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The students she once mentored helped Lyllye Reynolds-Parker, 75, buy her first house

EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

Now the story of a new home for a new year. Residents of Eugene, Ore., came together to help a 75-year-old woman buy her first house. The students she mentored wanted her to know how much she helped them in their lives. From member station KLCC, Rachael McDonald has more.

RACHAEL MCDONALD, BYLINE: In 1946, Lyllye Reynolds-Parker was born to one of the few Black families in Eugene, Ore.

LYLLYE REYNOLDS-PARKER: We had no running water, no inside facilities. We went out the back door.

MCDONALD: Parker tells the story of not being properly encouraged in her own childhood. During middle school, she wrote an essay about her hero, Thurgood Marshall.

PARKER: And I had a counselor in eighth grade say to me, oh no, Lyllye, you will never be an attorney. You're not only Negro, but you're a girl. So you need to go back and find another career path - nursing, cosmetology, home economics.

MCDONALD: So she became a hairdresser. But at the age of 40, a single mother, Parker decided to go back to school and get her degree at the University of Oregon. Then she went on to work there as an adviser to students of color.

PARKER: And I said to me, Lyllye, if you're ever in a position to lift somebody up and tell them they can be anybody they want to be, run for it.

DAVID YOUNG: She didn't tell me what to do. She just believed in me.

MCDONALD: David Young was one of her mentees. Diagnosed with a mental illness at 17, he had a breakdown while attending the university. When he went back after being hospitalized, Parker was there for him.

D YOUNG: I learned to confide in her and build trust and consider her more like family than an academic advisor.

MCDONALD: Now Young has a master's degree and is working toward a license in social work. His sister, Mo Young, is the one who started the fundraiser for Parker with an ambitious goal.

MO YOUNG: You know, we hit the 25,000 goal, like, pretty quickly. And people still wanted to help. And I was like, well, if people still want to help, then we should - let's let them help.

MCDONALD: Even though it was clear Parker didn't have enough money for a down payment in a tight housing market, she didn't want to feel like Young was asking the community to give her a handout.

PARKER: I said, honestly, I don't want anybody to ever think that Lyllye Parker is down here begging for money to buy a house. And she said, no, Miss Lyllye, it's not like that. Let me honor you for all you've done for students at the university and people in this community and people across the state of Oregon.

MCDONALD: They raised more than $76,000 from hundreds of donors. And on Wednesday, Parker's realtor Bess Blacquiere handed her the keys to her new house.

BESS BLACQUIERE: OK, Lyllye, these are the keys to your new home, and you are going to step inside.

PARKER: Welcome to my house. This is so wonderful.

MCDONALD: The home is actually built with accessibility in mind for aging people.

PARKER: This is my living room. When I first walked into this house, it said, OK, you're home. And I knew I was home.

MCDONALD: Parker plans to share this house with her sister and then pass it on to the next generation.

PARKER: I want to leave a legacy for my son and granddaughter. I want them to know I was here and productive and wanted to add some semblance of moving up in their lives.

MCDONALD: In the same way Lyllye Reynolds-Parker helped so many students move up in their lives.

For NPR News, I'm Rachael McDonald in Eugene, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.