Several times a day, Monetta Dennis leaves her tiny home in Shady Side and walks down the road to her father's house. There, she fills a bucket with water from his faucet for drinking and cooking.
Dennis' little house has no running water. There's an outhouse in the back.
But the dilapidated home has been in her family of farmers and watermen for more than 100 years, and though she had little money to fix it up, it earned her loyalty. Her uncle lived there, and then her mom. When her mother died six years ago, the lifelong Shady Side resident and caretaker for the elderly moved there with her 16-year-old twin sons.
Just feet away from the house that Anne Arundel County officials deemed structurally deficient, a new home — complete with two bedrooms, a living room and running water in the kitchen and bathroom — has risen. By the end of May, Dennis and her sons, Andrew and Calvin, juniors at Southern High School, will live there.
The house is the answer to Dennis's prayers.
"It was all just very good luck," she said.
Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake and Arundel Community Development Services teamed up to build her a new home. Today, an all-women volunteer group plans to descend on the building as part of Habitat's "Women Build Week." The initiative is sponsored by Lowe's hardware stores leading up to Mother's Day. In all 50 states, about 7,000 women are expected to build at more than 200 Habitat sites.
"Truthfully, I need a new home, and I was hoping and praying to get one for years, and suddenly it all just happened," said Dennis, 49.
When Dennis asked county officials about obtaining a well for water service, inspectors deemed the house "structurally obsolete," said Kathleen Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services. The heating and electrical systems were considered substandard, the walls and ceiling were deteriorated and the roof was sagging, Koch said.
Through its Property Rehabilitation Program, which provides low-interest and deferred loans to help low- and moderate-income county residents fix their homes, ACDS came up with $120,000 in state and federal funds for the Dennis home. The agreement requires Dennis to repay ACDS the $120,000 if she sells the home.
"Once in a while, we run into a house that should not be rehabilitated," said Koch. "Economically, it makes no sense. So we went to Habitat and said, ‘Could you partner with us on this one?'"
In 2008, Dennis was approved for a Habitat home. With funding from ACDS to get going, Habitat agreed to make up the difference by building the house with a workforce that is almost entirely volunteers.
"Everything just seemed to fall together so nicely. … Monetta has been extraordinary," said Anne Rouse, director of family services at Habitat.
Construction began late last year and should be completed by the end of May. Dennis, like all recipients of Habitat homes, put more than 250 hours in "sweat equity" into building the house. She has hung scaffolding, nailed wood and painted. Her sons also helped.
"I was not just standing around," said Dennis. "But it was worth every minute."
She also built bonds with Pete Cox, Habitat's site supervisor, his crew, and all of the volunteers from local churches and groups that included AmeriCorps and Red Hats, a corps of volunteers trained by Habitat.
When the family moves into the new home, the current home will be demolished. That will be bittersweet for Dennis, considering the family history.
"I'm not going to be there when they tear it down," Dennis said. "Too many memories."
But Dennis said she's looking forward to building memories in her new home.
"The Lord was looking out for me," she said.