Habitat for Humanity gets to work on Women Build 2014

MADISON HEIGHTS The idea of home construction usually evokes imagery of rugged men working in the sun, but early in the morning Aug. 11, it was pure girl power getting ready to raise the walls of a brand-new home.

The build-in-progress at 576 E. Kalama in Madison Heights, is done by Women Build 2014, through Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates under the motto, A hand up, not a handout. They help deserving individuals and their families to build sustainable homes. The recipients do their share by investing 300 hours of sweat equity, which includes taking classes in home finance, maintenance and more.

Habitat Oakland is no stranger to Madison Heights, where theyve done numerous builds over the years. But the one at 576 E. Kalama is unique.

This is because its the first Women Build that Habitat has had in nearly a decade. Here, women are leading the project and funding it. Female CEOs, managers, financial experts and more were volunteering their time, showing up in pink T-shirts and donning hardhats, nail aprons and goggles before getting to work.

Today, you are all builders, said Tim Ruggles, CEO of Habitat Oakland, as the crowd cheered. Not only on this home, but youre also builders of community, and builders of hope, and builders of memories. Hopefully, by the end of the day, youll have all that in your hearts, as youre tired and dirty and sweaty, remembering you did something special today. So have fun, and be safe!

Johnna Struck, president of Changing Places Moving, in Waterford, and volunteer chair of Women Builds steering committee, said shes been involved in Habitat builds at various phases, but never on a build from the ground up like this one the first ground-up build in several years, rather than the usual rehab of an existing home.

The three-bedroom, one-bath ranch, being built on a city-donated lot that had been vacant for several years, already had its foundation in place and underground plumbing completed by the time the volunteers arrived Aug. 11. Other specialists will step in to help with electrical and other matters. But the bulk of the carpentry work will be done by the volunteers in pink shirts, under the guidance of experts wearing green.

Im not tool-handy at all, said Struck. I sit behind a desk all day; Im an accountant business owner. And theres really no training here; you watch a video to get a feel for the project, but its the crew in green shirts, the ones who have experience, who are guiding us. Theyre leading the blind, and when I say were blind, were blind. But they have the knowledge and patience. Theyre so great!

She said theyre still raising money for the build, even as they work on it, and people can contribute donations at www.habitatoak land.org by clicking on Women Build.

Were looking for simple grassroots donations: $10, $25, $50 anything. You dont need to do anything special, Struck said. Youre investing in a couple, two hardworking individuals, and now theyll have their dream of safe, affordable housing. Youre also investing in the community; housing values will improve, and if theyre successful living in a home, imagine how many businesses they will support here in Madison Heights. Its a huge ripple effect. The net casts so much wider than the project.

The recipients are an engaged couple, Dennis Etheridge and Cynthia McLinden. McLinden has some mobility limitations by way of cerebral palsy, a nonprogressive movement disorder she has had since birth. She hasnt let it hinder her, however, earning a masters degree in social work through Wayne State University.

Still, the medical bills cause some strain, along with the extra cost of replacing her handicap-accessible van when it was hit and destroyed by a drunken driver last year. Thanks to Habitat Oakland, she and her fiance will soon have a home where they can raise a family together, and out of which Etheridge, a technician for Belle Tire, plans to start his own business as a certified electrician.

Etheridge and McLinden, both 28, have been together since the fall of 2011. Etheridge lived in Alabama at the time and was visiting his brother back home in Michigan when he met McLinden and immediately felt a special connection. He moved back here to be close to her, living with his mother in Madison Heights, one block north of where their new home will be located. Etheridge and McLinden got engaged in 2012, with a wedding date set for this September.

Etheridges mom also has a Habitat home. Even though it wasnt built to be handicap-accessible, McLinden finds it easy to get around there. Having her own Habitat home built around her needs will make matters even easier. The new home will include doorways that are level with the ground outside, a walk-in shower, and wider hallways.

The couple was in awe at the flurry of activity Aug. 11.

Theyre working to have all the walls raised today, Etheridge said. Its awesome.

Its hard to find a house thats handicap-accessible, McLinden said. Its also costly to modify one, so this will help. hellip; Its overwhelming now, to see the walls being built.

Before, it was a completely empty lot, Etheridge said over the constant hammering. Were hoping well be moved in right around Christmas.

Kim Howard, who has been with Habitat Oakland for four years now, and currently serves as their manager of partnerships, volunteers and youth programs, said she has seen many builds over the years, but the thrill never gets old.

Its a wonderful thing, Howard said. Each family is unique, with their own reasons and their own motivations for doing this. This is an opportunity that means a lot to them.

Philip Pierce, on the board of directors for Habitat Oakland, said the homes help keep families and future families together by providing stability that minimizes tension and offers a positive environment for children, creating a strong sense of self-worth.

And whats more, when you see the walls of your house going up, and you participate in it yourself, youll take a lot of care in it, Pierce said. You will truly have pride of ownership.

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County, including how you can donate to Women Build 2014, visit www.habitatoakland.org.

You can reach C amp; G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.

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