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MONROE - Kathy Clare's face and hands were covered in dirt and sweat Monday morning, but her smile beamed through as dozens of women crawled over and around her new 1,200-square-foot home on Monroe's East side.
"There's an explanation [for the way I feel], and it's awesome," she said proudly from the grass-free front yard of what will soon be her modest, four-bedroom, female-built home, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County.
Scores of volunteers from across the country descended on Monroe this week for the local Habitat chapter's annual "blitzbuild" - a massive undertaking to construct four affordable homes for four deserving families who need them.
Mary Ann Webber is the house leader for the all-female crew building Ms. Clare's home in the 300 block of Railroad Street. She said her crew was made up largely of construction newcomers who have proven their worth this week by passing inspections on their first try.
"Eighty percent of this crew is new. They've never had a hammer in their hand before," said the first-time house leader, herself certified in the construction trades. "They're doing a great job."
The houses being built this week are numbers 17, 18, 19, and 20 for the local chapter, which plans to build five homes during next summer's build as part of a statewide blitz involving former President Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Carter is not scheduled to participate locally, but is to be in Benton Harbor and Detroit.
Local Habitat spokesman Becki Harter said that this year's blitz build - the largest undertaking so far by the local chapter - has had obstacles to overcome, but so far things are going smoothly.
For instance, a team of professionals who had pledged to hang the wallboard in the four homes backed out shortly before the build was scheduled to start. But replacements were quickly secured before anything had to be delayed, she said.
LeiRissa Licari is another Habitat recipient this year. Her home being built on the corner of East Third and Almyra avenues is slightly smaller than the other floor plans because of the limitations provided by the corner lot. But that didn't deter her enthusiasm for what she was doing this week, and what was being done by others for the benefit of her and her 9-year-old son, Tre'von.
"It's great. There's not too many people that can say they pounded nails into their own house," Ms. Licari said. "It's going to be plenty of room for the two of us."
All four families won't get their occupancy permits from the city until the homes have passed all of their inspections and been hooked up to local utilities, a process which could take about a month, said the Rev. Dean McGormley, co-founder of Habitat's local chapter.
But for recipients like Ms. Licari - each of whom must invest 250 hours of "sweat equity" into their new homes and the organization - the month can't pass quickly enough.
"I'm excited to start seeing the things going up that I got to choose, like the siding color and the shingles and the cabinets," Ms. Licari said. "I've had these two ceramic masks for quite some time that I've been waiting to put up. Those will be the first things on my walls."