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Alcorn business club builds house with Habitat

NATCHEZ — Alcorn students are getting familiar with hammers, nails, shingles and siding as part of the Agribusiness Economic Club’s assistance with Habitat for Humanity’s current construction project.

Club president Marcus Griffin said working with Habitat on the house is a new undertaking for the club.

“We have gained a sense of helping the community out and feeling happy about ourselves,” Griffin said. “We don’t have much construction experience, but we have picked up skills. Maybe when we have our own houses someday, we will know a little something about construction.”

Club members have been meeting with Habitat volunteers to work on the house every other Saturday since December, and recently placed shingles and siding on the house located at 14 Zoa St.

“Seeing the home evolve to this point is wonderful,” Griffin said. “It was just a frame when we started in December. There has been a lot of progress. The family can say, ‘This is my house,’ and be proud.”

The club’s presence in the community extends beyond Zoa Street. They travel to a middle school in Jefferson County to help students on their testing skills.

“The students there were struggling with passing their standardized tests,” Griffin said. “We have a two-student- to-one-tutor ratio, and it’s helping improve their scores.”

Teddrick Hargrave, club advisor, said the club combines agriculture, business and economic experience.

“The club provides students with educational exposure by taking trips to meet with companies and potential employers,” Hargrave said. “With a project like this, they get hands-on experience, and a community service component. We want to give back as much as possible, and bright young people are our best resource.”

Hargrave said the club will probably pick up two more projects this semester.

“It’s good to get up on a Saturday and actually do something,” club member Eugenia Mekka said. “The experience has been excellent. It’s good to help people who don’t have the same opportunities that we do.”

“This is my community,” club member Oscar Porter said. “I live in Natchez, and I want it to be better. In high school they tell you to get out and help your community, but I didn’t know where to start. Now I can help right here with Habitat.

“I’m glad to see the Miss-Lou doing better,” Porter said.

The students haven’t participated in a construction project before.

“The first time we were here, I was a little scared because I have never done any construction in my life,” said Marla Thomas, club member. “Honestly, I’d never even held a hammer!”

Tierra Williams said she is especially glad to be helping out a single mom.

Hargrave said many graduates of the agricultural and business school at Alcorn end up working in fields such as rural development, so the project on Zoa Street is a good place to learn.

Habitat for Humanity secretary/treasurer Duncan McFarlane said the City of Natchez donated the empty lot to Habitat.

Habitat house candidates must participate in an application process.

“We pre-approve the owner up front so we know what size how to build,” McFarlane said. “In this case, the family is a single mom with one child. We are building her a two-bedroom home. In the past, we have built two, three and four bedrooms depending on how many live there.”

The house on Zoa Street has a roof, floor, doors and windows, and will be finished by June. McFarlane said it takes volunteers about eight months to build a house.

“All labor is free, and we raise money to buy building materials,” McFarlane said. “We sell the house to the pre-approved owner at our exact cost. We add up all the invoices and say here’s the price. Then we sell it to the owner with no down payment and finance the mortgage for 25 years at zero interest.”

McFarlane said if you go to the bank wanting to buy a house, expect to be charged interest of 5 or 6 percent.

“Of course we add a little more to the payment to cover fire insurance and real estate tax,” McFarlane said. “But the idea is to keep payment below $300. Most of our owners move out of rental homes and apartments that cost more.”

McFarlane said Habitat ensures the houses are well insulated so energy costs are lower.

“Not only does their house payment go down, but energy costs too.”

McFarlane said Habitat for Humanity started in 1993 in Natchez, and the home on Zoa Street is their 15th house-building project.

“When we hand the new owners the keys to the house, it is very emotional,” McFarlane said.

The Alcorn Agribusiness Economic Club contacted Habitat, seeking to help the community and learn at the same time.

“They put vinyl siding on the house,” McFarland said. “And this Saturday they’ll probably finish it. We had someone there holding their hand getting started, and after three pieces, they could work unsupervised.”

McFarlane said Habitat has about four regular volunteers, and having the students there makes the job go more quickly.

“They’re young, and they’re strong,” McFarlane said. “They don’t get tired like the rest of us do.”

McFarlane said Habitat as an international group has built 400,000 for 2 million people worldwide.

To volunteer time with Habitat for Humanity contact McFarlane at 601-807-4956.

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