Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Forest Park Street School students, Naydine Morales (left) and Tori Horne, rake leaves in front of the Briarbay Drive residence.
The screeching sound of a power saw echoed throughout the neighborhood, as people moved in and out of a house on Briarbay Drive, in Jonesboro. Students of the Prevention Plus Inc., Forest Park Street School, were there to work on the lawn, roof and other parts of the home.
Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, and Wells Fargo, came together at the Iron Gate community, to announce that they had completed the first phase of their anti-foreclosure initiative, according to Cara Welch, a spokeswoman for Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity.
More importantly, she said, the initiative will affect other areas in Clayton County, and spread to Henry County next year.
The home on Briarbay Drive is the last of 70 homes to be stabilized in the Iron Gate community. The homes experienced such improvements as exterior repairs, weatherization and energy updates. Combined, the work will help homeowners save an average of $375 annually in utility costs, she said.
“Habitat chose the neighborhood because it was on the ‘tipping point’ of the foreclosure crisis,” said Welch. “The aim was to make the area more appealing to current, and potential residents, [thus] lessening the chance of foreclosures.”
The Habitat spokewoman said some 70 Wells Fargo volunteers came out on 16 weekends and worked on 53 homes. The remainder of the homes were improved by Forest Park Street School students. The students are part of the Youth Build program at the school. Their presence was part of the school’s curriculum, through a partnership with Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative, Welch explained.
The Neighborhood Stabilization joint effort began last month, even though the school has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for five years, added Brenda Rayburn, chief compliance officer for Southern Crescent Habitat.
Briarbay Drive homeowner, Ruben Rojas, is very grateful, and considers the improvement project an early Christmas gift. “We couldn’t believe it,” said Rojas, in Spanish. “We didn’t know how big this was going to be.” He said he was hesitant to accept the offer from Habitat for Humanity, but after much thought, he obliged.
Pamela Cross, vice president and senior community development officer for the Atlanta market, for Wells Fargo, presented a $170,000 check to Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity to help with the continuation of the initiative. The check is a grant from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, according to Cross. It is the largest amount given on the East Coast this year, she said.
“We are so happy to be able to do more great things with Southern Crescent Habitat,” said Cross. “This work fits squarely with our aim to help Atlanta come back from the recession.”
Welch explained that the partnership between Wells Fargo and the Forest Park Street School will continue next year, as the initiative will affect other neighborhoods in Clayton County and trickle over to Henry County. The students will be part of improving 40 houses in both counties, she said.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell and Henry County Commissioner Reid Bowman were on hand during the check presentation. Bell, who was dressed as Santa Claus, was jokingly called “Chairman Claus” by his peers.
He said the funds presented by Wells Fargo is a great gift for the local community this holiday season. “We’ve crossed lines,” he said with a smile. “There are no more lines between Clayton and Henry.”
Commissioner Bowman agreed with Bell, and said this is about the community and about helping those in need. “I’d like to also [give] a large thanks to Wells Fargo for their involvement,” he said.
Melissa Chapman, CEO of Southern Crescent Habitat, said a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will be used for additional energy-saving improvements for homes with the greatest needs. The grant will allow Habitat for Humanity to purchase sophisticated equipment that will help it measure efficiencies. She said part of Well Fargo’s grant was utilized as matching funds to acquire the federal grant.
“We are so excited to take this partnership with Wells Fargo to the next level by continuing our work in Clayton and bringing it to Henry County,” said Chapman. “We’ve seen a real need in Henry for help to allow the purchase of homes there.”