Four Brainerd women who didn't know each other six months ago have become good friends after spending 25 to 30 hours a week together.
These friends soon will be good neighbors. The women, Jean Novicky, Tara Coffman, Abby Cyr and Tara Brodmarkle, are helping each other build their homes in southeast Brainerd through the Self Help Housing program that is administered through the Region 5 Development Commission.
The Self Help Housing program, a Rural Development program, is a home construction program where low-income families help build their home, as well as help others build their homes, and pay for it through a low-interest rural development loan.
Jean Novicky of Brainerd carried a rafter last weekend to put on one of four houses being built through the Self Help Housing program. Novicky will own one of the homes. Helping Novicky were volunteers with the Lakes Area Interfaith Caregivers, Frank Huber (left) and Paul Roche. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Shannon Worden, housing assistant for Region 5 and the program, said the families began building their split-level homes in September. The home-building process takes about a year, she said. The families must work on the homes 10 hours during the week and another 20 hours on weekends, since the families all work full time, one of the program's requirements.
Two of the homes are enclosed so the families can work inside on colder days. The roofs on the other two houses are almost complete and are worked on during warmer days.
"This gives families a different task every day so they don't get bored," said Worden. "The families are doing a good job working together."
Coffman, a single mother of two children, said, "It's like we are family. We all get along and we communicate well. It's nice that we get to know each other since we will be neighbors. I'd be comfortable to borrow a cup of sugar from them."
Coffman said it has been hard to work full time, plus spend another 30 hours working on the homes each week, especially with children.
"I sometimes have to scramble to find someone to watch the kids," said Coffman.
When Coffman applied for a first-time homebuyers loan through Rural Development, she was encouraged to apply for the Self Help program. Coffman said she could have bought a home, but she never would have gotten as much out of it as she is building her home herself.
Coffman has learned a lot by building her home, including how to run a Skil saw and other tools.
Abby Cyr of Baxter carried clips that went on the rafters of the homes being built through the Self Help Housing program. Cyr will own one of the four homes currently being built. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"I had no idea how many steps there are in building a house," said Coffman. "I like the work."
Brodmarkle and her fianc, Jamie Villnow, are also in the program and their house is the furthest along. As part of the program, no one can move into a home until all four houses are complete.
Brodmarkle said they were looking for a house in their price range, but could not find anything.
"We knew nothing on how to build a house," said Brodmarkle. "But it (Self Help Housing brochure) said no experience needed. ... This didn't phase me until now. I am finding muscles I never knew I had."
Brodmarkle said it is hard work, but it will be worth it in the end when they move into their house with their 15-month-old daughter. Brodmarkle said what is harder than the physical work is not spending as much time with her daughter during the building process. She said during the week she works on the house, and Villnow works on it on the weekends. If she has a baby sitter she also will help on weekends.
Cyr, Baxter, a single mother of a 5-year-old son, said her parents watch her son while she works on the house. Her son understands why she is gone and Cyr said their time together is not taken for granted.
Cyr has learned a lot about building a house. She said she was a "girlie girl" who knew the basics, such as the hammer goes with a nail.
"It's nice to know that if I need a piece of wood cut that I can do it myself," said Cyr. "Not many girls can do this."
Cyr said when they first started building the house she thought there would be a lot of tension among four strangers.
"I didn't expect that we'd all get along," said Cyr. "We work well together and we all have the same sense of humor. If someone makes a mistake we all laugh about it and we do not get mad."
Novicky, a single mother of four children with two children at home, said by building the home she will be able to fix anything that breaks herself. She said she has learned a lot about construction, including knowing where studs are located and that drywall is heavy.
Novicky said working on the homes has gone well, but it would be nice to have more volunteers.
Last weekend volunteers from the Lakes Area Interfaith Caregivers helped the four families. Tim McCarthy, director of the organization, said the group needed help so they came.
McCarthy said, "We have great volunteers and it was nice to help out."
Worden said they are always looking for volunteers to help the families and she would like more community support.
"Even just to have a volunteer who can help bring the tools to one of the family members," said Worden.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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