We spoke with parents Stephanie and Niko, who were both born and raised in the Hudson Valley—Stephanie in Saugerties and Niko in Hurley. They met while both worked at Walmart in Kingston.
They have three children: Nicholas, 10 years; Madison, 8 years; and Olivia, 2.5 years.
*Update: After this article was published, the Maragoudakis family moved in to their new home in May of 2021.
What do you do for work?
Niko is still at Walmart. He is a supervisor at the Kingston store. I unfortunately haven’t worked for the past 3 years, since just before Olivia, our youngest, was born.
Before moving to your Habitat home, where else have you lived?
We owned our own home but couldn’t afford it anymore so we moved in with my parents in Saugerties five years ago. It was a blessing in disguise because I had to stop working when I was pregnant with Olivia and have not been able to return to work due to her needing 24/7 assistance.
How did you discover Ulster Habitat and why did you seek their help?
A friend of ours from Grace Church had been in my ear for a couple years, saying we should reach out to Habitat. But, I just honestly didn’t know anything about them so I didn’t call when I should have. I wish I would’ve contacted them sooner. When I finally reached out, I’m really glad I did. We ended up qualifying and now we’re working on our house!
Olivia is actually the main reason that we partnered with Habitat. She was born severely disabled at 31 weeks, with a very rare condition called Sacral Agenesis, which means that she was born with several birth defects. She was in the NICU for two months and now needs 24/7 care, so I’m home with her. She has incomplete legs, no hips or hip joints, clubbed feet, and her right arm is fused at the elbow. She has a feeding tube because of a cleft palate. But, she’s a fighter.
What were you hoping for when you contacted Habitat?
To be honest, I didn’t even know. They explained the process to me — qualifications and the program. They sent the papers to me, I filled them out and we qualified. Things just took off from there.
I was just hoping for some type of housing for our family. Our current living situation is not the best. We’ve been living in my parents’ home in Saugerties, which isn’t easy, until our home is complete this spring. We don’t have a lot of room. The dining room is our bedroom at the moment.
But, we’re moving forward with Habitat and soon we’ll be moving into a handicap accessible house, maybe this spring.
What part of the process are you in right now?
We’re in the build process, about 75% complete right now. The house might be finished by April or May, 2021. Habitat is run mainly with volunteers and the building process is time-consuming. To qualify as a partner family, we have to put in 400 hours of sweat equity. 200 of those hours can be completed by family and friends, and those have already been satisfied. Niko and I are responsible for the other 200 hours. We have about 25% of those left to go.
Did you have any building experience prior to this?
No. Neither of us knew anything about construction. We’d only worked in retail.
I’ve been to the building site twice, for the previous build—the Storm’s house. I got to use a nailgun and help with the framing of the house. The second time I took part in the Women’s Build. We painted that day.
Niko works side by side with Pete, the project manager. It’s been a learning experience, very beneficial to us. Pete teaches Niko things. We’ll know how to take care of our house when we move in. Together, they constructed an attic and put in the stairs up to it. They laid the flooring and blew in insulation. Niko also helped with all of the siding. They just got done with the electric. Niko went through the wiring in every room. All of the switches and outlets will be placed lower to accommodate Olivia as she gets older.
Along the way, they’ve worked with us to figure out what Olivia needs and will need. Christine (Habitat’s executive director) worked with an architect to make sure the specifications were handicap accessible and I reached out to Olivia’s therapists for recommendations. We frequently go to Shriners in Philadelphia and they also gave us suggestions.
Has the process exceeded your expectations in any way?
The whole thing has exceeded my expectations. They’ve been so accommodating and very flexible. They say, if you need anything, just call us. If Olivia needs anything, just call us. They’re so conscious, mainly of Olivia’s needs, but also the whole family’s needs. They’re just so open and understanding. It’s been great.
What is your home like?
4 beds, 2 baths. One of the baths will be handicap accessible for Olivia with a roll-in shower and lower sink and toilet. The other will be more normalized. The kids have already chosen their own rooms from the floorplan.
The house is one level so it will be easier for the kids to go outside and play in the yard. It will be much easier for Olivia to follow her brother and sister outside to play.
Has it transformed your life?
It’s transformative in so many ways. To be able to give my kids a home is really huge for us. For it to be handicap accessible is so much more.
What do you think about Ulster Habitat for Humanity?
They’ve been great. They first did a home visit and they met the kids. They were so friendly, kind and accepting. When they came out for the first visit, they played with Olivia and the kids, and made us all feel very welcome.
Do you have tips for others in need of homes or just starting the process with Ulster Habitat?
Habitat qualification is based on a family’s income, so anyone struggling to afford a home, even if you don’t know what it’s all about, check them out. It’s been a blessing to work with them.
And, if you’re not in a position to own a home now, still check them out. They will wait for you. They’ll wait until you’re ready.