Even being around Mary for a short period of time, I can say that she is surely a warm, welcoming, funny, and humble human being... with maybe just a touch of spitfire in her, too. Mary has lived in Minnesota nearly all her life after moving here from Mississippi when she was a young girl. She has owned her house in Minneapolis for 57 years, which is also home to Mary's son, her sister, and her brother. Mary first learned about Twin Cities Habitat after seeing some of the work being done by the Habitat's Neighborhood Revitalization program. Her first experience with Habitat's A Brush with Kindness (ABWK) home repair program was two years ago, when Mary, along with Habitat staff and volunteers, repaired and painted the exterior of her home.
"I liked being outside with everyone," Mary said. "I had paint everywhere—but I enjoyed every minute of it!"
During that project, she also formed a special bond with Cindy, the ABWK Site Supervisor overseeing the work performed on Mary's home.
"You know, I have to say this is one of my all-time favorite projects and families that I've ever worked with," Cindy said. "When I found out that Mary had re-applied for additional assistance and her work was scheduled, I was so excited to come back and see her again!"
It also seems that Mary's exterior may have inspired others in her neighborhood. Following her initial repair project, Mary's neighbor, Phillip, applied for, and partnered with, the ABWK program.
"Right across the street is Phillip's house, who we worked with a few years ago. He's always waving and saying 'hi,'" Cindy said. "It's so nice to be able to see homeowners again after the work is finished."
It has been two years since the ABWK volunteer crew was last at Mary's house, working on her home's exterior. Mary has used that time to have her roof fixed, which was a requirement before the team could perform additional repairs. This second phase of repair work has been much more extensive, intrusive, and time-intensive than the first, but the family has no complaints, and continues to work alongside staff and volunteers as much as they're able. Mary also shared how the staff has taken great care to prep her home, hanging plastic sheeting and taping down cardboard, to reduce the impact of increased traffic in the home and keep things as clean as possible.
"We're working on the main floor and doing major repairs in the bathroom," Cindy said. "This family has an incredible amount of patience. To do a project of this size, we basically had to create an environment where they are without a bathroom for a few weeks. Not a lot of families would tolerate that. But they continue to be gracious and upbeat, and just keep saying 'do what you gotta do.'"
This larger-scale project is part of changes in Twin Cities Habitat's A Brush with Kindness paint and home repair program. Traditionally, the program was limited to assisting only with minor carpentry and painting work that would require a week or less of time. With these new changes, ABWK staff is able to focus on deeper health and safety repairs, and allocate more time to tackle major work projects.
Unfortunately, the early stages of the bathroom repair project uncovered some additional issues with the home's plumbing system, which could have cost the family thousands of dollars to repair. Instead, Mr. Rooter, a longtime partner and supporter of Twin Cities Habitat, stepped in and donated many hours of free labor to help make the necessary repairs.
|Mary's kitchen before||Mary's kitchen in progress||Mary's kitchen after|
"I could never have gotten all of this done without help," Mary said. "Thank you, so very much, to all the people that made this possible."
For Mary, having these repairs made to her home will mean that she and her family can now use the bathroom sink (which was not functional for the past two years), and the water damage from her leaky roof and plumbing issues is now repaired and will no longer be a concern to the safety and stability of her home. A new bathtub with a lower side has replaced the original high claw foot model, which will help reduce the risk of falls for family members when getting in and out.
"This whole experience, the work, the help, the volunteers, the staff—it's all been so wonderful," Mary said.
It's clear after hearing from Mary and Habitat staff, that this project is one that none of them will soon forget.