Latasha Hill: ‘This was truly a God thing’ -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Latasha Hill: ‘This was truly a God thing’

Latasha Hill, 27, and her two sons are moving into a neighborhood that used to be a swampy wooded area.


For his seventh birthday, Darryl McDougal Jr. – “Junior,” to his friends and family – got a brand-new Habitat house. If that sounds extravagant, consider that it wasn’t really a gift at all, but an investment in his future and his family.

Junior and his older brother, Shaivez, had come with their mother, Latasha Hill, to the construction site one recent Sunday morning, thinking they were helping to put the finishing touches on a house for their aunt. At the house blessing ceremony that afternoon, Mom got the keys to the house and the boys were told to pick out their rooms.

“The first thing Junior did was check out his new closet, which is almost as big as his room now,” his mother said. “Both boys were a little stunned at first. But now they are beyond excited.”

Hill’s house was built in a 48-hour blitz sponsored by First Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, a congregation full of contractors and skilled tradesmen. The construction started early Friday morning and wrapped up Sunday afternoon, with only the driveway to be poured.

“Even food crews were on four-hour shifts,” said Andrea Dixon, executive director of Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity. “Church women would come in and yell, ‘Hot food,’ and all work would stop.

“The whole weekend was amazing,” Dixon added. “I’ll borrow the words of Pastor Jeff Clark at the blitz: ‘This was truly a God thing.’ ”

The house will be officially dedicated during this year’s Carter Project.

The journey home

New homeowner Hill, 27, had saved up for years and finally bought a used mobile home in her native Waynesboro shortly before Katrina struck. “It needed a lot of work,” she said. “But I was up to the task.”

Katrina destroyed the mobile home, though, before Hill and her sons had even moved in, making her ineligible for any relief funds from FEMA.

Before Katrina, Hill worked at the state correctional facility in Leakesville, where she was trapped in a two-day lockdown when the storm hit. After temporarily seeking shelter in Norcross, Georgia, Hill was ready to return home to Mississippi. She works now as a teller at a local gas company.

She’s been sharing a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Hattiesburg with her two sons. “You can stretch out your arms and touch the opposite walls,” she said.

On May 15, the family will move into their baby blue home on Anna Christie Drive. The former mosquito-infested, swampy wooded area has been transformed by rows of Habitat houses and a recently completed children’s park.

“This experience has been outstanding,” Hill said. “I’ve worked with some of the best people. And I’ve learned so many tools of the trade.

“In a way, I’m happy for it all to come to an end, so we can actually move into our house,” she said. “But I’m also really sad. I already miss everybody.”

After the 48-hour building blitz, First Baptist Church threw a block party to celebrate.

“I told the pastor, when they get ready to do this again for somebody else, I want to be a part of it,” said Hill. “I’m serious. I want somebody else to have this feeling.”

A beaming Andrea Dixon looks on.

“That,” she said, “is what Habitat is all about.”

Affiliate Information:
Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Five houses for Carter Project

Situated 75 miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Two dozen people died, and about 10,000 homes and businesses were damaged. Virtually all of the area’s roads were blocked by fallen trees and storm debris, and power was out for nearly two weeks.

Two and a half years later, the piney metropolitan area that encompasses Forrest, Perry and Lamar counties still struggles to cope with a 10 percent increase in population, much of it falling in the category of working poor.

“The need is amazing,” said Andrea Dixon, executive director of Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity. “Meeting it is a labor of love.”

Before the calamitous hurricanes of 2005, the Hattiesburg affiliate built one or two houses a year. Moving forward, the goal is to build 15 houses a year, Dixon said.

As part of this year’s Carter Project, Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity will dedicate two houses and start construction on three others.

As part of this year’s Carter Project, Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity will dedicate two houses and start construction on three others.