Her zest for life, honesty and empathy for humanity will stop you in your tracks. A single mom who’d do anything for her family and friends, Itzela Botzau endured war, love and tragedy—and is coming out on top.
In September and October 2010, Rebuilding Together – Sheboygan County volunteers fixed the electrical and installed new energy-efficient windows in Itzela’s 115-year-old Victorian in downtown Sheboygan, which she shares with her three children, Heejuna, 19, Hisashi, 11, and Iyanla, 7. Itzela received this help through a Heroes at Home grant, a collaboration between Sears and Rebuilding Together, given to U.S. military veterans.
A self-described “Spanamanian” (her mom was from Panama, her dad from Spain), Itzela served in the Army as a medic for 17 years, including a tour in Operation Desert Storm. She then continued her military career in the Air Force Reserves upon returning home to Wisconsin and began schooling to become a nurse.
Unknowingly at the time, Itzela was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which was compounded in the fall of 2005, when her husband Edwin Rivera, the father of her two youngest children, died in her arms in a jet-skiing accident on Lake Michigan, just blocks from her home.
It’s been a struggle for Itzela, mentally and financially, ever since. Keeping up with the maintenance of her aging home (which is on the Sheboygan historic landmarks register) became impossible after providing basic needs to herself and her children.
Then a friend mentioned Rebuilding Together. She applied. Although she didn’t make the cut for homes worked on in the spring, fate soon intervened.
The Sheboygan County affliate got word that summer that they would receive the $10,000 Heroes at Home grant, and Itzela was the perfect candidate.
“I felt like things were about to change for me,” she said, who was looking forward to a warmer Christmas and lower heating bills.
A few weeks after accepting the grant funds, Rebuilding Together board members learned that Sears, the sponsor of the grant, wanted to feature Itzela in a documentary about the veterans it was helping. Although an emotional decision, Itzela agreed.
Film crews set up at Itzela’s home in October. Itzela and her kids participated in photo shoots and filmed interviews, even a memorable one on the Lake Michigan beach.
“It was a wonderful experience, even if it brought up some very tough memories,” said Itzela, adding that it was worth reemerging those feelings if it was going to help others.
More work will be done on Itzela’s home this spring as she is eligible to be one of nearly a dozen homes the Sheboygan County affiliate will repair for National Rebuilding Day on Saturday, April 30. But she can’t wait until spring for a chance to be involved in in the organization.
As the newest member of the marketing/communications committee, Itzela will be speaking on behalf of Rebuilding Together as a homeowner who has benefited from the organization to inspire potential sponsors and encourage other homeowners to apply.
Itzela explained, “Rebuilding Together has done so much for me and my family. I feel like my life is turning around, and I want to give back.”