Lives changed with honest effort

Northern Michigan University women’s basketball player Taylor Hodell, right uses a drill to attach a railing to a wheelchair ramp as fellow player Peyton Wright, left, holds it steady. Several members of the NMU women’s basketball team volunteered during a Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build on Cedar Street in Ishpeming on Friday. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — Life-altering transformation; it’s a process that Marquette County Habitat for Humanity has offered to 104 area families over the last 26 years.

The organization that has been making the impossible — home ownership — possible for low-income Marquette County residents since 1992 is going through a transformation of its own with a new homeowner repair program.

Marquette County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Mike Shimon said affiliates of the international organization all over the United States are shifting from new home construction to repairs.

Qualified homeowners can use the program to address a variety of home repair needs such as plumbing, electrical work, ceiling repairs, exterior landscaping, roofing, window and door replacements as well as furnace and water heater replacements.

“Our community in Marquette County has a sizable number of homes in need of repair. The main thing I would like to emphasize is (that we are) helping the low-income families that need things like furnaces, roofs or hot water heaters,” Shimon said during a Friday phone interview. “Roofs are a big area of expense that they can’t afford.”

Habitat for Humanity construction supervisor Doug Hall helps Northern Michigan University women’s basketball player Sydney Dillinger to place a board on a wheelchair ramp as teammate Taylor Hodell holds the drill at the ready. Several members of the NMU Women’s Basketball team volunteered during a Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build on Cedar Street in Ishpeming on Friday. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

While the organization still plans to construct one or two new homes per year in comparison to three or four in previous years, Shimon said the shift in focus should ultimately allow the organization to help more families.

“If we build four homes, we serve four families,” Shimon said. “But with repairs we can help 15 to 20 families per year.”

The project is called the Habitat Homeowner Repair Program, which the organization is offering in cooperation with the Marquette County Land Bank Authority and Community Action Alger-Marquette.

The process involves the homeowner completing an owner-occupied repair application, then the scope of the repair work is defined and a repair agreement is signed by the family. Finally, Habitat gives approval for the work.

In order to qualify for the program homeowners are required to meet income guidelines, have a need for assistance, be willing to partner with Habitat by assisting on the project as much as possible, own the home and be living in it, and have homeowners insurance.

Habitat for Humanity Construction Supervisor Doug Hall measures the depth of a post hole on a wheelchair ramp at a Habitat home on Cedar Street. A wheelchair ramp was one of the additions needed for the family who will move in. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers

“The reason for the shift is because (of) the conditions of the homes in the area,” Shimon said. “Homeowners are also expected to pay what they can, if they can, for the repairs and contribute that sweat-equity just like the traditional Habitat homeowner does.”

Patty Barry knows all too well about sweat equity and the excitement of moving into a new home. Barry hopes to move into a home on Cedar Street in Ishpeming with her son Alger and daughter Angelica by the end of October.

The house, which was originally a Habitat home for another family, is being completely remodeled for the Barrys with a special eye toward 13-year-old Alger, who walks with crutches or uses a wheelchair.

The Barrys have rented a home in downtown Ishpeming for six years, Patty said during an interview Friday, and although the family will miss their neighbors and landlord, they are very excited about the prospect of home ownership.

“Right now this feels so good for us to have our own home,” Barry said. “We lost my husband last year, he passed away. So this is like a little dream that was my husband’s dream as well, so now we are going to be able to make new memories in a new home.”

And it’s not just the prospect of a new home, the inside is all on one level and has been modified to provide access for Alger that he does not have in their current residence.

“Right now, in the middle of winter, he crawls up the steps at the house that we are currently at, and his bedroom is upstairs,” Barry said, “so he crawls upstairs — and that’s like 20 steps. This is really going to give him independence. You know, they are making the doors handicap accessible so he can actually open the doors. He has trouble turning (door knobs) — he is just going to be able to grab these knobs and push down. This is really going to help Alger become the person I want him to become, independent, instead of relying on mom.”

The updates are not limited to the inside of the home. Members of the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team helped build an outdoor access ramp from the ground up on Friday with materials purchased by a grant from the Community Foundation of Marquette County.

The volunteer effort was part of the Women’s Build program, Shimon said.

Women’s Build has been a core program of Habitat International since 1991, with the goal of empowering women to help families build strength, stability and independence, according to the organization’s website.

Even area businesses support their employees’ efforts to give back to the community. Range Bank employee Brenda Johnson said her employer encourages community involvement and volunteerism.

“You get volunteer time off, where they pay you for the day of work,” Johnson said.

Working on a Habitat house is more than just an opportunity to spend some time outside on a workday, she said

“It feels really good and it’s a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “Today it felt like we were making memories. It was painting in the rain and seeing how fast everything went up. Everybody is smiling as they are working, and I think it’s because we all know it’s a great thing. It just makes you feel good.”

For more information on Habitat for Humanity programs, volunteer opportunities, or to donate, visit the website at, call 906-228-3578 or send an email to