Madison Heights couple receives keys to Habitat home

Project was focus of Habitat Oakland’s Women Build 2014

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 26, 2015


It’s about empowerment and building hope for people who struggle, who just need a hand up to get on the right path

Tim Ruggles, Executive director and CEO of Habitat Oakland

MADISON HEIGHTS — It’s always a joyous occasion when Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County dedicates a home and hands over the keys to the deserving recipients. The nonprofit’s motto is “A hand up, not a handout,” and the homeowners put in their fair share to help build their home — more than 300 hours of sweat equity. For each of them, it’s a dream come true.

But the build dedicated March 21, in the 500 block of East Kalama, is notable in other ways, too.

For starters, it is the result of Women Build 2014 — the first Women Build that Habitat Oakland has done in nearly a decade. Women led the project and arranged the funding, with female CEOs, managers, financial experts and more volunteering their time and resources. What’s more, they kicked off the build on Aug. 11, 2014 — the same day that a record-breaking storm flooded much of southeast Michigan. 

Due to the lay of the land, the build site was spared the worst of the flooding, and construction continued with the volunteers wearing pink T-shirts, hard hats, nail aprons and goggles, receiving special training and working under the supervision of expert homebuilders.

Kim Howard, manager of partnership at Habitat Oakland, said there was a lot of excitement about the Women Build when it was first discussed in September 2013.

“There are so many people who when they think of construction, they think of men,” Howard said. “Men can do it. Men always do it. Men can get it done. But we proved that women can get it done, too.”

This was no ordinary home, either, since it was built with handicapped accessibility in mind. This meant wider hallways, walk-in showers, and doors level with the ground outside. One of the owners, Cynthia Etheridge, has some mobility limitations by way of cerebral palsy, a non-progressive movement disorder that she has had since birth.

She hasn’t let it hinder her, though, earning a master’s degree in social work through Wayne State University. Still, it’s hard to find existing homes that are handicapped-accessible, and modifying normal homes can be costly. In addition, the medical bills are a bit of a strain, and the year before last, Cynthia lost her handicapped-accessible van when it was hit by a drunken driver.

The Habitat home comes as a huge relief for her and her husband, Dennis Etheridge. The couple, both 28, met while Dennis was visiting his brother in Michigan. They felt a spark, so Dennis moved from Alabama to live with his mother in Madison Heights and be closer to Cynthia. The couple got engaged in 2012 and then married last fall.

“I don’t know if I can put anything into words to thank everyone,” Cynthia said during the dedication. “This is amazing.”

“I just want to thank Habitat (Oakland) for everything,” added Dennis. “It wouldn’t be possible without you, or without the Women Build, or all of the people who helped sponsor the whole thing. We greatly appreciate it, and we’re just so happy.”

Elizabeth Wyss, development associate at Habitat Oakland, said the project was a learning experience for many, including the young girls at Madison Preparatory Academy, an alternative high school for at-risk teens in Madison Heights.

“I want to thank you for letting us include the girls from Madison Prep, and having them work on your house, and talking with them and mentoring them,” Wyss said to Cynthia and Dennis. “Two of the students have graduated since then … and they’re on a better path now.”

To go along with this, Cynthia mentioned that she often runs into a woman at Meijer, who one day asked her if she was involved in the Women Build. When Cynthia told her that was her home, the woman informed her that her daughter was one of the Madison Prep students who had been involved in the build, and that her daughter is now in college.

“It’s a small world,” Cynthia said.

Tim Ruggles, executive director and CEO of Habitat Oakland, said each homebuilding project works because of the people who give it their all.

“Habitat is nothing without the community, without the volunteers, without the families, without the government involvement, without the corporate involvement, and without the individuals who are so generous and donate to Habitat,” Ruggles said. “Together, you all come together and build community. … It’s about empowerment and building hope for people who struggle, who just need a hand up to get on the right path.”

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County, visit