The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | February / March 2002
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Habitat in Appalachia:
A Proven Solution
What You Can Do


Habitat Means Housing Solutions in Appalachia



Some of Habitat’s most active affiliates operate in Central Appalachia, overcoming their isolated settings to build simple, decent houses throughout the mountains. Last year, some 75 affiliates built or renovated nearly 300 houses.

“Obviously, there’s a very deep need in the region,” says Leslie Allen, affiliate support manager for HFHI’s Mid-America regional office in Louisville, Ky. “But there’s also a lot of willingness and interest from people to respond to that need.”

Appalachia Habitat for Humanity in Robbins, Tenn., is a solid example of affiliates serving poor families in the region. Since its inception in 1978, it has built or renovated nearly 320 houses, and like other affiliates in Appalachia finds its success in a creative approach to building houses.

“One of our strengths,” says affiliate executive director Annie Patterson, “is developing unique partnerships that allow us to approach housing from a creative standpoint.”

In the late 1980s, for instance, the affiliate created a Community Development Corporation, which has attracted additional funds for local house building, funds the affiliate might not have accessed otherwise. It also serves as a host agency for AmeriCorps, with three crews working year round. Other partnerships include work groups from outside the community.

“Throughout our history, we’ve had a strong work group program,” says Patterson. “People develop a real attachment to the area, and the whole arrangement becomes an enriching cultural exchange for everyone involved.”

A rural, often isolated location leads many Appalachian affiliates to think outside the box, says Allen, and to explore alternative means of support–like partnerships with churches in distant cities or with high schools and colleges.

“Many don’t have a great deal of community resources to draw on,” says Allen, “so they often go outside the community to bring in support.”

In 1997, Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy Carter Work Project visited Appalachia, where volunteers built 52 houses in seven locations, and collateral partnerships resulted in an additional 98 houses built. The work project meant more to the region, however, than simply better housing. It heightened awareness of Appalachia’s need for decent housing and of Habitat’s self-help approach to serving that need. Some affiliates still feel the effects.

In Beattyville, Ky., for instance, Lee County HFH continues to host annual visits from a church in Baldwin, Mo., whose members come to Beattyville every year to build with local families. Numerous other groups come from across the country to work with local volunteers and families. Habitat has a recognizable face thanks to a public spotlight from JCWP.

“What JCWP did for us more than anything is raise public awareness,” says affiliate executive director Herman Newton. “It gave us a real boost in terms of who we are and what we do.”

All the effects of greater awareness, he says, are difficult to measure.

Another key to some affiliates’ success has been the establishment of ReStores, which sell donated building supplies at reduced cost, extending affiliates’ building efforts.

“These stores serve the communities in more than one way,” says Allen. “The materials sold in the stores benefit people in the community, and the funds raised from those sales also benefit families through the construction of decent housing.”

Whatever their tools, however large or small their volunteer base, or their donor base or their ReStore, affiliates throughout Appalachia–like their counterparts around the world–are committed to serving the housing needs of local families. And they are doing so across many hollows and hillsides of Appalachia.


 
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