Woman who escaped abusive relationship to receive 50th Habitat house
The Fenroy family is temporarily living in the hotel room until their Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity home is completed in November.
Like other families who’re chosen through the program, the Fenroys have been putting in their “sweat equity” helping build other homes and learning how they’ll furnish and care for their new residence once it’s complete.
And it can’t come soon enough.
Since moving here in 2009 from Georgia, the Fenroys have lived in apartment buildings that barely fit the family of seven.
But they’re grateful to be here, together.
‘Trapped in a box’
Life was good, at least it appeared that way to people who knew the Fenroys.
They lived in a three-level home complete with an elevator and pool. They hosted parties and enjoyed financial security.
“Everyone thought everything was rosy but there was a horror story behind that picture frame. It was a 24/7 lie,” Fenroy, 43, says.
Fenroy says her ex-partner was an alcoholic who abused her emotionally, physically, mentally and financially.
“I had a good job, life was good – financially good. We had the extra cars, the motorcycle, but it wasn’t worth it in the long run,” Fenroy says. “I definitely didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking it’s OK to be treated that way. I didn’t want my sons to be tainted either.”
After seven years with her partner, who was never charged in relation to any of the abuse allegations although the police were called several times, Fenroy made the decision to leave the situation. She’d thought of leaving for years but was so invested in the life she’d created, it was easier to create excuses and not leave.
“It takes you a couple years to figure out, ‘No, I’m not crazy. This is really wrong.’ Then it takes you a couple more years to figure out how to fix it. Then it takes a couple more years to figure out how to get out of what I got myself into,” she says. “Even now, years later, I have days where I’m like, ‘Was it really that awful?’ Yea, it really was. It’s hard to do everything by yourself, but it’s better to be alone if you want to be happy.”
With guidance from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Fenroy and the children left one day while her partner was at work. She was terrified, numb and “on auto-pilot” but she’d escaped being “trapped in a box,” she says.
An advocate with the National Domestic Violence Hotline helped the family find their next place to call home.
While she was figuring out where to move, Fenroy searched the Internet for the safest places to live in the U.S. Fargo kept popping up, so they moved here.
The YWCA of Cass Clay and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo helped Fenroy establish her new life, and she applied for a Habitat home last year.
Years before, Fenroy had been an active Habitat for Humanity volunteer in Georgia.
“It kind of came full circle because now I’m the one who needs help,” she says. “Anybody can need help; it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. Life has a way of throwing you a hardball sometimes.”
The Fenroys were chosen to receive a Habitat home because they met three criteria: willingness to partner, income guidelines and a need for housing, says Jackie Mattfeld, the partner family services and volunteer coordinator for Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.
The organization advertises once a year when they start the family selection process, which takes months. After an orientation class, hopeful families send in their application and other documents, like pay stubs, for review.
About 78 families applied for housing, and 36 qualified, Mattfeld says.
The 36 families then participated in a panel interview, and the Fenroy family was chosen as a partner family in February. Their home is the 50th the local organization has built in Cass and Clay counties.
Since its inception in 1991, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity has built 50 homes and helped 51 families, including 84 adults and 192 children.
Homeownership has positive effects on finances, health, education, community, sense of self-worth and community, says Pete Christopher, resource development and marketing manager for Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.
Fenroy says she wanted a home not only to improve her children’s lives but so she could feel like a part of the community.
“We knew that she was going to work really hard and she wanted to give her family something that she knew she wasn’t going to be able to do without the help of an organization like Habitat,” Mattfeld says of Fenroy’s panel interview. “I think she really believes in the philosophy of helping others.”
More space to live
People have asked Fenroy if she’s embarrassed to share her story with an entire community.
“It is what it is,” she says, adding that if she can help someone, it’s worth it.
“I used to be one of those people who would say ‘Well, if the relationship was so bad, why did she stay?’ Karma got me. You get invested in so many parts of your life, and everything is all tied in,” she says. “Living in a negative environment for such a long time takes a toll on everybody. I just had to let it go. I didn’t want to (leave), but you can’t fix other people. Believe me, I tried.”
Although she willingly shares her experience, Fenroy hopes people know that her new home isn’t free.
It’s a common misconception about Habitat houses, Mattfeld says.
Families who receive a home repay Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity for the cost of the home but they have a 0 percent mortgage.
Most local Habitat homes cost about $120,000, and the cost is kept low because there are sponsors and volunteer laborers, Mattfeld says.
The money Fenroy pays back to Habitat funds other area homes and homes around the world.
To make those payments, Fenroy works overnight shifts at the post office so she can be active in her children’s lives, too.
“I talk to Jesus all the time, and I don’t have a choice. You’ve just got to do it,” she says.
The family is excited to move into the six-bedroom Eagle Run house in a few months where they’ll have more space to live.
“I daydream all the time about next summer, being able to be in the backyard and play. Kids just really need space,” Fenroy says. “Even when you go to the playground, it’s not the same thing. If you have your own backyard, you can go outside without your shoes on and feel the grass.”
Although it’s been a difficult journey, Fenroy says leaving her partner has allowed her and her family to live an honest life.
“Now, everything is real,” she says. “Now, I’m starting to really get over it.”
How to help: To donate to Habitat for Humanity, visit www.LakeAgassizHabitat.org or text Home50 to 41444 or 51555 for more information.