December 1, 2022

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We Do Fine Home

House built for struggling family by Fargo North students moves to permanent home – InForum

FARGO — In 2008, Eric Kester and his family’s dreams came screeching to a halt after his hip bones were crushed by a semitruck. He suffered nerve damage, but he survived.

Since then, his wife, Sarah, has also had repeated surgeries, and they’ve lived on a fixed income in a third-floor apartment with their two sons, Matthew and Eric.

They repeatedly applied for a mortgage to buy a house, Eric Kester Sr. said.

“We couldn’t afford a home on our own; we didn’t have the credit or the ability,” he said.

A teen boy in a sweatshirt and another in a T-shirt flank their parents who sport shirts that read "future homeowners"

From left, the Kester family of Matthew, Sarah, Eric Sr. and Eric Jr. wait for their new house to be moved at Fargo North High School on Wednesday June 1, 2022.

C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Last year, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity found the Kester family a loan they could afford. The homebuilding organization found builders after partnering with Fargo North High School’s Spartan builders of the Construction II class.

The opportunity was a first for Habitat for Humanity. Usually, they call for volunteers to help, said Pete Christopher, resource development and marketing manager for Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.

The students involved spent years in construction classes to ultimately build the house, which was moved onto its foundation in the Horace Mann neighborhood on Wednesday, June 1.

“Finally,” Eric Kester Sr. said as he watched movers slowly pull the oversized load carrying his new home away from the high school at 801 17th Ave. N. “We’re excited. Blessed. It’s a blessing from God. If Habitat for Humanity hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have a house of our own.”

Small machinery and people bustle around a nearly complete house

Movers preparing to haul a house on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, that was built by Fargo North High School senior students in partnership with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity during the 2021-2022 school year.

C.S. Hagen / The Forum

“They did an excellent job building, and this is the first one we’ve done like this,” Christopher said. “It’s good for us, it’s good for the kids. Everyone is looking for tradespeople these days.”

There won’t be another house built by students during the next school year, but Christopher hopes to continue the partnership in the years to come, he said.

A man in a yellow vest directs a semitractor-trailer pulling a house into the road from the Fargo North parking lot.

Police helped direct traffic and block roads while a house was moved from Fargo North High School on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

C.S. Hagen / The Forum

A common misconception is that Habitat for Humanity houses are given away for free, but the organization sets up affordable housing for struggling families after they go through a long vetting process, Christopher said.

The Kester family is currently paying $690 a month for their apartment, and their future mortgage will be about the same amount, Eric Kester Sr. said.

Every year, the Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity receives an average of 50 applications for affordable housing, but the organization can only help about three or four applicants. Although Christopher would like to help more, financial limitations and rising housing and construction costs due in part to the coronavirus pandemic are slowing the building process, he said.

To build the single-family home, students leveled the house foundation, set floor joists, installed flooring and built walls. On the exterior, they set the truss rafters, sheathed the roof and applied shingles.

Inside the home, they insulated the walls, installed windows and doors, applied drywall and added the final trim.

The home was inspected regularly by both North Dakota and Minnesota inspectors and met all building codes, a press release from Fargo Public Schools reported.

A man in a leather vest and cowboy hat leans over a foundation that does not yet have a house on it.

Eric Kester looks into the unfinished basement of his new home on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

C.S. Hagen / The Forum

“It really has been an awesome experience for the students and also giving back to the community. It’s been cool to see the family here and see this literally take shape,” said Fargo North High School Principal Travis Christensen, adding that the Kester family once bought the students pizzas and sodas.