The highly coveted THDA recognition was one of five presented during the state organization’s recent 2012 Governor’s Housing Summit. The presentation came during the summit’s closing Tennessee’s Best Luncheon in Nashville, and was given in recognition of HFHOC’s leadership, and its partnership with other organizations, in helping to rebuild the Cleveland and Bradley County community in the wake of the devastating tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011.
“Great work is being accomplished in Tennessee,” according to Brian Bills, chairman of the THDA board. “[Through these nominations] of our work and that of others, we can learn from successes and repeat them across Tennessee. We don’t want inspirational work to go unappreciated.”
On hand to accept the prestigious THDA honor were Matt Carlson, executive director of the Habitat affiliate in Cleveland, and Annie Kinworthy, HFHOC community development coordinator.
In accepting the award on behalf of the entire team of Habitat affiliate staff, board and volunteers, and in comments to the Cleveland Daily Banner, Carlson acknowledged the organization’s pride in accepting the THDA honor, but he pointed to the dedication to task of a variety of community partners and the resilience of Bradley County residents as the keys to Cleveland’s recovery from the historic storms.
“In the days following those tornadoes, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland worked in conjunction with many community partners to get our town back on its feet,” Carlson said. “This was a spirit of collaboration that our community can be proud of and that other communities might look to follow as a model should they face a tragedy of this magnitude.”
Bradley County’s recovery is still ongoing as residents seek to attain what most now recognize as a “New Normal,” but the progress made to this point is the result of organizations, churches, businesses, industries, emergency agencies, local government and nonprofits, among others, working together, Carlson told his THDA listeners.
“This is not a new position for Habitat,” he offered. “Rather, the crisis that befell our Cleveland and Bradley County community simply showed how our organization can make a difference and how our impact on others can be felt greatest by working with others. That’s what has helped our families get this far — the willingness of community partners to establish common ground and to reach for mutual goals.”
He added, “Habitat for Humanity has always been known for its compassionate, collaborative and giving spirit. When those five tornadoes ripped through our community, destroying and damaging hundreds of homes and taking nine lives, it showed what people can do when they work together. We still have work to do, but we’ve come a long, long way.”
Of the THDA award, Carlson described it as being a salute to the human spirit and a tribute to a community’s drive.
THDA’s Tennessee’s Best awards “... honor outstanding individuals and organizations whose contributions on behalf of affordable housing — whether producing, designing, developing, financing or promoting housing policy — inspires others to serve Tennesseans’ housing needs,” according to Colleen Dudley, state director of Habitat for Humanity of Tennessee, as written in an article published in the state Habitat for Humanity newsletter.
She added, “Tennessee’s Best [awards] celebrates housing partners that consistently make a positive impact and showcases the best practices of developers, authorities, community service organizations and others.”
THDA recognized the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Cleveland for a variety of actions in the aftermath of the tornado outbreak. Some of those steps included:
1. The Habitat Cleveland affiliate shut down its current projects of new construction in order to give full-time, around-the-clock support to the community. Staff, board members and volunteer teams cut trees, cleared brush, installed tarps on roof-damaged homes and “... helped the community rebuild hope that was lost.”
2. At the time of new-construction stoppage, six homes were being built. “... The families responded by not only agreeing to delay their dream of completing and owning their own homes, they also stepped up and volunteered on the work crews to go out and help other families in need.” A THDA news release quoted one Habitat Cleveland homeowner, “This community has blessed me by helping build my house and it’s only right that I give back in this way and help others in their time of need.”
3. In the midst of the crisis as emergency agencies began collecting, and distributing, needed supplies like food, clothing and shelter, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland began a long-term strategy with other groups that eventually led to the chartering of the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization. Carlson co-chaired the LTRO board of directors.
4. HFHOC served as one of three local organizations tasked with leading the rebuild projects that were processed through the LTRO.
According to a THDA statement that best defines why Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland earned the state award, “The staff, volunteers and all who support Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland saw a need in their community, identified their role in disaster recovery and collectively responded by stepping forward with leadership in working with all the organizations that could help. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regards the long-term recovery process that Bradley County completed as a best practice which is recommended to be modeled around the country.”
The THDA narrative added, “The results are impacting hundreds of families needing shelter and the many more needing hope. Habitat for Humanity was forced to step up when crisis hit and was able to increase capacity to build more homes, started a successful repair program to help answer the need, and created new and lasting partnerships with a number of community organizations.”
“We’re humbled by this award, but even more we’re thankful ... thankful for the new partnerships and working alliances that our Habitat for Humanity affiliate has been fortunate enough to develop with other organizations over the past 18 months since those tornadoes,” Carlson said. “What happened to our community on April 27, 2011, left a lot of hurt, excessive heartbreak and unimaginable tragedy to many, many families. But out of the rubble of disaster came a light, and that light gave dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals a direction on how to come together in a time of crisis.”
He added, “Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland is proud to have been a part of this recovery project. But it wasn’t just us. It was many.”
Alongside the Tennessee’s Best Excellence in Partnership award, THDA also recognizes Outstanding Advocate, Remarkable Achievement Urban/Rural and The Best in Innovation.
Other Habitat News:
1. Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland is preparing for the opening of its second Habitat ReStore location on Nov. 8 at 11 a.m. Following ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the new location on North Keith Street adjacent to Don Ledford Automotive Center will be open for business. An invitation-only VIP Sneak Peek is being held at the new ReStore from 5:30 to 7 tonight.
2. The local Habitat affiliate will share a $1.4 million grant from THDA toward the construction of 65 new homes statewide through the “Building Tennessee” initiative. The THDA funding has been given to Habitat for Humanity of Tennessee, an organization supporting 50 community Habitat affiliates, including Cleveland. These affiliates serve 63 counties in Tennessee.
“We are extremely grateful for THDA’s leadership in creating the Housing Trust Fund,” HFHOT’s [Colleen] Dudley said. “We are able to take these funds and match them with $5.3 million in donations from individuals, churches, foundations and businesses to complete these builds.”
Upon its completion, the “Building Tennessee” initiative will have provided affordable, new, quality-built and energy-efficient homes for 228 children and adults. Habitat families purchase their homes through no-interest mortgages, and also provide “sweat equity” hours to help build them as well as to help construct homes for other Habitat families.
In 2011, Habitat generated $55.7 million in economic activity, the equivalent of 1,511 full-time jobs, according to a statewide economic impact study conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research in Knoxville.
Tennessee is now ranked the fourth largest builder of Habitat for Humanity homes in the U.S.
Of the THDA grant, Carlson pointed to its significant support to Habitat affiliates across Tennessee.
“This grant is a wonderful, healthy resource for all affiliates in our state,” he said. “It will build many homes. Over the next two years, our Cleveland affiliate will receive a portion of these THDA funds, as well as 49 other Habitat affiliates across Tennessee. Obviously, our affiliate is not getting the entire $1.4 million amount, but we’ll certainly use our portion where it is intended — toward the construction of new, affordable and quality housing in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.”
He added, “We consider ourselves very blessed to have earned the confidence, and the support, of agencies like THDA.”