting Elijio, Sally and her family moved around the valley working in the fields. Summers, in particular, were spent in San Jose, picking apricots and cherries. “It was so beautiful there, so evergreen,” said Sally. Her father later decided to join some family in the Cutler-Orosi area where they continued to work in the fields and began to grow roots.

In 1946, Elijio was 11 years old when his family moved to Dinuba from Carlsbad New Mexico. A couple of years later he moved to Cutler where he attended and completed elementary school, just 7 miles north of Dinuba. “It was just my mom and I so I didn’t get to finish high school because at 15 years old, I was already picking plums, fruit and everything.” Elijio left school and went to work to support his mom and two sisters.

Elijio, like many young men and women in farmworking families contributed to the family’s economic well-being by working in the fields. Elijio recounts that his starting wage was 75 cents an hour. “Through the years, we’ve seen the wages go up from .75 to $1, $1.50, to $2 and so on.”

It was ‘love at first sight’ when 21-year-old Elijio met Sally at a community dance. “He wouldn’t let go of my hand,” laughed Sally.  With time, what began as a friendship quickly turned into a formal engagement and soon after they were married.

After exchanging vows, the Adame’s began thinking about buying a home. Although far-fetched at the time, the idea of owning a home was a dream they hoped to achieve.

Bard McAllister at Adame Wedding

Elijio and Sally knew Bard McAllister very well through his work with the AFSC Farm Labor Program. “He was a very caring person,” said Sally.  “He didn’t like anyone taking advantage of anyone.”

Prior to his employment at Self-Help Enterprises, Bard McAllister was staff director of the AFSC Farm Labor Program in Tulare County, who started the demonstration self-help housing program in Goshen, then sought to expand it with Anti-Poverty Funds. He was also instrumental in the growth of SHE’s Community Development department. Then, however, he was a well-known and beloved friend to the farmworking community. It was through him that the Adame’s learned about the possibility of building and owning a brand new home.

The idea was for a group of families to come together to help build each other’s homes. Together, families would pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows and even lay tile and paint. The labor that families put in is called ‘sweat equity’, and is  used as the down payment on their new homes, reducing costs for a new home they could otherwise not afford.

“When I get married, I am going to stay in one place so my kids can stay in school,” that’s what young Sally committed to herself. She knew how difficult it was for children to grow academically when having to move constantly. She knew she wanted something different for her children—and a permanent home would allow her to do that.

After many meetings and deliberation, together with their Quaker sponsors, the American Friends Services Committee, the first group began building their homes. “We learned a lot, how to use a skill saw and make cuts,” Elijio reminisced. “It was hard work but it was exciting moving in.”

“We were just so comfortable and happy,” Sally said.

Together Sally and Elijio had two daughters. Today, they continue to talk about their memorable journey to homeownership—a journey they don’t take for granted one bit.

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