Appalachian State University is partnering with Watauga County Habitat for Humanity to build a home from the ground up. Appalachian students, faculty and staff have participated in many of the nonprofit organization’s builds over the years, but 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 began in fall 2018 and 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 set a fundraising goal of $60,000, which is half of the cost to build a Habitat home in the Boone community. The amount will be matched by Watauga Habitat.
“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,” Alex Hooker, executive director of Watauga Habitat and adjunct instructor in the university’s Appalachian studies program, said.
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.”
In addition to Hooker, the Appalachian planning committee includes four students and a faculty adviser: Megan Laws, of Granite Falls, a graduate student in Appalachian’s M.A. in reading education program. She holds a B.S. in elementary education from Appalachian; Misty Mayfield, 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, Fla.
All the students on the planning committee have previous experience as volunteers with Habitat, either in Watauga County or in their hometowns.
Mayfield has volunteered with Watauga Habitat for years and currently serves on the organization’s Community Relations Committee.
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 she has learned about housing insecurity and has seen its local impact, which is what led her to become involved in the project.
In May, the team had raised almost $12,000 of the $60,000 goal for the project.
“We are limiting our fundraising to the university — students, staff, faculty, alumni and visitors to Applachian,” Mayfield said.
Watauga Habitat has a large donor base outside the university that contributes directly to the organization.
Williams explained that up to this point, the team has been going to Appalachian’s clubs and departments to spread the word to let people know their goals and how they can get involved in the project.
“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,” Williams said.
Fundraising efforts have included a benefit concert presented by the Appalachian Chapter of the American String Teachers Association; bowling competition with Appalachian faculty and staff; the Polar Plunge at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock; 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 orientation events and tie-ins with “An Appalachian Summer Festival.”
Hooker says 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,” Hooker said.
Hooker worked with Appalachian’s IDEXlab in providing specifications and evaluating options for the home’s design. The house is net-zero ready and is designed to use zero energy. Some of the elements won’t be included due to the cost but the house will have those design aspects so that homeowners have the ability to later modify the home.
“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,” Hooker said.
Recipients of Habitat for Humanity homes participate in the building process of their home 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.
Watauga Habitat 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.”