After five years of sleeping on couches in their living room while six children shared two bedrooms and a chilly three-season porch, Travis and Mary Svoboda are thankful to receive the keys to a new home big enough for the whole family.

The recipients of the 123rd home built in partnership with Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity said at a dedication ceremony Monday, Nov. 22, the house is the answer to long-standing prayers.

“I feel like it’s a gift to me now, because I’ve had a really hard road these past couple of years,” Mary said. “So I feel grateful to have a new home to come to where I can take my shoes off and say, ‘Hey, this is mine. I’m home.’”

The five-bedroom, two-bath home on Southeast 28th Street in Brainerd will be the first Travis has ever owned in his 48 years, and it’s a welcome respite from the moldy and drafty apartment in which the couple cared for 16-year-old son James along with four grandchildren and one nephew they’ve adopted: Alex, 9; Aiden, 8; Roman, 7; Piper, 5; and Wyatt, 3.

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“To me, it’s overwhelming,” Travis said. “It’s almost — I don’t really have the words. I’m so thankful for Habitat for accepting us. They didn’t have to. But they did. And I really, really appreciate it.”

Beyond the challenges that come with raising small children in a cramped, uncomfortable space while barely making ends meet, Mary, 55, said the tragic loss of her son and a diabetes diagnosis helped make recent years especially difficult for her. She also said she experienced difficulty breathing and skin irritation because of the prevalence of mold in the basement of their residence — something she said she knew affected the whole family.

Mary Svoboda with her family members Aiden, left; Roman; James, back; Alex; Wyatt; husband Travis Svoboda and Piper examine their gifts at the dedication of their new Habitat for Humanity home Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brainerd. 
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Mary Svoboda with her family members Aiden, left; Roman; James, back; Alex; Wyatt; husband Travis Svoboda and Piper examine their gifts at the dedication of their new Habitat for Humanity home Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“We’re thankful to everybody that gave the time and the effort to make this dream come true for me and my family,” Mary said. “ … I feel that God finally gave me a gift. So my prayers were finally answered, because I kept praying and praying and praying. And finally, it came true. I’m going to take care of this home and I’m going to value it. So I’m going to make the best of it here.”

Mary said they will likely still be in the process of moving in over the Thanksgiving holiday while also preparing the meal of turkey and fixings gifted by Habitat partners, but the timing of the home’s completion means her family will celebrate Christmas in comfort and gratitude.


"I feel grateful to have a new home to come to where I can take my shoes off and say, ‘Hey, this is mine. I’m home.'"

— Mary Svoboda


“We haven’t really had a decent Christmas. So I think this house is going to give us a great Christmas,” she said.

Kevin Pelkey, executive director of the local faith-based nonprofit, told those gathered in the new and noticeably warm home that the Svoboda family deserved a new beginning, and they put in the effort into volunteering at the organization’s home improvement store and building their new home to ensure that beginning happened. The Svobodas will have a mortgage on the home, which is an expectation when a family is selected for the program.

Mary and Travis Svoboda unfold a quilt created by the Pinetree Patchworkers Quilt Guild for their new Habitat for Humanity home in Brainerd Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. The family of eight will now have a new home to celebrate the coming holidays with room for the entire family.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Mary and Travis Svoboda unfold a quilt created by the Pinetree Patchworkers Quilt Guild for their new Habitat for Humanity home in Brainerd Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. The family of eight will now have a new home to celebrate the coming holidays with room for the entire family. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“I’m firmly believing that this isn’t just building a home. It’s not just serving a family, but it is serving our community,” Pelkey said. “It’s also important to know that we’re not going to be giving this house to Mary and Travis. Yes, they invested sweat equity. … Between what you did for us in the ReStore and Travis being here almost every day that there was somebody here, you have skin in the game. We call that sweat equity. And that’s one of the things that makes Habitat very unique in the world of house building, is that we expect our families to be involved in and invested in.”

This summer marked the return of a full fleet of Habitat volunteers, a welcome sign of a move toward normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic forced drastic reductions in volunteer activity.


"I’m firmly believing that this isn’t just building a home. It’s not just serving a family, but it is serving our community."

— Kevin Pelkey, Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity executive director


“Instead of building with one or two volunteers through about an 18-month period of time, we had 34 volunteers on this job site on the first day,” Pelkey said. “ … It does take many, many hands for Habitat to work as a community program.”

Pelkey said the Svoboda family’s home is the result of members of various faith communities and a plethora of subcontractors in the lakes area stepping up to the table. Thrivent, a Christian financial institution, offered half the cost of the home, challenging Habitat to raise funds for the second half. Sixteen area churches joined in raising funds and pounding nails, making it truly a “faith build,” Pelkey said.

Mary Svoboda with her family Roman, Aiden, James, Alex, Wyatt, Piper and husband Travis Svoboda look at the gifts during their Habitat for Humanity home dedication Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brainerd. 
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Mary Svoboda with her family Roman, Aiden, James, Alex, Wyatt, Piper and husband Travis Svoboda look at the gifts during their Habitat for Humanity home dedication Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

A number of local groups and businesses also came together to provide the Svoboda family with a variety of gifts, some symbolic — such as a loaf of bread and bottles of nonalcoholic wine, representing Jesus’ hand in the community effort — and others intended to assist the family in settling into their new home. These included necessities such as cleaning supplies and a lawnmower, but also a veritable pile of quilts and blankets crafted by the Pinetree Patchworkers Quilt Guild and children of youth groups at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church.


"I’m so thankful for Habitat for accepting us. They didn’t have to. But they did. And I really, really appreciate it."

— Travis Svoboda


Travis said the experience of working with Habitat to build his own home inspired him to continue volunteering and giving back with the organization into the future.

“I will still go there to help out after we move in here,” he said. “Right now, I think it would be a lot easier on everybody once we get into this house, make everybody happier, with everybody having their own rooms. … It’s a big weight off my shoulders.”



CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.