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It's Our Turn: Home is where the heart is

Everyone wants a place to hang their hat, to call home. Many are fortunate to have such a place, a house that they own or are making payments toward that end.

However, for many others, owning a house is out of reach. Houses can be expensive, and that's true of the Alexandria area, with an abundance of lakes and quality of life making this a sought-after place to live. For those who can't afford them, living conditions can vary greatly.

That really hit home — pardon the pun — for Angie Heidelberger. The vice president of mortgage lending at Bell Bank in Alexandria was born and raised here, but until she became involved with Habitat for Humanity by joining its homeowner selection committee, she didn't realize the extent of the situation.

Heidelberger, who spoke at last week's Hard Hat Breakfast before a packed hall at Broadway Ballroom, told of how she soon realized she didn't know her hometown as well as she thought she did.

"The home visits revealed another level of brokenness in this world," she said, citing deplorable conditions, including an upstairs that was too cold for children to sleep in the bedrooms, and they were forced to wear winter clothing to go up and play with their toys.

But through all she encountered, another sight was on display: The big hearts of parents working night and day to pay the bills, and kids with the biggest smiles.

Through Habitat for Humanity, some of those people have gotten the opportunity to leave those places and buy their own home. Heidelberger has been seen first-hand what this has meant to applicants. And it has reinforced all that home means to her.

The home she grew up in here has so many fond memories, details of which come floating back. But she has tear-filled memories from that house, too. They all become intertwined with the home, since that is where so much of what's meaningful in our lives takes place.

Tony Loosbrock, senior vice president at Bremer Bank in Alexandria, feels the same way.

"I've realized it's more than the sticks. It's the people and the stories that get represented — your family, your friends, tough times and good times and everything in between," said Loosbrock, who first became involved in Habitat for Humanity while in Brainerd, and since last year has been on the board here.

Having your own home can turn a life around. It did for Sue Wadsworth, who was profiled in Wednesday's paper. Lori Anderson, executive director of Douglas County's Habitat program, has seen it time and again from hard-working families who need affordable housing.

"Just to hear their challenges and what life has dealt to them is pretty powerful. It inspires all of us. This is why our program exists, to partner with families through circumstances out of their control," she said.

Anderson noted that each story is unique.

"We're partnering with four families this year who all have stories of their own," she said.

Let's get back to Heidelberger's story. In the five years she has been a part of Habitat for Humanity, her story has become intertwined with those of the Habitat homebuyers.

She says that as an adult, what home means to her hasn't changed much. It's still a place where she sometimes cries into her pillow, and has a never-ending amount of chores awaiting her. But there's more.

"It's where I wake up to hugs and kisses. Dogs that great me when I walk in the door," she said. And green grass to run and play in on warm summer days.

Thanks to the work of so many through Habitat for Humanity, more families are getting the chance to experience all of that for themselves.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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