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One Heart Two Homes

05 September 2014 Written by  Angela Peña, with Rick Peña

Through our One Heart Two Homes real estate business, we are accomplishing good things in East County and around the world.

The story of how we came to do what we are doing is complicated and interesting. Miraculous even!

I was a 17-year-old pregnant high school student when Rick and I got married. As newlyweds we were doing the Breakfast At Tiffany’s thing. We rented a 600 sq. ft. house in a Bay Point ghetto. The tiny place had one bath, two bedrooms, and a city of cockroaches living beneath the floors and in the walls. Even though Rick had two fulltime jobs, together with an occasional moonlighting project, he was barely earning enough to pay for rent and food. We couldn’t have been happier!

I stayed home for a year with my daughter. When the baby finally turned one and I finally turned 18, some of my family members began babysitting for me while I got a job cleaning houses. Before long, I launched my own Domestic Services business and for nearly three decades, continued doing housecleaning and other odd domestic jobs.

I’ve always been a spiritual person and always at my happiest when caring for others. While cleaning toilets I would sometimes reflect on the biblical principle that the first shall be last and figured I must be in line for one of those top spots because who was lower than me, kneeling there as though before some porcelain idol, and brushing down the toilet the stuff left by my clients? The first shall be last reflection was amusing, but provided no actual motivation for doing a good job. I wasn’t performing that menial service with the hope of some future reward. The Bible says that “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts,” and He poured it into mine to the point that it made the act of service its own reward.

I really loved the business! I expanded the services that I offered to include caring for children, assisting elderly people with their yards and curtains, shopping and preparing meals for shut-ins, planning parties, organizing businesses, and generally doing whatever I could to assist my clients with their homes, their finances, and with whatever other part of their lives they needed help with. I took genuine pleasure from serving them. I was good at it; they loved what I did. Now that I am a Real Estate professional, I continue to clean house for one remaining client.

Our Christian faith calls us to have a heart for the world’s suffering and disenfranchised people. “It’s important to count your blessings,” someone said. “But it’s more important to make them count.” I remain engaged in that “important” act and am helping others to come along with me. I have mentored a number of young women over the years, helping them to understand our role as servants to needy people. Eight years ago we took our family on a Memorial Day Vacation trip to Tijuana in order to build homes for two poor families. Four of our kids went with us along with two other young adults. The experience was eye-opening and touching for all eight of us. It provided a life-changing opportunity to see the world as it really is. My father-in-law is Mexican; Rick and I came to a new appreciation of his ethnic roots.

For years Rick and I have assisted the youth leader of our church in training young people for leadership. We would reinforce leadership lessons by taking a couple dozen of them on annual short-term mission trips to some foreign country, where they discovered in a very personal way the physical and spiritual needs of our wounded planet. The mission trips taught the young people about humility and about how blessed we are. The trips served to stabilize our own lives because it became impossible to remain complacent and unaffected by the grinding poverty of the third world after witnessing those cardboard shanties and open sewers.

In 2012, I got my Real Estate license, which was a completely unanticipated event, because I could have happily pursued my home assistance business until retirement. It began with a sense of unrest — a conviction that I was supposed to do something else. I was baffled by the and had no idea what I should do about it.

In 2011 we made a serious investment in a property that was going to be flipped — i.e., we were going to help purchase it and fix it up for resale. It was not our first experience because a few years earlier we had made a small investment in a property that a friend was going to flip and had made a few dollars on the transaction. After writing the check for this second venture, I had a sudden conviction that this was what I was supposed to do, which was not reassuring because I had no idea what that meant. I began praying about it and struggling with God. Finally, He told me to just get going and He would show me the way. I took an online course to get my Realtor license. It was really tough going back to school. I cried a lot and struggled to comprehend what I was learning. But I had put “my hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water” and He worked a miracle because in February, only five months after my first class, I passed the tests for my license the first time I took it. It was such a relief!

