The Union Recorder

April 25, 2013

Habitat works to revitalize Harrisburg area

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Georgia College student Ashley Anderson saw areas in the Harrisburg community in dire need of repairs and revitalization. Anderson encouraged three of her peers to join forces with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Habitat for Humanity in an effort to help improve the quality of life for area residents.

“It’s very refreshing to know that Ashley brought three of her colleagues with her and she would not take no for an answer,” said Murali Thirumal, local Habitat executive director. “As young as they are, they still see the need to help and they believe in the cause.”

With Thirumal’s help, the students paired up with four Harrisburg neighborhood residents, known as block captains, to kick off the organization’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI).

“The students and block captains went door-to-door [Tuesday] to get quality of life surveys done. We want to do the survey now to see how the quality of life is currently and then do the survey again a year later to see if their quality of life has improved. The survey asks questions like do they feel safe going to the grocery store. The net outcome of this is actual improvement of the neighborhood in different facets,” Thirumal said. “We picked out a block in the Harrisburg area, and the block captains are supposed to make calls to other residents to see if they would be interested in taking the survey. Most of the residents were not interested in taking the survey or having their homes fixed. If the community wants us there, then we can help.”

Through NRI, Habitat is able to serve more families by responding to community needs with an expanded array of products, services and partnerships. According to The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010, roughly 1 in 6 Americans is in need of a decent, affordable place to live. 

The local arm of the Habitat organization and community partners hope to fix home maintenance issues in the Harrisburg area.

“[Habitat International’s] focus has sort of shifted during the first of post-housing recession. Building a new house for an individual is wonderful, but collaborating with partners to meet housing needs in a blighted environment is important to sustain growth,” Thirumal said. “We are also doing another survey on the condition of homes, which is purely visual and in discussion with the homeowner.”

Sponsored by the First United Methodist Church, youth participating in the River of Life summer program will aid with revitalization projects in the Harrisburg community.

“River of Life is going to help us with the physical act of redoing some of these homes in July. While we identify homes that need help, somebody has to do the work. This partnership is significant for us,” Thirumal said. “If [homeowners] say they need help with a paint job, a falling gutter or other maintenance issues, we pass the information to River of Life and they will place an estimate on the cost of the repairs. [Habitat] partners back with the homeowner to work out how much they can afford based on their income, but the cost is significantly lower than the market price.”

Community partners are also in the midst of completing a community garden and providing computer access to neighborhood families at the Collins P. Lee Center before an edible walking trail, fruit orchard and pavilion are also added at the site. 

“We have a total of about 50 properties that are in our focus area currently. Some residents are anxious because they are not sure what’s going on, but they all want their neighborhood to be included. That number of 50 properties could go up if we have other students and volunteers tackle another area of the neighborhood,” Thirumal said. “Once the survey is done, we will have some statistics and know if the community is better and happier after our revitalization efforts.”

As of late March, of the more than 1,500 Habitat affiliates in the United States, 218 affiliates had signed onto NRI, although only 10 of those affiliates are in Georgia.

For more information about the local Habitat’s project or to volunteer call Thirumal at 478-453-9617.

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