Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on final West Chicago home

Organization surprises single mom, volunteer with last home in West Chicago subdivision

Posted1/24/2016 7:40 AM
  • Flanked by Rob Umlauf of Thrivent Financial, Jeanette Jelinek reacts when learning she is the new owner of the final house in the West Chicago subdivision of Pioneer Prairie.

      Flanked by Rob Umlauf of Thrivent Financial, Jeanette Jelinek reacts when learning she is the new owner of the final house in the West Chicago subdivision of Pioneer Prairie. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

"I have a backyard! I have a master bathroom! I have a basement!"

Jeanette Jelinek jumped up and down, arms triumphantly in the air, for a good 30 seconds after learning the 13th and final Habitat for Humanity home to be constructed in West Chicago's Pioneer Prairie subdivision will be hers.

Jelinek thought she was attending Thursday's groundbreaking to share her story of rising through the ranks of the Habitat for Humanity program. She had no idea the frozen dirt she attempted to jam a shovel into would be the site of her own home come September.

"If I'm being honest, I've got to tell you I was a little sad," she said. "I'm volunteering and logging my hours and doing everything I need to do to succeed, but they're asking me to tell my story at a groundbreaking for a house that's not even going to be mine? It hurt a little.

"I had no clue. I would love to see what my face looked like."

Just two years ago, the 34-year-old single mother was living in her car with her 2-year-old son.

"I literally had nothing. I had no money. I didn't have my clothes. Nothing," she said. "It was just me, my son and our car when I met my Habitat caseworker."

Jelinek qualified for and enrolled into the Bridge to Homeownership program, which participants must complete before qualifying to apply for a new or refurbished Habitat home.

To become a homeowner, Jelinek, who works at a roadside assistance company in West Chicago, underwent a rigorous process. In addition to saving for her down payment and closing costs, the program required her to log 250 hours helping build Habitat homes, which will include her own, and attend pre-homeownership classes.

Now as a homeowner, she will pay an interest-free mortgage at a cost that is affordable for her, in addition to taxes and insurance.

"They helped me learn how to pay bills, learn how to save money. They paved the way for me to get into my Habitat home," she said. "Since October 2014 I've been packing my money away, learning my way, figuring things out and today was the icing on my cake."

Jelinek currently rents a Naperville apartment from the Bridge organization and the group has guaranteed her lease on the low-rent apartment until her new home is complete.

Habitat for Humanity began building the Pioneer Prairie subdivision on Pomeroy Court in 2011. Mayor Ruben Pineda, who lives three blocks down the street, said neighbors were initially upset about what a Habitat for Humanity community would look like.

On Thursday, as ground was broken on the final home, Pineda said they've all come around.

"As the homes progress, neighbors see the values of their homes go up, the quality of the homes being built and the people living in them," he said. "Now everyone is excited about what Pioneer Prairie has become. I'm sad this is the last one."

Jelinek is also excited about the subdivision because she spent a majority of her volunteer hours building the home that is immediately next to where hers will stand.

"It's amazing the outpouring of community you feel with Habitat. You're not just friends. You treat each other like family. It's pretty awesome," she said. "It's very humbling knowing these people are volunteering their time to work on your house. It's amazing how much love walks through that door on a daily basis."

Not everyone has been supportive of Jelinek's journey and she's had to "dissociate" from some relatives who believe she has embarrassed the family name by working toward owning a Habitat for Humanity home.

"You've got to look at it as if you're getting a hand up and you're working just as hard as everyone else is but you've caught a couple bad breaks," she said. "But I had an uncle tell me I was embarrassing and lazy. It's horrible. I wouldn't say that to a stranger, let alone someone with the same DNA as me."

Her mom, however, said she was shaking with happiness when Jelinek called her in Texas.

"She's very proud of how far I've come and so am I," she said. "I'm so happy that I can say that I'm a single mom and I have a mortgage. Not a lot of single moms can say that."

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