MINNEAPOLIS — A few days before their home opener, the Vikings helped make sure one fan will be able to get into a home of her own.
The organization recently partnered with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and Sleep Number on Build Week, which centered on helping construct a brand-new home just a few miles north of U.S. Bank Stadium.
The four-bedroom, two-bathroom house (more than 1,500 square feet) will give Gretchen Leininger a place to call her own.
"We have a platform for impact and we're always looking for ways to engage the community," said Steve Poppen, the Vikings Executive Vice President & Chief Business Administration Office. "We have more than 50 staff and [current and former] players volunteering on this home build. It's a great opportunity for us to do something very tangible for the community.
"[Gretchen's] story is special with the challenges she's gone through in life," added Poppen, who is also on the board for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. "She has not been able to get into a home of her own because of the curveballs life has thrown at her. To see this day … it's just really, really special."
Chris Coleman, the President and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, added: "This is pretty special to have this Vikings partnership and have some [players] come out and swing a hammer. We can communicate to Vikings fans and foes alike that when we can come together to build a house, we can come together to change a life."
Mackensie Alexander, C.J. Ham, K.J. Osborn and D.J. Wonnum showed up to help and were joined by Vikings Ring of Honor linebacker Scott Studwell. Vikings staff could also pick a day to volunteer, with the retired Studwell opting to help out all five days.
It was all to help Leininger, a single mother of a 23-year-old daughter, Isabel, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of five. But while Isabel managed to withstand that, she was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma as a sophomore in high school.
She is now on treatment for that, which includes a surgery every 12-15 months. Leininger said she was unable to get into a home with constant medical costs.
"It's hard to get ahead, or even pay your current bills, when the hospital needs $2,500 from you this week and $1,500 the next," Leininger said. "The last few years have been a challenge … but I'm going to need to thank a lot of people for a really long time.
"It was always Isabel and I," Leininger added. "Everyone has different challenges, but that one was the biggest one. You just put on your big-girl pants and try and do better."
Leininger said she applied for a Habitat home after seeing a commercial.
"It's an amazing program," Leininger said. "And there are probably people like me that do qualify and don't know about it but want to learn all these things.
"There's so much knowledge [gained] throughout this whole process," Leininger added.
Ham began the afternoon by offering up two tickets to Leininger and her mom, Candy, to a home game later this season.
Alexander then presented the pair with custom jerseys before the group took a tour of the home. Vikings players helped hang drywall for almost an hour.
"I built a bookshelf last week, so I guess I graduated," Osborn quipped. "But it was really great and I had fun.
"Just seeing the look on her face, I got a little teary-eyed hearing her story," Osborn added. "It's a blessing to be able to come over here. This is my first time doing something like this. But it definitely won't be my last."
The experience was especially meaningful for Alexander, who grew up in a Habitat home. The cornerback said his entire neighborhood was Habitat homes, with everyone helping build one after the next.
"Habitat gave my parents an opportunity to move in and gain ownership of a home, the same as it did with Gretchen's family now," Alexander said. "My community came together to help out, just as we're doing now.
"It's an important organization that we're helping," Alexander added. "It's big time, and it gives me a lot of memories, honestly."
Alexander joked that his drywall skills were "a little rusty but it worked. I got the job done."
Osborn said he could tell how much the organization meant to his teammate.
"He personally knows the difference a Habitat home has made in his life," Osborn said.
And everyone was impacted by Leininger's story.
"A lot of positivity with her, and I'm just happy for her to have a home," Alexander said.
Leininger said she is beyond thrilled to be able to have her own home when it gets completed early in 2022.
"I can't wait to meet my neighbors. Hopefully they like me," Leininger said with a smile. "I'll invite everybody over for football."