Home sweet home

Cathie Estes sits outside of her two bedroom Habitat for Humanity home located off Hastie Lake Road and explains how fortunate she feels to have a home she can call her own. “I’m never going to move again,” says Estes, who shares the dwelling with her 13-year-old granddaughter Jessica. - Ken George
Cathie Estes sits outside of her two bedroom Habitat for Humanity home located off Hastie Lake Road and explains how fortunate she feels to have a home she can call her own. “I’m never going to move again,” says Estes, who shares the dwelling with her 13-year-old granddaughter Jessica.
— image credit: Ken George

For Cathie Estes, homeownership means the difference between having wide-open living quarters and having the sides of her wheelchair scrape against the narrow walls of an apartment hallway.

It also means having a yard and a family neighborhood while raising her 13-year-old granddaughter, Jessica.

Estes is the owner of the first Habitat for Humanity home on Whidbey Island. From the living room of the comfortably yet elegantly decorated two bedroom home, Estes, a long-time Oak Harbor resident, said that owning the home has given her comfort, peace of mind, and a sense of permanency.

“I’m never going to move again,” said Estes, the widow of a retired military man, the mother of three and the grandmother of 10.

After a two-and-a-half month long application process, Estes learned in December 1998 that she was selected by Habitat for Humanity of Island County’s Family Selection Committee.

Habitat for Humanity is an international, Christian-based organization that helps low-income families build their own houses in partnership with group volunteers.

Estes and Jessica, whom Estes has been raising “for a long, long time,” moved into the home right before Christmas 1999.

“It was the most wonderful Christmas present in the world,” Estes said.

While the approximately 800-square-foot house is about the same size as the apartment she had rented, Estes is much more comfortable in the house. All areas of the house are wheelchair accessible and there are other subtle touches that Estes appreciates. One such amenity is the kitchen sink with the faucet on the side instead of in the back. Estes is able to reach the faucet from a seated position. Additionally, a grab bar is secured next to the kitchen sink so that Estes can pull herself up to a standing position. Grab bars were also installed in the bathroom.

Estes suffers from rheumatoid arthritis as well as having no feeling from the knees down, a condition caused by her diabetes. However, she seems to manage her responsibilities well. The house is impeccably clean and she leads an active life, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and other groups. She also keeps up with Jessica, whose schedule of lessons and activities is so busy that Estes must keep a pocket calendar so she doesn’t lose track.

Although Estes earned a bachelor’s degree one week before her 50th birthday, her disability keeps her from working outside the home. She and Jessica live on her disability and her husband’s pension. Habitat for Humanity made it possible for Estes to buy a nice, new home on a limited income, she said.

“It’s ours,” Estes said with delight.

The home has a large living room and an equally big kitchen with a lot of honey-colored oak cabinets and some pantry space. Estes has the house decorated in soft pastel colors and deep cherry-finish furniture, warm rugs and many personal touches such as plants, pictures and figurines.

Estes contributed about 470 hours of her time as her “sweat equity” work toward her house. While she is unable to “climb up and pound nails,” Estes provided office work, put together the organization’s newsletter, coordinated volunteers, and made many phone calls.

One such series of calls netted the donation of laminate flooring and the manpower to install it. The tough, scratch and water-resistant flooring is perfect for someone using a wheelchair in the house, Estes said.

“As far as I’m concerned, the floor makes the house,” Estes said.

Estes’ home is completed by the presence of a fluffy white and tan cat named Angel, which entertains the family by running and skidding on the hard wood-look floors.

Estes and Jessica have matching smiles as they talk about their home. Estes looks forward to helping more families in Island County to achieve home-ownership.

Said Estes: “It’s wonderful.”

Habitat for Humanity is a Christian-based housing ministry which provides volunteers and resources to help families obtain adequate and affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity was affiliated on Whidbey Island about three years ago. The first house was built and sold to a qualifying family in 1999 on North Whidbey, and it is located just south of Oak Harbor. Since that time the Habitat for Humanity on both the north and south ends of the island have alternated — the second house was built on the south end and the third house was built on the north end. Four houses have been built to date.

The volunteers that make up Whidbey Island’s Habitat for Humanity handle a wide range of tasks.

“Habitat is more than pounding nails,” said volunteer Howard Steiner during a meeting of the group in Oak Harbor on Oct. 15. Steiner said the organization needs to spread the word that much more help is needed. Although “pounding nails” might not be of the interests or abilities of everyone, community members that want to help Habitat for Humanity have other volunteer options.

In fact, Habitat for Humanity is made up of several committees, most of which have nothing to do with the actual labor of building a house. Family selection, family partnership, site selection, volunteer coordination and public relations are just some of the areas interested community members are needed to volunteer. These committees are responsible for finding qualified families to purchase the homes, locating and securing land on which to build the homes, and even providing meals for the volunteer work crews at the job site.

Habitat for Humanity publicity volunteer Paula Oldenburg said that more help is needed from the community to help the organization of reaching it’s goal of building one house every six months.

“Do you feel the need to give back to your community? Maybe this is what you need. That’s how I personally became involved,” Oldenburg said. This is the message, she said, that Habitat for Humainty is trying to get out.

“Come here and ‘catch the spirit,’ ” Oldenburg said, using the catch-phrase the group has come up with to pique the community’s interest. “Catch the Spirit” is also the name assigned to a rally the organization is hosting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Hillcrest Elementary School gym.

Family selection criteria:

Habitat for Humanity’s guidelines for qualified applicants include the following:

Need - Applicant family is currently living in inadequate or substandard housing or is paying 50 percent or more of their income for rent.

Ability to pay - Applicant family must have adequate income to pay the monthly payments for mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance.

Willingness to partner - Applicant family must be willing to partner with Habitat for Humanity of Island County by contributing “sweat equity” for their own home or other Habitat homes, attending meetings of the Partrnership Committee and Habitat Homeowner Association, participating in public relations and fund raising, and participating in ground-breaking and dedication ceremonies.

Additional considerations - The applicant must have established or desires to establish residency in Island County.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at or call 675-6611

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