HAMMERING’ IT HOME
LEE-BASED GROUP SEEKS VOLUNTEERS, CORPORATE SPONSORS
By Eileen Bailey
Northeast Mississippi Habitat for Humanity hopes to build a stronger foundation in Lee County to eliminate poverty housing with the help of more volunteers and corporate sponsors.
The ecumenical, grass-roots, Christian ministry was established in the United States and abroad in 1976 by Millard Fuller to eliminate poverty housing. More than 40,000 houses have been built worldwide to date.
The Northeast Mississippi Habitat for Humanity chapter began in 1984 and is one of about 40 such chapters in Mississippi.
In the past, Northeast Habitat and other Habitat chapters have raised funds on a house-by-house basis. Dinetia Newman, president of the Northeast Mississippi Habitat for Humanity, said the organization’s board decided in January to try a new approach.
“Each year we have raised funds for that year to build a certain number of houses. We prefer not to continue living hand-to-mouth,” Newman said. Now what Habitat would like to do is to have more financial supporters who donate a fixed amount each year, which will provide Habitat with a constant source of funding.
These sponsors would be known as “sustaining partners.” Sustaining pledges would be matched with other sustaining pledges to construct partner homes. Newman said that by having sustaining partners, Habitat would be able to plan on the number of houses it could build. She said the group hopes to add an additional house each year and within a few years be able to build 10 houses a year.
Bob Yarbrough, regional director for Habitat South, said each of the more than 1,300 different Habitat chapters across the country may have a different way to raise funds. While there are some guidelines on how to run the programs, he said, raising funds is left up to the individual chapters.
In Jackson and other areas, Yarbrough said, chapters have begun seeking “covenant partners,” which come in many forms. They can be an individual business or a group of different organizations or churches who go in together to sponsor the construction of a home.
Newman said covenant partners are what her group would like to see more of in Tupelo. A covenant partner may donate 25 to 100 percent of the construction cost for a project. Already, Habitat has two such partners for 1996. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal donated $15,000 to pay for half of the construction of a Habitat home. The donation was made in honor of Tupelo attorney James Hugh Ray for his leadership on the CREATE Foundation and Journal boards of trustees.
Another covenant partner is the North Mississippi Medical Center.
In June, NMMC will construct its second Habitat home. Nancy Collins, chairwoman for NMMC’s Habitat project, said the medical center raised more than $29,000 and gave more than 650 volunteer hours to construct its first Habitat home in December 1994.
According to Collins, the medical center plans to raise more than $30,000 for a second home and to provide a majority of the labor. The first home was built in six weeks. This second home, she said, is expected to begin June 1 and be completed by the end of the month. As with the first home, the new owner will be an employee of the medical center who meets Habitat guidelines.
The home will be one of six built this year in Lee County. The total number of homes built is 26. Funding for four of the 1996 houses has been secured, but Newman said she is unsure where funding for the remaining two will come from. “We are leaping out on faith for the fifth and sixth house,” she said.
Another group that provides numerous volunteer hours and funds is the Tupelo High School Habitat for Humanity chapter, Newman said. The organization has more than 200 members and is active in not only fund-raising but in volunteering time. “It would be hard to go to a house on a Saturday and not see some of those students there,” she said. “They don’t just do it one time; they are involved all year.”
This past week the high school chapter had a fund-raising campaign and Habitat Emphasis Week. Jo Mark, who sponsors the high school’s Habitat chapter with Carol Leake, said in the last two or three years the students have contributed about $1,200 to the Northeast chapter. In the last week, the students have raised about $500 in their campaign.
More resources and funding
In addition to a more secure funding source, Newman said Northeast Habitat would like to see organizations or corporations become more secure sources for materials. In the past organizations and businesses have donated materials for a home, such as plumbing and lumber.
Renee Reid, Habitat publicity chairwoman, said the organization also needs more volunteers of all types. “We need volunteers not just to hammer nails,” Reid said. “We also need volunteers to help stuff envelopes and serve on the various committees.”
The homes cost about $30,000 to build and are usually about 1,092 square feet with three bedrooms.
More than 110 applicants have applied for a Habitat house this year. Of that number, only six will receive a new home. These residents will receive a no-interest loan for 20 years. In addition, residents must complete 500 hours of sweat equity during construction.
To be considered for a Habitat home, certain criteria must be met, including the need for adequate and affordable housing; the ability to pay for home ownership, including monthly payments for 20 years, insurance, taxes and upkeep; and, a willingness to become partners in the Habitat for Humanity program.
Habitat also assists in renovating homes. One such home was that of Bobby Ritter in 1984. Ritter said he had a child with medical problems and could not afford to repair the home he was in the process of buying. He said his wife saw a story on Habitat and wrote in for an application.
With the help of Habitat, Ritter was able to add rooms to his home. Ritter said if not for Habitat he would not have been able to afford to do such work.
“You can’t beat it with a stick,” he said of Habitat’s support.