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Realizing the dream of home ownership

August 6, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

ALPENA - A single mother accustomed to dealing with the limitations of multiple sclerosis, Stephanie Leski of Alpena has never owned a home before, though that is about to change.

By fall, Leski and her two sons should realize their long-held dream of owning their own place, thanks to the efforts of Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan, Inc. She and her sons, 11-year-old Damon and six-year-old Ryan, were selected as the partner family for this year's new Habitat build on Wall Street.

As such, they will be working alongside Habitat officials to provide "sweat equity" during the building process. Under the program's guidelines, they also will assume a mortgage tailored to their ability to pay.

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Stephanie Leski of Alpena watches as workmen from L&S Transit Mix Concrete, Habitat for Humanity officials, and volunteers help to pour and spread the concrete foundation of her future Habitat home on Wall Street.

Leski enjoyed a ringside seat Friday morning, watching wet concrete being poured and spread for the foundation of her home-to-be.

"I'm very excited, and I feel very blessed watching it all come together," Leski said. "It's wonderful for me and my two boys. I've never owned a house before. I'm a single mother making a start."

The house is Habitat's first new build since 2009. When completed, it will feature three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Mike Wilson, Habitat's executive director, is enthused about some of the newer technology being incorporated into the structure.

"It has an in-the-floor radiant heat system," Wilson said. "It will be a super energy-efficient house, plus the domestic hot water will run off the same hot water tank."

Leski wasn't the only spectator Friday. Two couples Ralph and Darlene Palmer of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Ray and Mary Kay Johnson of St. Louis, Mo. are spending the next two weeks in Alpena helping with the Habitat build. Known as "caravaners," this marks the third Habitat construction project for which they have traveled here to lend a hand.

Both couples worked on the last house constructed in 2009 and on a previous project on Jefferson Street that involved the building of two houses.

"We love Alpena," Darlene Palmer said. "We love the people, and the area is so pretty. The bike paths are wonderful, the concerts in the park, the farmer's market. We have met so many wonderful people - those from the Habitat office, the families, all the volunteers who come out to help."

The foursome traveled to the city in their campers and while assisting on the project, are staying at a private campground maintained by St. Paul Lutheran Church. They are just a few of the many volunteers and businesses who are giving of their time and resources to make home ownership a reality for others.

"People have been so good about providing lunches for the workers," said Judy Nordstrand. She and her husband, Bob, are serving as a mentor couple for Leski and her family. Among those she said that have contributed food are Spicy Bob's, Perch's IGA, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Save-a-Lot, Walmart and B&B Barbecue.

One of the aspects Leski is happiest about is the fact her sons soon will have room to play outside.

"Where we live now, there is no yard," she said. "We live on a busy road, and I worry about them. Back here they will have so much more freedom to play. This will be affordable housing that I will be able to make a life and a good start for my family."

Leski expressed her gratitude to Habitat and others who are supporting her efforts to make a better life for her sons, including her boyfriend, Steve Johnson. With her MS, she is not able to do many of the physical tasks associated with putting up a house, but Habitat officials are working with her on that.

"I am limited," Leski said. "I get very nauseated, and I have very weak legs. I do as much as I can, and they definitely work with me. They know my limitations and give me things to do that I am able to do."

Ground was broken for her home in May, but a rainy June delayed the project. She hopes the house is completed by fall and that she and her family can celebrate Christmas all together there.



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