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AmeriCorps and NSP2 at work in Pensacola

By Julie Gurnon

“Raise your hands if you know what NSP is.”

Peter Rumsey, National Service director at Habitat for Humanity International, gave that challenge to 51 AmeriCorps members who had gathered on a construction site in Pensacola, Florida, on May 2.


AmeriCorps members raise the wall frames on three houses that will be part of the 114-home Camshire Meadows subdivision in Pensacola, Florida.

Surprisingly, most of the AmeriCorps members knew that funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program were helping finance the homes they were building with Pensacola Habitat for Humanity for the 2011 AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program, NSP2, is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It helps fund the rehabilitation of foreclosed homes and the redevelopment of vacant lots in communities destabilized by the collapse of the housing market.

In Pensacola, the AmeriCorps members would be building three houses on vacant property that had been abandoned by a for-profit developer.

Rumsey wanted to make sure the AmeriCorps crew saw the bigger picture of NSP2 building, though.

Those three homes were the first of 240 that Pensacola Habitat will build or rehabilitate with NSP2 funds by February 2013. And those 240 are part of 1,062 homes that seven Habitat affiliates (including Pensacola Habitat) will build or rehabilitate with NSP2 funds awarded in a grant to Habitat for Humanity International.

Highs and lows
Pensacola Habitat’s chief operating officer, Hal Major, said housing challenges persist throughout the community.

“We have an overwhelming need for decent affordable housing in our area,” Major said. “And in recent years, we’ve had a spate of hurricanes, which has only worsened the problem.”

The affiliate serves Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida’s Panhandle.

The Duckworths are among the Panhandle families who will eventually live in one of the houses being built by the AmeriCorps members. Elmondo Duckworth, 42, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He, his wife, Leasa, and their six children are ready to start a new chapter in their life.

The family had fallen into financial trouble after an accident left Duckworth temporarily unable to work.

“It was like a snowball going downhill,” he said. “Medical bills popping up, the house gets behind, wondering when the car is going to be taken. We were stressed, but we had to take care of the children, to make sure they wouldn’t feel what my wife and I were feeling.”

After losing their home, the Duckworths moved into a relative’s home, where they currently live. Duckworth, now an assistant manager at Home Depot, took time to get their finances in order, not realizing until early this year that a familiar name would provide another homeownership opportunity.

“I’ve signed numerous vouchers for Habitat for Humanity at Home Depot,” he said. “I didn’t really know what Habitat was all about; I just remembered that Home Depot was a part of it.”

Duckworth heard about Pensacola Habitat through an orientation meeting at his church, First Baptist of Warrington. Now things are looking up again for the family.

Helping hands
With the families serving as inspiration, the AmeriCorps members arrived on Monday morning from affiliates in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado and Florida. By late Tuesday afternoon, the walls, trusses and roof decking on all three houses were done.

Wall frames had been preassembled by youths from the Pensacola Boys Base, a state-operated, residential halfway-house program for at-risk teens located on an active military installation.

On Wednesday, the AmeriCorps members took a break from building to watch Pensacola’s own Blue Angels perform their 700 mph maneuvers in the sky. Callie Speakman, AmeriCorps family services coordinator for Pensacola Habitat, said the affiliate chose the first week in May for the Build-a-Thon because it coincided with the Centennial of Naval Aviation Week in Pensacola. The highlight was the Blue Angels’ air show.

Afterward, the AmeriCorps members toured the National Naval Aviation Museum before heading to the beach.

The Blue Angels support crew joined the AmeriCorps members on the build site Friday.

“The whole week was wonderful,” said Rachael Cox, Habitat Pensacola’s volunteer services manager and assistant communications director. “We were astonished at how much we were able to accomplish.” Three houses were ready for inside work and three other houses were framed.

Dennis Martin, the construction supervisor at Habitat Pensacola, said the subdivision should be completed in eight or nine months.

Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer for Program Communications, based in Americus.