Habitat for Humanity gets to work on Women Build 2014

Young couple works with community to realize their dream

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 20, 2014

 Work begins on the walls of the new Habitat home at 576 E. Kalama. The project was called Women Build, in reference to the fact that women did the work and funded it.

Work begins on the walls of the new Habitat home at 576 E. Kalama. The project was called Women Build, in reference to the fact that women did the work and funded it.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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 they’ve done numerous builds over the years. But the one at 576 E. Kalama is unique.

This is because it’s 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 you’re also builders of community, and builders of hope, and builders of memories. Hopefully, by the end of the day, you’ll have all that in your hearts, as you’re 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 Build’s steering committee, said she’s 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. 

“I’m not tool-handy at all,” said Struck. “I sit behind a desk all day; I’m an accountant business owner. And there’s really no training here; you watch a video to get a feel for the project, but it’s the crew in green shirts, the ones who have experience, who are guiding us. They’re leading the blind, and when I say we’re blind, we’re blind. But they have the knowledge and patience. They’re so great!”

She said they’re 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.

“We’re looking for simple grassroots donations: $10, $25, $50 — anything. You don’t need to do anything special,” Struck said. “You’re investing in a couple, two hardworking individuals, and now they’ll have their dream of safe, affordable housing. You’re also investing in the community; housing values will improve, and if they’re successful living in a home, imagine how many businesses they will support here in Madison Heights. It’s 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 hasn’t let it hinder her, however, earning a master’s 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 fiancé 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. 

Etheridge’s mom also has a Habitat home. Even though it wasn’t 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.

“They’re working to have all the walls raised today,” Etheridge said. “It’s awesome.”

“It’s hard to find a house that’s handicap-accessible,” McLinden said. “It’s also costly to modify one, so this will help. … It’s overwhelming now, to see the walls being built.”

“Before, it was a completely empty lot,” Etheridge said over the constant hammering. “We’re hoping we’ll 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.

“It’s 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 what’s more, when you see the walls of your house going up, and you participate in it yourself, you’ll 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.