Home Sweet Home
Habitat house is handicap accessible
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
On Jan. 10, Karen and Roger Guess of Hartselle achieved the American dream of becoming homeowners. It was a dream the couple said never would have materialized without the help of their family, friends, neighbors, and Habitat for Humanity.
"There's no way we ever could have afforded a home without Habitat for Humanity," Karen said. "We've always dreamed of owning our own home, but we we're beginning to think it would never happen."
The Guess's new home was the first of 14 planned by Morgan County's Habitat for Humanity in the Phoenix Place subdivision. The organization bought the land off of Penny Lane in Hartselle more than six years ago and received grants from the Alabama Department of Economic Affairs for roads and sewage.
Frank Stewart, Habitat coordinator for First United Methodist Church in Hartselle, said even though FUMC underwrote the financial aspect of the Guess's home, the house itself was the effort of more than 50 volunteers from across the community.
"The blessing with this project is the community involvement," Stewart said. "If people know there is a need, they want to help meet it."
Karen and Roger and their two sons, Dale, 22, and Brian, 20, have called many apartments and rental properties home during the Guess's 25 year marriage.
However, apartment living became increasingly difficult for Karen over the past few years as her mobility declined and confined her to a wheelchair.
In April 2001, Karen and Roger spotted a Habitat newspaper announcement inviting families to apply for housing consideration. Inadequate living conditions were one of many eligibility criteria.
"Many apartments just aren't adequate for wheelchairs," Karen said. "The doors aren't wide enough, the showers aren't handicap-accessible, and it's just hard to get around. We figured all they could tell us was yes or no, so we applied."
Stewart said this was the first handicap-accessible Habitat house that he has helped to build.
"I broke my leg last August," Stewart said. "I never truly appreciated handicap accessible buildings until I had to maneuver my crutches through buildings and wait for people to open doors for me."
Habitat designed the Guess's home to accommodate Karen's mobility limitations by widening doorways, designing an open living/dining/kitchen area, lowering sinks, paving a path to and from the back and front doors, and installing a handicap-accessible shower.
"Taking a shower was nearly impossible for Karen," Roger said. "It was hard to get the wheelchair into the bathroom and she could only stand up for a few seconds at a time in the shower. Now, taking a shower is enjoyable instead of painful for her."
Karen's brother, Charles Sanders of Somerville, owner of Sanders Interiors, built and donated more than $3,500 in handicap-accessible kitchen and bathroom cabinets for his sister and her family's home.
"Someone said to me, 'Your little brother sure loves you,'" Karen said. "He was as excited about us getting this house as we were. He and several of his employees also volunteered lots of time and hard work into the construction of our house."
Like Karen's brother, Stewart said many people from the community also donated time and materials. Volunteers from FUMC and other local churches, area merchants and skilled tradesmen provided free electrical installation, heavy equipment use, and discounted building materials.
"It's not a handout, it's a hand up," Stewart said. "Karen and Roger went from renters to homeowners in less than two years with the help of many in our community. All of their contributions, however large or small, helped to build such a nice home at such an affordable price."
Stewart said the Guess's mortgage is approximately $37,000 with no interest on the monthly payments. The mortgage will be used to build the next FUMC sponsored Habitat house.
Stewart said the house recently appraised for more than $60,000.
"Our mortgage payment is about $100 less than our apartment rent was," Karen said. "The extra money will surely come in handy."
Stewart said he felt confident that the extra money would help to improve their quality of life.
"That $100 could provide better living conditions, education, nutrition, and transportation," Stewart said. "Just think what that will mean to this family over their lifetime."
Construction began on the Guess's home last August and a dedication ceremony was held Dec. 22. Karen and Roger documented the progress of their home, from groundbreaking to settling in last month, through a series of photographs.
"This is home," Karen said while flipping through the photo album. "I often tell Roger that I can't believe it. Habitat for Humanity has really been a blessing for us."