The very next day I checked into the hospital to have a painful bunionectomy. That forced me to spend a couple days recuperating, the time to begin praying about what I was going to do from that point. I began to make plans to launch my new business, which required me to create a mission statement, formulate some goals, and begin to develop a brand. I conducted a “fearless personal inventory” identifying my strengths and weaknesses. I searched for a niche in the real estate market. Out of all that preparation and groundwork, God suddenly gave me a vision of what He had brought me to do. “One Heart 2 Homes” became my DBA, my calling, and my destiny. I grasped the basic idea that for every transaction, I would build a home for some family in a third world country.

That began one of the busiest periods of my life. I was working a minimum of 80 hours a week. It wasn’t easy. I got five

properties into escrow in the first nine months, but they all fell out. I was frustrated and prayed for a window of opportunity to open for me; something that would indicate that God was working out His plan for my business. We couldn’t get potential buyers to actually buy properties and potential sellers to actually sell them, so the solution was to become the buyer and seller ourselves and to begin to flip homes. Our first investment was for a property in Antioch.

It turned out that our youth pastor was a Realtor with experience in doing the very thing we had set out to do, so he project-managed the flip right down to the final week. I had learned from him how the project went, so took it over on my own and finished the transaction. I had begun my Real Estate business in March 2012 and successfully completed that first flip in March 2013.

After that first success, the business took off and we began rolling flips every month, or so. We started with some seed money donated by enthusiastic investors who had caught our vision. In June we incorporated One Heart 2 Homes. We are a for-profit corporation, but conduct appropriate partnerships with nonprofits.

As momentum grew, we began leveraging sales of our first properties to get other projects underway and started working on two houses at a time. In eight months we successfully flipped six houses. Not much of our One Heart 2 Homes business is conducted in an office. Rick and I do as much of the work as we can, but contract most of the work out to professionals. We usually spend 14 hours a day on each project, making sure that the work is being done to contract specifications. Inventory for residential properties has been at historic lows, so our One Heart Two Homes project has been a blessing to local people moving into their own home. The market has been particularly difficult for people who have never purchased a property before and nine of our recent sales have goneto first-time homebuyers.

We build a home in a third-world country for each transaction, so every successful flip results in two of these third-world homes, since the property purchase and property sale are separate transactions. At first it wasn’t clear to us how we would be able to most effectively build homes in other countries. We began by donating two homes, one in Malawi and the other in Rwanda, both sponsored by World Vision.

That was just a stopgap, however. From the beginning, my hope has always been to actually participate in those projects. We wanted to get down and dirty on at least some of these ourselves. Beyond that, however, we wanted to take people with us so that they could also enlarge their vision of what we are actually called upon to do in this world.

Last year we donated 16 homes in nine months. I am writing this in June and since January we have put funding into place for a dozen more. Up to this point, we have built most of our homes in Mexico, but the world is our target and we are considering projects in Haiti and Africa. Our outreach is not limited to building homes. Last November, we packed more than 200 shoeboxes with Christmas goodies. In January we took a friend with us to San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, where we met up with our partners, Bob & Nancy Monfort, and threw a community “fiesta.” We distributed the gift-wrapped boxes to excited local children.

It was a great experience for the givers as well as for the children. We are planning to do that again this year and hope more people will be involved in the project and make the fiesta trip with us.

The “One Heart” part of our title is only possible because Rick shares my heart for this work. He has been my supporter from day one. When I first began talking about becoming a Realtor, everybody looked at me crossed-eyed; they couldn’t imagine that such a thing would happen; they doubted that the vision I had from God was real.

However, Rick jumped on board from the first day. He always believed in me and has never doubted for a moment my faith in the leading of God that seemed so clear to me. Whenever I feel led to do something, I take it to Rick while it is still just an impulse, and he always says, “Baby, let’s go for it.” Rick is “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” He’s my marketing manager, computer guru, bookkeeper, and my best friend.

Without Rick’s support I would still be cleaning toilets and walking pets for a living.

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