FARGO - This fall, volunteers will gather in downtown Fargo to build on a site where just a year and a half ago so much had been taken away.
Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity is constructing a new home near where fallen Fargo Police Officer Jason Moszer was shot. While it might not seem like a place many people would like to live, it's providing a fresh start to one family of four.
Once the home of Marcus and Michelle Schumacher, the property will be given new life, serving as a home for Danielle John - a sex-trafficking survivor and human-trafficking specialist at Youthworks - and her three children.
"It's been a rough roller-coaster coming to terms with it," John said. "Obviously - given the history with this - who wants to live there? But then I look at everything and think, 'Who better to live there?'"
In March, the home was demolished and Michelle Schumacher sold the property to the City of Fargo with the request that it go to a cause that would help others.
"Whether it was unconsciously or consciously, I avoided going past there," said Fargo Police Chief David Todd. "I don't know if it's just because doing that brings back those memories and those feelings. I have kind of stayed away from that area even though it's just a few blocks away from (the Fargo police headquarters). I was happy when that house finally got knocked down and removed."
After months of deliberation, Habitat for Humanity obtained the property and searched for the perfect recipient for the home, rewriting the property's dark past and furthering Habitat's mission to rebuild lives within the community.
"I think having the house leveled and the opportunity for something new and fresh to come in there is a welcome thing," Todd said. "I would say on behalf of the police department, we are happy for (Danielle John)."
For the police department, public service is a priority. As a human trafficking specialist, John's mission is also to serve, devoting her life to helping other survivors rebuild and overcome.
"The Moszers are a pretty giving family," Todd said. "Jason - his life was dedicated to public service as a police officer. He was a medic in the Army, giving aid to people. And then, he gave his organs after his life to help other people. I think this would fit right in with what the Moszers' mission is and Jason's memory."
Building better lives
Established in 1991, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity will have built 57 homes when John's home - dubbed the "2017 Hero Build" - is constructed this fall.
During that time, nearly half the homes have gone to single mothers struggling to find affordable housing with multiple dependents.
Pete Christopher, the resource development and marketing manager at Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity, says the organization aims to raise awareness about how much a home can help someone.
"Everybody thinks it's a roof and four walls, but they don't really understand that it can have really positive effects on a family's health, education, financial stability, community involvement and basically just hope for the future," he said.
Although most homes take about 25 days for volunteers to build, Habitat hopes to speed up the timeline of this project once construction begins in August.
About 275 volunteers are needed in late September for the build, but John says Youthworks, the U.S. District Attorney's Office, law enforcement across the state and many others have already reached out, wondering how they can help.
"I hope that in seeing this it encourages other people to pay back in whatever way they can," said Rachel Moszer, Jason Moszer's widow.
Though Habitat for Humanity is a well-known nonprofit organization, Christopher says there's still room to raise awareness.
"Most people have heard of Habitat, but they don't really understand the whole process - we're not giving away a home, people are buying a home from us," he said.
Habitat for Humanity raises money prior to each build. The homeowner is expected to repay the cost over the life of a nonprofit mortgage - a more affordable option, thanks to volunteers who cover most labor costs.
"We use their mortgage payments to help us build future houses. It's a really cool pay-it-forward-type program," Christopher said. "It's not a giveaway program. We call it a hand up, not a hand out."
Homeowners are required to contribute 250 hours of sweat equity per adult - with 100 hours going toward their own home. The remaining hours can be spent on other Habitat builds, working at Habitat ReStore or through educational courses on finance, home maintenance, auto maintenance and home safety.
Habitat receives 60 to 75 applications per year, and the multiple interviews, reference checks and home visits result in an 8-month-long process to choose a recipient.
During home visits, Christopher says the organization sees anything from leaking roofs and cracked foundations to parents sleeping on the floor so their children can have the beds.
John's family currently shares a small, three-bedroom townhome with 1.5 baths - a place that has become too small for her family of four.
"They chose me and I couldn't believe it," she said. "I still can't believe it."
Hope for the future
John says becoming a homeowner is a big step; she and her children are nervous but excited about the move.
"They've been through a lot in their little lives," she said. "The last three years have been pretty stable and we've been in the same place, so they're used to that. But now it's like, 'Oh, we're moving again?' In their little brains, they can only compute, is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Why are we moving?"
But thanks to the community, John feels overwhelming support during this apprehensive time.
"Both the Schumacher and Moszer families are completely on board with this. If they weren't, we wouldn't be doing this," she said.
This project is "something good out of a terrible situation," Rachel Moszer said. "I would imagine that what (Danielle) went through was very traumatic - also, me, a very traumatic situation. I think it will be a new chapter and beginning for her and her children."
Reaching for the light
For many in the community, this project provides the opportunity to band together.
"I can only imagine the wrath of stuff that Mrs. Schumacher got after all of this, and it was not her fault. It's just so sad because she was a victim in this, too. We have to remember that," John said. "I'm not trying to take away the light of the Moszer family - obviously that's extremely tragic - but the Schumacher family lost someone, too. I just hope this just brings our community together on both sides."
Come fall, police officers can drive by, knowing the property is now home to a woman who also aims to serve the community, helping people regain their lives after traumatic incidents similar to the one she experienced personally.
"We were really excited about it - just going in and doing our part to give a sense of healing to the whole community," Christopher said.
Todd echoes the message.
"The one thing I know about this town - in growing up and living here - is when we put our minds to something, we can come together and do that," Todd said. "Whether it's flood projects, opioid awareness or a Habitat build, I think we have the ability as a community to come together."
Sometimes life requires a fresh start and that's exactly what John hopes to inspire with this project.
"This is not going to be a vacant lot people drive past," she said. "Hopefully there will be a beautiful home and they'll see children outside playing."
To help support the build, donate by clicking here, visit lakeagassizhabitat.org/volunteer to view the volunteer schedule in coming weeks or contact Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity at (218) 284-5253.