House ceremony.

Veteran finds the right solution with Habitat

“If my roof hadn’t fallen in, I probably never would have reached out to Habitat,” says 74-year-old Marjorie, a Vietnam-era veteran. “I wanted to repair the roof myself, but I never seemed to have the money to fix it.”

After Marjorie’s roof caved in, she moved into a small travel trailer beside her house. She wanted to stay on her property — her family had lived on it since she was a young girl. However, the trailer had no insulation, running water, plumbing or electricity. To try to keep warm in the bitter winter temperatures of Tuscola County, Marjorie snaked an extension cord into the trailer from her house to power a small space heater. When she read about Habitat for Humanity of Lapeer-Tuscola in her local paper, she hoped they might be able to help her.

Marjorie  in her new home with volunteers.

“When we went out to look at her home, we knew right away Marjorie didn’t need a new roof — she needed a new house,” says Carolyn Nestor, executive director of Habitat Lapeer-Tuscola. And soon. “It wasn’t safe or workable for her to remain in her current living conditions.” Fearful that Marjorie could slip on ice, become ill from the cold or start a fire with her dated space heater, Carolyn began working to get Marjorie in temporary housing right away.

“I couldn’t get out of my head that she was living in the bitter cold like that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Marjorie, it’s that she’s a survivor. I think that grit and determination are what enabled her to remain in those conditions for as long as she did,” says Carolyn, who helped get Marjorie placed in an apartment while they worked on her home. 

Finding the right solution for Marjorie

After some research, Carolyn and her team found that Marjorie’s home would need to be demolished because the structural damage was too great. Habitat Lapeer-Tuscola was committed to helping Marjorie with a new home, and a grant from Wells Fargo designated to create cottages that help veterans age in place was the way to make that happen. “It lightened the load so much,” says Carolyn. “It allowed us to focus on caring for Marjorie.” In addition to the funding support, many Wells Fargo employees volunteered their time to help Marjorie build her new home. 

Joann Weingartz, vice president and market administrator of the Great Lakes Market for Wells Fargo and leader of their volunteer network for Michigan, was instrumental in organizing the volunteers. “This was a woman who joined the military during the Vietnam War,” Joann says. “Can you imagine what she went through then? Then to think of her living in those conditions,” she says, fighting back tears. “It was incredibly important for me to work on this home. I believe in giving people a hand up, and who better than a veteran like Marjorie?”

Group photo

Joann’s colleague Marc Beshany, managing director of the Great Lakes Market for Wells Fargo, is a Marine Corps veteran himself and a seasoned Habitat volunteer. “This build was special for me because I got to work with Marjorie and meet the veteran who would benefit from our efforts,” says Marc.

“Our team became so invested in her and her home,” Marc goes on to say. “That’s what makes Habitat so special, the sense of camaraderie that brings us all together with a purpose-driven mindset — and let’s face it, everything starts in the home. It’s where we live, where we love, where we connect, so that’s why I’m so passionate about Habitat.”

Marc’s passion, and that of his fellow workmates, helped Habitat and Marjorie move the home along. “The icing on the cake of this experience was the caliber of folks who work for Wells Fargo,” says Carolyn. “They came at every opportunity. They came early, stayed late, they worked hard physically in ice, snow, rain and vicious cold of the Michigan winter — and no one complained.”

A prophecy comes true

For many winters to come, Marjorie will enjoy the warmth of her new home. “Thirty years ago, the Lord shared a prophecy with me. He said that someday I would have my own house, and that others would have compassion on me because I’d had compassion on people,” says Marjorie. “When I was moving out of my old house, I found that prophecy that I’d written down so long ago. I believed in that promise at the time and that promise was fulfilled by volunteers and Habitat.”