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Delta employees help build 99th and 100th homes

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity is getting help from the world's largest airline to reach a milestone achievement for the 23-year-old organization.

Delta Air Lines employees, and Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity volunteers, began construction on two new houses in the local Habitat for Humanity chapter's Avery neighborhood in Jonesboro on Wednesday.

The houses represent a milestone for Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, because they are the 99th and 100th homes built by the local organization since it was started in 1986. Including today, Delta employees will be working on construction of the houses for another 10 days.

"When you get to 100 of anything, that's something special to be proud of," said homeowner-to-be, Samantha Hammonds, who will live in the 99th house. "That lets you know you're doing something right, if you can do it 100 times."

When Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity was started by local residents in 1986, it was little more than a "grassroots effort with a couple of volunteers," said Cara Welch, the chapter's spokesperson. It has grown to currently have six full-time and part-time staff members, who have worked with local volunteers and businesses to put hundreds of people into homes across the Southern Crescent.

In the last 12 months, the organization has built 12 homes in the Avery subdivision, with the help of Delta and the Whirlpool Corporation, as well as country music superstars, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

"We've got over 300 family members in homes that we've built," Welch said. "It's a big accomplishment to be able to build 100 homes over a 23-year period. We're hoping by the time we celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2011, we'll have 150 homes built or refurbished."

This marks the sixth year Delta employees have done a fall home-building project with the organization, Delta Senior Vice President of Maintenance Operations John Laughter said. He added that, including the two houses under construction, the airline and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter have teamed up to build 15 homes in the Southern Crescent.

This year, Delta Air Lines is doing six simultaneous home-building projects across the county, in areas where Delta and Northwest Air Lines have hub locations, he said. Delta merged with Northwest last fall. Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis and New York City are the other cities where the airline is building homes, Laughter said.

He said helping Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity build its 99th and 100th houses made the home-building project in Jonesboro special. "The Delta team couldn't be any more honored to be involved in such a significant milestone for them," he said.

The 100th home, which will belong to homeowner-to-be, Sally Strickland, will be dedicated to the memory of former Delta employee, Rick Lawhorn, who participated in several of the annual fall building projects with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Lawhorn died on Oct. 24, 2008, shortly after Delta's fifth annual fall home build. Strickland's home will be dedicated to his memory during a ceremony on the one-year anniversary of his death, Laughter said.

"He was one of the guys who was a leader down here," said Laughter. "If you think about Rick's spirit, you can see it in so many people who are out here today. He's leaving behind quite a legacy."

On the first day of the home build, an army of about 60 Delta employees and Southern Crescent Habitat volunteers raised the frames, walls and roof trusses on both houses.

"It's amazing that this was just a concrete, foundation slab when we got here this morning, and we've already gotten this far," said Delta Maintenance Coordinator Sean Lengyel, during a break from helping to install roof trusses on Strickland's house Wednesday.

Strickland said getting the milestone, 100th home is special to her, because she understands what it is like to help someone else get their first home. She said she helped build three other houses in her soon-to-be new neighborhood.

"I'm just so excited to be in the 100th home, because it makes me feel special," said Strickland, 34, who said she has been moving from rental home to rental home, and apartment to apartment since she was 7 years old.

"What makes it feel special is that I finally get a place that is mine."