Octavia Moore’s life after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps has seen ups and downs.
After she got out of the military for a second time in 2009 — there were two stints in the military branch — she enrolled in culinary school and began building a career as a chef.
By 2014, however, she was homeless and trying to cope with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She got help dealing with PTSD through a United Way program, however, and first got into transitional housing and later in an apartment in Gwinnett.
And then Moore’s life changed again.
“I had started pretty much Googling or looking up houses for veterans (but) I wasn’t looking for a house until my younger sister said she wanted to finish her last two years of school and so she decided to stay with me, so I was like ‘Umm OK,’ “ Moore said.
That change led Moore, 34, to Gwinnett Habitat for Humanity in 2017, which put her on the path toward this past weekend. She and Habitat volunteers were joined by nearly 40 volunteers from metro Atlanta Wells Fargo branches to build the frame for her new home in Lilburn.
The home is expected to be finished sometime near the end of this summer.
She called the experience “amazing” and “definitely surreal” as she took a break from hammering nails into a piece of plywood that will eventually serve as the foundation of a wall on the back of her home.
“For me, building it and not just going through a normal process of getting a house is definitely a blessing and I see God’s hand in this,” Moore said.
Gwinnett Habitat for Humanity spokeswoman Liz Santa Cruz said Moore is part of rare company among Habitat homeowners in the county because of the fact that she is a military veteran. Although the organization has a program for veterans, there are not many “veteran’s builds,” such as the one done for Moore, that the group has undertaken.
“This is our second one ever,” Cruz said. “We have been in business — this is our 31st year — and our first (veteran’s build home) we dedicated in December 2017. This is the second one. We’ve helped veterans with our other programs before, but as far as doing the whole building and giving them a new home thing, this is only the second one.
“So it’s not an often thing (but) it’s something (where) we’re definitely looking to help more veterans.”
Cruz said Wells Fargo gave Gwinnett Habitat for Humanity a $15,000 grant to build Moore’s home as well as the house which will be built at a later date for her eventual neighbor, Grace Cirino, who volunteered to help build Moore’s house on Saturday.
Wells Fargo Brookhaven branch manager Gelisa Breland said the Habitat build to help Moore was part of the bank’s “Super Saturday” effort. The idea behind “Super Saturday” was to have staff from metro area Wells Fargo branches spread out across the Atlanta area on one day to participate in community service projects with several nonprofits.
“That’s when we really energize and mobilize all of our team members to get out in the community,” Breland said. “A lot of our team members would typically actually be serving in our branches and serving customers, but we take some of our team members out of the branch for a couple of hours to do (projects) like this.”
In the case of helping Habitat for Humanity, Breland said the bank sees it as a way to help residents get on their feet.
“When you have a home, you’re able to have more stability and can grow from that central place,” she said.
But with every Habitat for Humanity homeowner, there is a back story that makes each build unique.
As far as Moore’s story goes, she joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002 and served her two stints in the service branch over the next seven years.
“I went in as soon as I turned 18 — it was 13 days after I turned 18 — and my first deployment was in 2005,” she said.
The first stint last four years and ended in 2006, and her deployment during that stint was a seven-month period on the air craft carrier, U.S.S. Kearsarge. After that stint ended, she lived in Maryland.
She was later recalled to serve in 2008 for a year, which included a stint in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom.
She was a cook in the Marine Corps, and after she got out of the Marines for the second time, she moved to Georgia in 2010 and started taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. She graduated two years later.
“During that time while I was in school, I was working at the Georgia Aquarium with the Wolfgang Puck catering company,” she said. “My entire time that I was in school, I was there, and then I left here for seven months and I worked in Alaska (before) I came back.”
And then came her stint with homelessness and recovery from PTSD, followed by the life changer that happened when her sister came to live with her.
“Because of the environment she was in — she grew up in North Carolina, in a really small town where the teen pregnancy rate is high so a lot of her friends got pregnant, and one of her friends was killed, so it was actually a better situation for her to come down (here) and get some stability and finish,” Moore said.
“She would always spend summers with me anyway — but that summer (in 2017), she was like ‘Hey, I want to stay’ and that was the summer I began looking up veterans houses. Gwinnett Habitat came up and I saw that they had a veterans workshop coming up so I said ‘Well, let’s check it out’ so we went and I got approved. I didn’t think I’d even qualify.”
The build had a special significance for Breland, whose brother serves in the Marine Corps.
“Being the site leader here, it allows me to personally connect with Octavia, who has served our country, but at Wells Fargo, we believe in our servicemen and our servicewomen so any time we have an opportunity to help them is good,” Breland said.