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Habitat for Humanity: Building a better Community

By Stephen Thomas and Caryn Tramel

Photos by Caryn Tramel

MTSU/Seigenthaler News Service

Volunteers from Altar’D State wrote messages on the wall studs in the Habitat for Humanity home the company is building on Bessie Harvey Avenue in Alcoa.

Habitat for Humanity is constructing a home in Alcoa. 

As volunteers watched, a crane carefully lifted trusses into place on the latest house to be built by Blount County Habitat for Humanity.

Ken Sorenson, a veteran Habitat volunteer, was on top of the home under construction giving directions to the crane operator. “Slow…back it up a little bit,” Sorenson shouted.

One by one the trusses, more than a dozen, were aligned and nailed into place. In two hours the house was no longer lacking a roof. There were cheers from the volunteers as the last one was nailed into place.

“Slow and steady, that’s our motto,” said Doug Jenkins, Habitat Construction Supervisor. “We usually do half days, so we don’t burn out.”

The house at 225 Bessie Harvey Avenue in Alcoa is the 162nd home built by the home building nonprofit since it was established in 1992.

The Blount County volunteers for the build range in experience from first time builders to veterans of hundreds of Habitat homes. The most experienced builders teach the inexperienced volunteers how to properly drive a nail, attach siding and even how to put a roof on a house or shed. 

Volunteer Russell Derby fastens one of the trusses into place on a Habitat for Humanity home in Alcoa.

Families selected to partner with Habitat pledge to accumulateat least 300 hours of sweat equity during the construction phase. Prior to construction Habitat partners must complete classes on financial budgeting and home maintenance. The program is not a “hand out but a hand up,” said Jenkins. Participants have to pay back an affordable mortgage.

The current house under construction is sponsored by Altar’D State, a national Christian women’s clothing boutique with headquarters in Maryville.

“Altar’D State is the best kept secret,” said Brad Lunde, one of the Habitat regular workers. He’s referring to Altard’D State’s company policy of encouraging employees to volunteer their time around the community every week. Currently, employees spending much of their volunteer time at the Habitat site.

This is the second house that Altar’D State has fully sponsored. 

“I’ve worked on three houses so far,” said Russell Derby, an employee for Altar’D State. Altar’D State is always looking for new ways to give back where they can, Debry noted.

After the trusses were securely in place, several of the volunteers took time to pray over certain areas of the house. One said a prayer in the pantry so the family would never want for food. Another said a prayer in the living room that love would always be in the home. Another prayed that foundation would remain strong.

“For a lot of folks, it’s about building a home,” said Jenkins, who became a volunteer in the 1980s.

Although he has held jobs as a teacher, construction contractor and a city school board member, Jenkins has remained with Habitat. His first build in Blount County was a one-week blitz build with a church in 1994. Jenkins has been construction supervisor since 2011 for Blount County Habitat.

“To me it’s about building community,” said Jenkins. “It’s about relationships we build with these families, these volunteers and Altar’D state.”

Jenkins said they are one of the few Habitat organizations to use a crane on their build sites. That’s because Brimer Steel Erectors has partnered with the Blount County Habitat organization for about four years.

“These three houses are Habitat houses,” Jenkins said as he pointed across the street to other homes he has helped to build.

Jenkins said the house will dried in with a roof in place by Monday.


Stephen Thomas and Caryn Tramel are Middle Tennessee State University journalism students. They are in Blount County as part of a feature writing class call the Road Trip Class.      

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