Building a new home, a new life

Habitat for Humanity constructs a working mother's first house


Her new bedroom is still under construction, but Jewelle Thomas already knows how she'll decorate it.

She plans to hang beads from the door, arrange her doll collection on a shelf over her bed, and stash everything else in the closet.

Having a room of her own is a big deal for the 11-year-old.

For the past year-and-a-half, Jewelle shared a bedroom in a cramped three-bedroom Glen Burnie apartment where she lived with her mother, Natosha, and two brothers. Before that, the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment.

Today, as part of Habitat for Humanity's nationwide "building blitz," construction is scheduled to be finished on a home for the Thomas family and on one for another Anne Arundel County family.

The goal of the project is to build 400 homes across the country in six days. The Thomas home, located on Pontiac Avenue in Brooklyn, just across the county line in Baltimore, has four bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths. The family is scheduled to move in sometime in late July.

That day can't come fast enough for Jewelle, who shares a room with her brother, Nicholas, 10. She'll display her Bratz dolls she keeps in a furry pink bookbag. More than that, she's looking forward to being in charge of her own part of the house.

"In our room it's hard and confusing because most of the time I have to clean up the whole room and make up his bed," she said, as Nicholas stood nearby trying to ignore her. "In my new room I have more wall space and a bigger closet."

And with front and back yards, there will be more room to play. There's a storage shed out back and a porch out front.

"I'm going to have a rosebush somewhere, and a little vegetable garden," Natosha Thomas, 36, said as she surveyed her front yard. "And definitely a white picket fence; it's something about those white picket fences that makes the house stand out."

Thomas, who has been a renter for 10 years, started the Habitat for Humanity application process about two years ago. To be eligible, applicants must earn between $18,000 and $36,000. Thomas put in the required 200 hours of work for the organization, stuffing envelopes, setting up events and helping other people build their homes through Habitat. She also completed home ownership classes.

Arundel Habitat paid $10,000 for the vacant lot, and Grayson Homes, an Ellicott City company, donated labor and materials.

But building the Pontiac Avenue house has been particularly rewarding.

"We're honored to do this, we're getting more out of this than anyone else," said Ron Swecker, the director of homebuilding for Grayson. "To see the kids running around here picking their bedrooms - that's it right there."

Building began Monday, Swecker said, and will be completed by this evening. The other house in Anne Arundel is being built on Elizabeth Avenue in Pumphrey for the seven-member Esdelle family.

Thomas, a nursing assistant, has been on site in her work boots and tool belt all week.

"To watch this house go up in just a few days, it's the biggest adrenaline rush I've had other than having my children," she said as power tools whirred in the background. "For a person like me who comes from very little to now have a house, it's completely turned my life around."

Nearby residents said that the new house, which sits on what previously was a vacant lot, will add to the neighborhood.

"Having the house there with new neighbors makes this a better neighborhood," said Arlene Johnson, who lives across the street. "We have a fresh face and we won't have an empty lot there."

The neighborhood is an important part of the equation, said Maribeth Stewart, development director for Arundel Habitat.

"This is a community of growing hope," she said. "The community has been so welcoming and it feels like they understand what we're about."

Thomas, with a new house and supportive neighbors, plans to make the area her own.

"This house will be in the family forever; it will be our landmark home," she said.

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