ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — Patti Huszai had trouble keeping her eyes dry Thursday as drills whirred, saws whined and hammers smacked around the small house foundation behind her.

And no wonder. The woman who has raised two sons and gone to live with one of them after fleeing an abusive relationship just over a year ago was seeing her life change before her eyes — for the better. Later this year, provided the weather and building material availability cooperate, she’ll be settling in to her own Habitat for Humanity home at 608 Blevins St.

“This is a beginning of my whole new life,” Huszai said. “This has been a blessing that I can’t even describe anymore – this is God’s work at this time.”

Patti Huszai is ready to put plenty of “sweat equity” into the build of her new home in Elizabethton. (WJHL photo)

Holston Habitat leaders, a major donor for the project, Huszai’s son and daughter-in-law, volunteer crews and her pastor all celebrated the groundbreaking of her new home, the 26th that will have been built by Habitat in Carter County.

“I filled out the applications for Habitat and learned I was approved last fall,” Huszai said.

Since then, she’s put in hours of “sweat equity” by helping at other Habitat builds around the Tri-Cities and working in the non-profit’s “ReStore” thrift outlets. Though she suffers from fibromyalgia and her income is limited to social security disability insurance, Holston Habitat’s parameters will leave her with an affordable house payment.

“It’s been like God’s blessing,” Huszai said of her life’s recent trajectory. “I’ve been going to church at Word Fellowship (in Gray) and my life has turned around in 12 months.”

As plumb lines were dropped and volunteer crews took advantage of the sunshine and dry weather, Huszai — who will live in the two-bedroom, one-bath home with her dog, Coal — said a new home and the people she’s met through Habitat represent one of the most rewarding parts of her life change.

“Married and divorced, and I’ve had so much taken from me,” she said. “I’ve raised two boys and I wanted a home to be able to live in for the rest of my life that no one can take from me.”

Habitat homeownership is not a handout. Participants pay an affordable mortgage payment and commit hours of “sweat equity” helping the organization in the build of their own house and at other tasks. Habitat’s board president, Jennifer Dixon, said Huszai came to the program last year with energy and eagerness.

“She was what Habitat is all about,” Dixon said. “Her circumstances didn’t provide for her to have a home outside of Habitat and what I knew was that she was exactly who we were looking for. She is exactly what we do all of this for.”

Mike Behar, right, and Larry Johnson discuss next steps for their work July 14 as Holston Habitat for Humanity volunteers as the build of a new house in Elizabethton begins. (WJHL photo)

“All of this” included the work being done by Habitat “regulars” Mike Behal and Larry Johnson, both retired and living in Kingsport. Johnson takes lead on the electrical work and said it’s rewarding.

“It’s enjoyable to work with a bunch of guys, and it’s helpful to needy people and the community,” Johnson said.

Behal said his work on multiple builds has opened his eyes to the ministry’s ability to change people’s lives. He recently completed work on a home in Johnson City that a single mother and her four sons moved into.

“Just seeing the impact that an affordable, safe, energy-efficient house has on a family like that — it’s life-changing for them,” Behal said. “We get to know the families because we’re out here a lot and we stay in touch with them afterwards. But just seeing that impact on those families, it’s very gratifying.”

Behal is likely to see plenty of Huszai, who expects her granddaughter to be born a bit before the house is complete. Dixon joked that she would probably have her required number of hours done “by the end of the week.”

Huszai said working with the Habitat and becoming an active member at Word Fellowship have been life-changing for her.

“It’s a wonderful community of people to work with (Habitat) and Steve, you know if you don’t know how to do something you can ask him and he’ll come right over and show you,” Huszai said. “So if you do it wrong he just corrects it and shows you how to do it the correct way.”

She said Habitat’s “sweat equity” requirements are achievable for anyone.

“If it’s something you really want you can achieve it and I have. It’s got to be in your heart to want to do it and it’s in my heart.”

Holston Habitat has an adjacent lot to Huszai’s and hopes to complete another home there. Sam, Chris, Steve and Joe LaPorte sponsored Huszai’s build, donating $25,000 in memory of their uncle, Charles “Dude” LaPorte.