Appalachian State University is partnering with Watauga County Habitat for Humanity (WCHH) to build a home from the ground up.

While Appalachian students, staff and faculty have participated in many of the nonprofit organization’s builds over the years, this is the first time the university has taken ownership of a project long before the hammer hits the nail.

The campuswide App Builds a Home initiative, which began in fall 2018, includes the funding, design and construction of a home in the local community.

Appalachian’s IDEXlab — a building science program in which students receive course credit while working on real projects for real clients — was commissioned to design the home for the project.

A planning team from Appalachian has set a fundraising goal of $60,000 — half of the cost of building a Habitat home in the Boone community — that will be matched by WCHH.

Alex Hooker ’92 ’99, executive director of WCHH and adjunct instructor in the university’s Appalachian studies program, said, “We at Habitat have talked for years about working more formally with Appalachian. We have always had a lot of support from volunteers, Appalachian’s Habitat for Humanity Club, ACT (Appalachian and the Community Together) and other campus groups.”

He continued, “Other universities across the country have done projects with Habitat where they’ve designed and built the whole house, and we felt that was something we’d like to try with Appalachian. We put together an informational meeting last fall, including faculty, administration and students. We had some students who were really energized, and they formed a planning committee to move this thing forward.”

Meet the team

In addition to Hooker, the Appalachian planning committee includes four students and a faculty adviser:

  • Megan Laws ’19, of Granite Falls, is a graduate student in Appalachian’s M.A. in reading education program. She holds a B.S. in elementary education from Appalachian.
  • Misty Mayfield ’02, an instructor in Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning.
  • Kayla McDougle, a junior from Summerfield majoring in interior design with a minor in building sciences. She is the current president of Appalachian’s Habitat for Humanity Club.
  • Allyson Medlin, a junior from New Bern majoring in public health.
  • Dorothy Williams, a senior middle grades education major from Tallahassee, Florida

Mayfield has volunteered with WCHH for years and currently serves on the organization’s Community Relations Committee. All the students on the planning committee have previous experience as volunteers with Habitat, either in Watauga County or in their hometowns.

Medlin said, “I’ve worked on Habitat homes with my youth group every summer in my hometown, New Bern. A lot of homes were damaged by Hurricane Florence there, and since I’m not there to help, I wanted to be involved here in Boone. I am the service chair for Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, and we got involved with Watauga’s Habitat last semester.”

Laws said, while at Appalachian, she has learned about housing insecurity and has seen its local impact, which led her to become involved in the project.

Raising funds

To date, the team has raised almost $12,000 toward the $60,000 goal for the project. “We are limiting our fundraising to the university — students, staff, faculty, alumni and visitors to Appalachian,” said Mayfield, explaining that WCHH has a large donor base outside the university that contributes directly to the organization.

“Up to this point, we’ve been going to (Appalachian) clubs and departments to get the word out, letting people know our goals and how they can get involved,” Williams said.

“Availability of affordable housing is an issue in Watauga County. Because this community has welcomed us, and because this is where we live, App Builds a Home is a tangible way for us to give back to the community,” she continued.

Fundraising efforts thus far have included the following:

  • a benefit concert presented by the Appalachian Chapter of the American String Teachers Association;
  • a bowling competition with Appalachian staff and faculty;
  • the Polar Plunge at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock; and
  • donation campaigns organized by business fraternity Pi Sigma Epsilon and Beans 2 Brew, the Walker College of Business’ student-run, nonprofit coffee shop.

Fundraising will continue through the summer with a First Friday Art Crawl in June, orientation events and tie-ins with An Appalachian Summer Festival.

Blueprint for success

Hooker said he is enthusiastic about the scope of involvement in App Builds a Home. “This project is an opportunity to get so many people engaged in what Habitat is doing,” he said.

Hooker worked with Appalachian’s IDEXlab in providing specifications and evaluating options for the home’s design. “The house is net-zero ready, designed to use zero energy,” he said. “While some of the elements won’t be included due to the cost, the house will have those design aspects to it and homeowners can modify (the home) later.”

He added, “When we talk about the project, people are learning how Habitat works. A lot of people think we give away the houses for free and they’re often surprised to learn about the sweat equity involved.”

Recipients of Habitat for Humanity homes participate in the building process of their home, Hooker explained, and pay the mortgage for the house. By using volunteer labor and incorporating donated or discounted materials, Habitat is able to offer their homeowners affordable, zero-interest mortgages.

WCHH builds an average of one home per year. Thanks to Appalachian’s commitment to build a home, that number will double in 2019.

“We’re going to be able to put another family in a house,” Hooker said. “We couldn’t do this without the funds raised and volunteers from Appalachian.”

Article written by Jan Todd, courtesy of Appalachian State University