KEARNEY — Amie Maxwell was as giddy as a kid in a candy shop.
Maxwell’s best friend and her family came to Kearney from suburban Kansas City last weekend to help Maxwell build her Habitat for Humanity house in the Marlatt Estates off Avenue N and 16th Street.
They included that best friend, Tabitha Ellison, Ellison’s children Josh, 14, BreAnna, 10, and Ellison’s parents, Wayne and LouAnne Wrisinger.
“I just wanted to help support Amie,” Wrisinger, of Independence, Mo., said. “She has to put in a total of 400 hours on the house, and family and friends can work 150 of those hours. I know it’s hard to get those, especially for a single mom who works three jobs. I just wanted to come up and help support her.”
Wrisinger hung drywall. Ellison measured and did odd jobs like making sure screws on the drywall were flush. LouAnne helped pick up trash and kept an eye on Josh and BreAnna, who are too young to be legally permitted to work on the house.
Assisting Wrisinger was Maxwell’s son Weston, 16, who will be a sophomore at Kearney High School this fall. “Weston loves putting up drywall the most,” Maxwell said.
Marshall Everitt, chairman of the board of Habitat, said it was the first time in Habitat’s 27 years that an out-of-town group had come so far to help on a specific homeowner’s house.
The gift of friendship
Maxwell and Ellison first met more than 10 years ago when their older sons played T-ball at the YMCA in Blue Springs, Mo. They’ve been best friends ever since Ellison and Josh were the only guests who showed up at Weston’s fifth birthday party.
At the time, both women were pregnant. Their babies were born on the same day, July 17. “We call Braiden and BreAnna our twins,” Maxwell joked. Weston and Josh have been best friends since they were 4 or 5 years old, even though they are two years apart.
Nine years ago, Maxwell put a 350-mile gap in that friendship when she moved to Kearney to begin a new life after divorce, but the friendship proved unbreakable. The women traveled back and forth to visit. Their families camp together every summer. “Weston and Josh, Braiden and BreAnna, Tabitha and I are still best friends,” Maxwell said.
A gift of help
Ellison not only came to help Maxwell, but she put out a Facebook request asking friends to come, too.
Her parents responded quickly. The timing was perfect for her father, who manages a trucking company in Independence. “I service the automotive industry, but auto factories are closed the first week of July for retooling,” Wrisinger said.
Ellison’s church friend Deb Aguilar came, too. “I came because Tabitha asked. I wasn’t doing anything else,” Aguilar said.
That was an understatement. Aguilar had spent four days and one all-nighter last week selling fireworks to raise money for her church in Blue Springs, Mo., where she runs its outreach ministry. Friday afternoon, she jumped in her car and drove to Kearney. A social worker, Aguilar has built Habitat Homes in South Africa, Mexico and three other overseas countries.
“When someone asks and you have time to do it, I don’t know why you wouldn’t,” Aguilar said.
Maxwell is renting at the moment, but she had wanted to own her own home. When the Kearney Housing Agency suggested she apply for a Habitat house, she was skeptical. “I didn’t think I would get approved, but KHA kept encouraging me to apply. They said, ‘They can only say no.’ So I applied and prayed that I would get accepted,” she said.
Maxwell works three jobs. She works with people with disabilities and special needs with a state development services program. “I love that job,” she said.
She is also a certified nursing assistant at Mother Hull Home. When she has time, she helps a friend care for his aging mother.
She said since being accepted, “I have become happier. I’m feeling more relieved. I’m rebuilding my confidence and getting to know some amazing people.”
A busy weekend
The Wrisinger clan left Independence around noon Friday and arrived in Kearney early in the evening. They stayed at the Country Inn & Suites.
Only one person was missing: their granddaughter, Kirsten Marie Wrisinger of Higginsville, Mo. The daughter of their son Bradley, she died in an automobile accident five years ago.
In her memory, they hung a sign behind the drywall above the front door in Maxwell’s house. The quote from Deuteronomy 28:6 reads, “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”
The Wrisingers wear yellow wristbands bearing Kirsten’s name. “Kirsten wanted to be an airline stewardess,” Wrisinger said. “On our next road trip after her death, we started passing the wristbands out.” They also pass out a small laminated card with her picture. They’ve left these items in places like Buffalo, N.Y., Niagara Falls, and across I-70 from Indianapolis to Colorado. People who find them can post their location on a “Where is Kirsten Marie now?” Facebook page.
“Each tag has a number, so we can track them,” he said. “We take the time to take them there, and someone else finds each one. I know she would want to be with us if she were here.”
The Maxwell house will have a living room, a kitchen, three bedrooms, a bathroom, a laundry room and a reinforced “safe room” that will provide shelter in case of a tornado.
Since construction began this spring, Maxwell has been shoveling rocks, filling sand, putting walls up, building the pantry, hammering hurricane clips and putting up drywall for her house and two others that Habitat is building this summer. All three — the 83rd, 84th and 85th for Habitat — will be dedicated at the end of the year.
Her Missouri friends called Kearney and its Habitat workers “awesome people.”
Aguilar was impressed that Habitat workers here pause for devotions before starting work in the morning. She also was impressed with the Marlatt Estates neighborhood that is comprised of Habitat homes. “Our Habitat sites in Kansas City are different. We’re often tearing down an old house and rebuilding it in a neighborhood with other houses. Three Habitat projects are going on every Saturday all over the city, but not in one place. I like that this is a new house. This is a different environment in a smaller town.”
Ellison plans to return to Kearney for the dedication of Maxwell’s house, if not before.
All day long, Maxwell was beaming. “God absolutely brought Tabitha and me together to be best friends,” she said.