Former Frances Nelson site now home to 2 Habitat homes

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Former Frances Nelson site now home to 2 Habitat homes


The Dee family happily tours their new Habitat for Humanity home in the former Frances Nelson Health Center location in Champaign, Ill on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. From background left are Wesley, 11, Bradley, 11, Sheri and LeRoy Dee. From left foreground are Bailey, 8, and Conley, 5.

Sat, 01/17/2009 - 8:00am | Julie Wurth
CHAMPAIGN – When Frances Nelson Health Center decided to move out of the Carver Park neighborhood, residents there got busy.

Fearful the old clinic at 1304 Carver Drive could become a neighborhood eyesore, they petitioned the Frances Nelson board to donate the property to Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County.

Today, the site has two new Habitat houses – and two families waiting to move in.

"It's looking really nice," said neighborhood association President Debbi Roberts, Urbana's deputy city clerk. "I'm hoping they feel at home."

Frances Nelson, which provides medical care and social services to uninsured patients, moved into a building on Bloomington Road in 2006. Habitat demolished the old clinic and built two houses – one for Sheri and LeRoy Dee and their four sons, and one for Rasheen Robinson, 30, and her son, Dizon, 3.

Funded by grants from Thrivent Financial, the city of Champaign and area Lutheran churches, construction started in September. Just a few finishing touches remain before move-in day Jan. 29.

"I can't wait," said Sheri Dee, 36. "I'm looking forward to a fresh start."

The Dees never thought they'd be a Habitat family.

In 2002, they were happily running their small day-care business in Rantoul and raising three sons.

Then, while pregnant with son Conley, Sheri Dee was in a serious car accident. She was hospitalized from October 2002 to February 2003.

The medical bills mounted, and though they had insurance, the Dees had to file for bankruptcy. They lost their home and moved to Champaign, taking jobs at Wal-Mart, Head Start, wherever they could – usually two or three at a time – to bring in money. But they couldn't afford rent, utilities and payments to creditors, so they moved in with family.

Eventually LeRoy, 38, found a food-service job at the University of Illinois, which allowed him to scale back to one and a half jobs, helping Sheri deliver papers for The News-Gazette. He's also a full-time student at Eastern Illinois University and will graduate in May. Sheri, who already has her degree, is taking courses for a certificate in early childhood education and would like to open a learning center.

A relative suggested they apply to buy a Habitat home. After some hesitation, the Dees decided to give it a try.

"It's hard when you go from being financially independent and self-sufficient to having to admit, 'You know what? We need help,'" Sheri Dee said.

She was shy about all the public speaking required, but got used to it. Most times she'd have a congregation in tears, talking about how she fell in love with LeRoy all over again as he made sure his family had what it needed through their troubles, said Habitat's executive director, Eileen Gebbie.

"He never complained," said Sheri Dee, who makes a point of challenging stereotypes about black men not supporting their families. "No matter what the situation was, or what bills we were trying to pay, he's been there. He's taken care of his boys. They never knew the struggles we had."

The hardest part was losing their independence, and their time together, she said. They used to work side-by-side at their day-care and had the boys home with them. Later, with both of them juggling jobs and school, their time was spread pretty thin.

"That's not what we wanted for our family," she said.

The Dees now hope to scale back their work hours to spend more time with their sons, Wesley, Bradley, Bailey and Conley. Their mortgage payment will be far less than what they pay for a three-bedroom apartment.

Without Habitat, "we'd still be cleaning up our credit, digging our way out," she said.

Danville native Rasheen Robinson, who is divorced, also overcame credit problems to qualify for her Habitat house. A clerical employee at Herff-Jones, she can't wait to move out of the drafty mobile home she shares with her son.

Neighbors are looking forward to meeting both families at a Habitat event Sunday. Roberts said many residents are senior citizens who have lived there since Carver Park was built in the 1950s.

"This is the only home I've ever known," said Pam Scott, who lives near the Habitat homes with her two grandsons. She and others wanted to maintain the homey feel of the neighborhood and not see the center end up as more rental property.

"We wanted homeowners," Scott said. "It's pretty nice."


Heather Coit



17th January 2009

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Heather Coit, “Former Frances Nelson site now home to 2 Habitat homes,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed June 17, 2019,

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