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'This is a new start for us'

Copper Country Habitat for Humanity in Hancock, Mich., is the northernmost builder for this year’s Jimmy Carter Work Project. In an average winter, the area gets more than 200 inches of snow. Obviously, the affiliate puts a premium on energy efficiency. It builds only Energy Star homes that keep Habitat families warmer—for less money.

Harleyanne Swetich, 3, and her parents Frank and Robin will celebrate the dedication of their Habitat house in the far north of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on June 24.

Lower utilities sound good to Frank and Robin Swetich, who will dedicate their house in collaboration with the JCWP on June 24. In their old rental house, winter utility bills topped $200; in their new house, they can expect to pay no more than $60. Their mortgage payment will be around $300—what they pay for rent now—so they are eager to see their savings add up.

As important to the Swetiches as saving money are the accessibility features of their new Habitat home. Frank has a degenerative disease, and he will eventually be confined to a wheelchair. Already the difficulty of negotiating the stairs leading into their rental home leaves him a virtual prisoner in the house.

The Swetiches’ Habitat house will be equipped with a ramp, wide halls and doorways, a shower that will accommodate a wheelchair, and open countertops and vanities.

“Habitat is willing to work with you,” Robin says. The affiliate altered its building plans not only to help make the house accessible, but also to put the kitchen facing the backyard, where Robin anticipates 3-year-old Harleyanne will spend much of her time.

“We’re almost always in the kitchen,” Robin explains. “I just want to be able to keep an eye on her while she’s out playing. [The affiliate was] great about letting us switch some things around to make it work for us.”

Robin encourages everyone who thinks they might qualify for a Habitat house to apply. “Just try,” she says. “This is a new start for us.”

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