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With a little help, a new roof to keep them safe and sound

Rene and Eric Cepeda of Duluth are getting a new roof for their home in the city’s East Hillside. As a veteran, Eric was eligible for Home Depot’s volunteer program that takes on service projects for veterans. Labor is being donated along with costs for materials. (Bob King /

On a cool evening Thursday in Duluth’s East Hillside neighborhood, Eric and Rene Cepeda could not contain their appreciation as the heat kicked on.

That they were able to bask in its warmth was victory.

“You could feel it,” Eric said excitedly Friday from his home near Grant Park.

Usually, as in all of this past frigid winter, the heat would escape out the roof and leave the couple cold both in their living room and in the pocketbook.

This week, things changed as a new underlayer and shingles were put on their home. The new roof is coming through a grant from the Western Lake Superior Habitat for Humanity, in its continuing cooperation with the Home Depot Foundation. The couple live off of disability payments and could not afford the $3,000-$4,000 cost for replacing their decaying and curling shingles.

“We were bouncing,” Eric said of first hearing about the grant last fall. Work was set to begin then, but early snow quashed that plan. “The heat was going straight through the roof,” he said.

“It’s nice that there are people out there who care,” Rene said.

The couple certainly appreciated that they had a roof over their heads during the past five years, no matter how faulty it was. They moved into the abandoned home after being foreclosed on in 2009 after a payment dispute with their bank.

“We were homeless,” Rene said. She uses a wheelchair after a bobsledding accident in Canada, her home country, 33 years ago. It left her with no feeling in the lower part of her legs. She’s had 27 surgeries since then.

Eric spends his time taking care of his wife, whom he says he immediately “clicked with” when they met eight years ago. He admits he was involved in some “bad situations” but, after meeting her, he “got married and found God,” something his longtime friends could not believe.

Both have lived itinerant lives and are no strangers to homelessness and the hard life that goes with it.

“We’ve had our adversities, but we keep going,” Rene said.

When they moved to their home in 2009, they were overwhelmed with the help from Habitat.

“It was little stuff,” Rene said, like a cement slab to ease her maneuverability around the yard or storm door replacement. “It gave us motivation.”

They were encouraged to apply for the grant that led to the new roof.

Eric is also a veteran, making him eligible for Home Depot’s volunteer program that takes on service projects for veterans. Labor is donated along with costs for materials.

Alex Angelos of Angelos Siding and Construction got started early in the week tearing off the alley-side roof. The front side of the home still had the old shingles Friday and marked the stark difference between old and new.

Dan Hartel donated a Dumpster to haul away the debris.

The Home Depot Foundation began providing home services for veterans in 2011, with a pledge to give $80 million dollars to the cause in five years. It has already donated $60 million.

The smiles on the Cepedas’ faces Friday were priceless.

The bank “not only took our house,” Rene said. “They took our hope and our credit rating. Habitat gave us our pride back. You can’t buy hope.”

“We may be broke but we’re rich in spirit,” Eric said.