When families move and have a chance to spend time in their new environment, sometimes there are more reasons to be thankful than they may have realized.
A few Fitchburg families discovered this on their journey to become homeowners through the Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.
The Fitchburg Star previewed the construction of three Habitat homes, two in the Renaissance on the Park neighborhood near Dunn’s Marsh and the other on Rimrock Road, in the summer of 2015, but much has changed since then for the Turner, Benani and Orth families.
When Rachel Turner, a single mother, talks about her Fitchburg home that she helped build with community volunteers, she says living in a safe and healthy environment was a top priority.
Turner and her 10-year-old son, Cameron, had previously lived in an apartment where several tenants in the building smoked. It was a difficult situation for a young boy with asthma.
“The smoke came into our apartment even when the doors and windows were closed. Cameron was suffering, so I had to find a better way of life,” Turner said.
So in 2014, Turner, a financial account technician at Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, applied for a home on the Habitat for Humanity website. She also worked overtime to save up for a few new things for their future home, including a kitchen table.
“I am so very grateful to all who helped make my wish for a better life come true,” she said.
Now that apartment life is behind them, Turner said her son is doing “much better in a smoke-free environment.”
“When I look around this beautiful home, it makes me feel people cared about me and loved me,” she said. “It gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.”
Valerie Johnson, CEO of Habitat of Humanity of Dane County, said Habitat staff feels a sense of accomplishment, too, when a home is completed and the family moves in.
“We feel good we have helped a family, but we also feel good that we have helped build up the community,” Johnson said.
When Maryam and Hassan Benani moved into their home in April with their 5-year-old daughter, Salma, and 3-year-old son, Rayan, the transition ushered in a new chapter in their lives.
Hassan, an electronics specialist with Electronic Theatre Controls, described how he and his wife appreciate all the help they’ve received, starting with the day they moved.
“We were living in a small apartment, so I asked only a few people to help us. I was so surprised when a team of about 20 people showed up,” Hassan Benani said. “They formed a human chain down the staircase and moved our things so efficiently it only took about an hour to move.”
The beds weren’t set up the night the family moved into their Fitchburg home, so they “pretended (to have) a sleepover.”
“We couldn’t resist sleeping in our home that first night, so we slept on mattresses on the floor, and the kids just loved it,” Benani added.
Months later, the family continues to find reasons to be grateful for their newly built ranch-style home, and they continue to add personal touches to the decor. Hassan even made Moroccan-inspired furniture from scratch.
“Since we are from Morocco, I thought it would be memorable to create furniture for our living room that reminds us of our family’s roots,” he said.
Maryam is thrilled she can make the home her own, too, especially in the spacious kitchen. She also appreciates the neighborhood’s tranquility, which is free from traffic and noise.
The Benanis are delighted to be part of a neighborhood that they said has been most welcoming. By chance, a good friend of Hassan’s happens to live next door.
“The kids are very happy here,” he said. “They can go down to the basement and play – something they couldn’t do in our former two-bedroom apartment. They have space to play outdoors and many kids to play with.”
“We couldn’t be happier or more grateful to have our own home,” he said.
In the spring of 2015, Vicki Orth learned she had cancer while her home was being built. After the initial diagnosis and several months of chemotherapy, she remained optimistic.
Unfortunately, her health declined and she died this May, about a year after she eagerly watched her home being built.
Orth had been filled with excitement over moving into a new home off Rimrock Road with her teenage son and daughter. That dream kept her going throughout her illness.
Heather Goepfert, Habitat’s family services coordinator, said Orth still qualified for the home building program even though she was not able to work at the construction site because of her health.
“She loved coming in to do office work at Habitat in conjunction with her sweat equity commitment,” Goepfert said.
Last year around Thanksgiving, the Orths moved into their Fitchburg home.
“When Vicki took possession of her home, she was happy and upbeat,” Goepfert said. “It was truly a wonderful time for her. Despite having cancer, she was filled with hope for the future.”
People who knew Orth said she was grateful and proud of her newly built home. The dream that materialized helped keep her spirits up.
The home she loved for a short period of time will now go to another Habitat family to enjoy, according to Habitat staff.
“Vicki was part of our Habitat family and will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” Goepfert said.