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Opportunity knocks


Michelle Edwards and her three daughters stand in front of Williamsburg’s first Habitat for Humanity home. Without Habitat for Humanity, Edwards was unable to finance a home as a single parent with three children. Pictured, from left, are Jocelyn, Alyssa, Michelle and Alyssa.

The bedroom walls of Williamsburg’s first Habitat for Humanity House — pink, blue and magenta — were the first thing Michelle Edwards’ three daughters painted.

“I always said when I had my own house, it’d be colorful,” Michelle said.

That seems very easy for her to say now, but there was a time when Michelle doubted whether she would ever be able to provide her daughters with a home of their own.

For the majority of her 12-year-marriage to her high school sweetheart in Brighton, Michelle was a stay-at-home mom. Her first child came when she was a senior in high school, with her marriage following shortly after graduation, yet Michelle had always wanted more for herself. She wanted to go back to school and work outside of the home, but her husband would not approve of anything beyond part-time work.

“It was selfish male reasons. Once you get single, you can pretty much do what you want. You don’t have to answer to anybody else,” she said.

After their divorce in 2004 — when Michelle was free to do want she wanted — she set three goals for herself: Secure a college degree, buy a new car and buy her family a home. She wasted no time in getting down to business and enrolled herself in the administrative assistant program at Kirkwood Community College the fall after their divorce was finalized.

For two years, the single mom balanced a full course load (12 hours a week) and worked a variety of part-time jobs that would accommodate her fluctuating class schedule.

“Sometimes I was on unemployment . . . got some help from the state, utilized the food bank a lot,” she said.

She depended on her oldest daughter, Jocelyn, 16, to babysit her two younger sisters, while cutting corners on everything from meals to entertainment to pay for her education and support her family at the same time.

“We didn’t eat out a lot, bought clothes at Goodwill instead of brand new from the store, swam in the Coralville Reservoir instead of the pool. We took advantage of a lot of free stuff,” Michelle said.

Jocelyn, Hannah, 8, and Alyssa, 11, helped their mom complete school by doing the laundry and household chores and being understanding of what their mom was trying to accomplish.

“We got allowance when it came, which we respected, because we knew she was going back to school,” Jocelyn said.

Within two years, Michelle had an associate’s degree in applied science and was working in medical billing in North Liberty. A few months after graduation, Michelle accomplished her second goal when she brought home a brand new 2007 Ford Focus. She was able secure the car with a Ford loan.

With her first two goals accomplished three years after her divorce, Michelle was ready to start looking for new homes. The family’s North Liberty apartment was wearing on the whole family.

 “The water heater broke and leaked everywhere. The person’s water heater above us leaked all over our laundry room. The light caught on fire,” Michelle said.

Plus, the three girls found it hard to have fun with thin walls.

 “It was not insulated whatsoever, so there was a battle with the neighbors. The music was ‘too loud’ or the kids were ‘too loud.’ We needed our own space,” Michelle said.

Michelle applied for every home loan she found, but it seemed the odds were stacked against her as a single parent with a credit score worsened by poor decisions as a teenage newlywed.

“I wasn’t sure we were ever going to get a house. It’s very hard for a single person, period, to get financing for a home. When you’re married or in a relationship, the bank considers both those incomes. When you only have one income, it’s very difficult to get any kind of financing, unless you’re making doctor wages, I’m assuming,” she said.

So, around last Christmas, several months after applying for a Habitat for Humanity home, Michelle was happy to hear from Habitat that a spot had been found for her new home.

She freaked out. She cried,” recalled Jocelyn.

Her third goal had been achieved, just as Michelle was beginning to doubt her ability to give the girls their own home.

“It relieved a lot of stress because I had told the girls we were going to have our own house some day and then it looked like we probably wouldn’t,” she said.

Two-hundred and fifty hours of sweat equity later and after volunteer help from the community of Williamsburg as well as well as Habitat for Humanity employees, the Edwards family is getting ready to move into their home.

 “Habitat for Humanity is an awesome organization,” Michelle said.

Michelle, who was originally slated to move into an Iowa City Habitat home, said she could not be happier about home or its location.

“We’re from a small town. I feel safer in a small town and people are very nice here. In North Liberty you can walk past people on the sidewalk and they don’t smile at you. They don’t look at you. They don’t greet you. Here, they hold open the doors for you and say “hi,” she said.


The Edwards home, located at 912 North St., Williamsburg, was made possible by Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity and was dedicated Oct. 25. It was built with the following items in order to be energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly:

• Energy-saving light bulbs throughout the home

• All electrical and plumbing openings foamed closed to reduce air leakage.

• Low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to reduce home water consumption as much as 50 percent.

• Soy based Earth Foam, a 70 percent bio based polyurethane. Earth Foam expands in the wall or the roof cavity to completely fill all spaces and therefore is a highly efficient seal against air infiltration, the number one source of energy loss.

• All appliances are ENERGY STAR rated (donated by Whirlpool).

• Advanced Framing

A variety of framing techniques designed to reduce the amount of lumber used and waste generated in the building process.

Techniques used:

• Rectangular design of the home reduces cost in concrete and energy lost in corners

• Spacing is 24 inches on center, allowing for less lumber used and more room for insulation

• By putting roof trusses directly above wall studs, the home is more structurally-sound

• Duel flush toilet technology allows for greater water conservation.

For information on Habitat for Humanity or how to apply for a Habitat home, please visit

UPDATED November 4, 2009 12:04 PM

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