Building More Than Just A Home

Building More Than Just A Home

By Sanjeev Singh

Michelle Epps always dreamed of owning her own home. As a single mother raising two boys and also caring for her niece and nephew, that dream always seemed impossible until she came across Habitat for Humanity.

“I was trying to buy a home the conventional way. I went to a homeowners’ group in DuPage County to get some information and came across a flyer about Habitat for Humanity and it just seemed too good to be true!” recalls Michelle.

Habitat for Humanity is an organization that helps people get a head start in homeownership by providing financial literacy education and assistance to set you up for success. 

Intrigued by the brochure, Michelle attended an information session and was encouraged to put an application in. Michelle wasn’t convinced she met the requirements as her income at the time was just a little over than the required threshold. After some initial hesitation, Michelle submitted her application and went through the screening process which included an interview. Within a couple of months, Michelle got the good news that her application had been approved, starting her journey of being a homeowner. 

One of the major aspects of the Habitat for Humanity program is “sweat equity hours” where recipients must volunteer their time to help build their own homes, or other properties that the organization was working on. 

“Recipients have to put in 500 sweat equity hours before you can get into your own home. While you’re doing that, Habitat helps you save for your down payment and closing costs and you also learn how to manage your mortgage and even some trade and building skills,” explains Michelle, who works as a supervisor at an assisted living center.

Determined to get her home as quickly as possible, Michelle completed her 500 sweat equity hours in a record time of six months. Apart from weekends, she took vacation time from her employment to work on homes in west Chicago and other neighborhoods. 

By the end of September of 2010, Michelle completed her hours and was able to move into her very own home. “It was such an unbelievable feeling, like it was too good to be true! I had this checklist and everything was ticked off. I got the keys and moved in and it was just the best feeling.” 

Over the years, Michelle’s home has been a central point for many family gatherings and holiday celebrations, where wonderful memories have been created and shared. While her two sons have grown up and left home, Michelle says her doors are always open to them. 

“When we were growing up in the Southside, we never really had a home that we could come back to because my Mom never really had a home. So I always wanted to make sure I had a permanent home that my boys can always come back to whenever for whatever reason.”

Eleven years on, Michelle continues to thrive in her Habitat for Humanity home. She has since married and has gone back to school to complete her degree in nursing. She has also continued volunteering her time with Habitat for Humanity, building homes across Chicago. 

This year, Michelle is going a step further and is participating in Habitat Chicago’s Women Build initiative where she will join 500 women to help other women become homeowners and raise the discussion in gender financial inequity. 

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I feel a strongly about the issues around gender pay gap and the many other issues that impacts women’s accessibility to financial stability,” says Michelle. 

Michelle is aiming to raise $400 as part of Team Hammer Time’s $10,000 goal in support of Habitat Chicago’s Women Build initiative.


Fundraising for this year’s Women Build ends at midnight on Saturday, October 23rd! You can contribute towards Michelle’s campaign by visiting

To find out more about getting involved with Habitat for Humanity Chicago, check out

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