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UPDATE: Deerwood man dies in head-on crash with semitrailer

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity starts 21-day home build

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Volunteers Rob Veith (left), Travis Malloy, Tony Veith and Ethan Stahl work Monday, June 10, on a Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity home build in northeast Brainerd. The new 938-square-foot home is for a single mom and her son. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 3
Volunteer Ken Larson helps future homeowner Deb Kowelzek use a motorized saw to cut holes for windows Monday, June 10, in her new home in northeast Brainerd. Over 20 volunteers helped build the shell of the home with construction to continue through the week. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 3 / 3

There's no place like home—just ask anyone who doesn't own a house or is forced to reside in a dwelling not fit to live in.

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity began construction Monday, June 10, of a two-bedroom, one-bathroom single-story 938-square-foot home at 1007 Ninth Ave. NE in northeast Brainerd.

"This is day one of our home build for Deb Kowalzek and her son Brady," said Ruth Ann Veith, development director of the nonprofit. "It's kind of a unique partnership with Lakewood Evangelical Free Church and Wells Fargo."

Wells Fargo awarded the nonprofit $15,000 for the 21-day build, which will include volunteers from Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter helping with the new home's construction overseen by Dan Veith and Ken Nornberg, who once owned construction companies.

"Lakewood had approached us a while back. They wanted to do it as part of their outreach ministry," Veith said. "They had partnered with Habitat, I think, four years ago on another home, so they wanted to do that again and engaged their congregation to help with the build."

Veith said Kowalzek and her son left an unhealthy situation a few years ago for their own safety, but finding decent, affordable housing as a single mom was challenging.

Kowalzek attempted to get help through public assistance, but was told she made too much money to qualify so the only place she could afford to live in was a basement of an old home with ceilings about 6 feet high, according to Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity officials.

"Every time it rains, they have standing water covering their basement apartment. There are holes in the walls and doors and only one small window in their apartment. Deb's bed is the couch in the kitchen/living room. They are continually sick because of the mold and mildew."

For more than a quarter of a century, Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity volunteers have built 110 homes in Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard counties, and the city of Staples, according to officials.

"The way the process works—once families turn in their applications—there's some criteria first that's looked at to see if they are actually ready to be a homeowner, so financially they have to be ready," Veith said. "Sometimes families come in and they've got too much debt and are not quite ready, so we'll tell them no, but we work with them a year, help them get their debt down, get a budget and then they come back and reapply."

Brady Kowalzek graduated with honors for both his Associate of Arts degree and high school diploma. He is studying to be an architect at North Dakota State University and is on the dean's list. His mom works full time at LINDAR Corp. and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.

"They put in their sweat equity ... and they have to have the ability to pay if they're going to walk away with a 30-year mortgage ... and they have to have a need or have to be currently in a housing situation that is not safe, decent or affordable," Veith said.

Deb and Brady Kowalzek are looking forward to their new home that will be dry and warm, according to Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity officials, and she is excited to finally have her own bedroom and her own bed.

"Her dream (is) to have a yard where she can plant some flowers and finally have a safe place for her grandkids to visit Grandma. ... 'We can't wait to not have standing water in our house when it rains,'" according to biographical information about the Kowalzek family.

"They're looking at having a neighborhood party on June 29 to celebrate construction completion," Veith said. "Of course weather can change that, and also permitting and licensing."

Habitat for Humanity International is active in more than 100 countries, has built more than 500,000 homes and has provided more than 2 million people in 3,000 communities with safe, decent and affordable shelter.

"We are still working on our build behind Best Buy. On the 29th of May, we started our build in Staples, so we have a home in progress there, and then mid-July we are going over to Deerwood start a new home there," Veith said.

For more photos of volunteers working on the new Habitat for Humanity house, go to https://bit.ly/2I9bJd3.

Lunch at the ReStore

• What: Meet-and-greet bratwurst fundraiser for Deb Kowalzek.

• When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12.

• Where: Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 1110 Wright St., Brainerd.

• Cost: Free-will donation.

Frank Lee

Voted most likely in high school ... "not to be voted most likely for anything," my irreverent humor (and blatant disregard for the Oxford comma) is only surpassed by a flair for producing online videos to accompany unbiased articles about Crow Wing County about, say, how your taxes are being spent, by your elected officials, on issues or topics that matter to YOU.

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