Cindy Griffin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, has been a Jackson resident for more than 27 years. She came to the city looking for work after earning a marketing degree from Louisiana State University.
"I've been here so long I can't remember not being here," says the 53-year-old Griffin, who began volunteering at Habitat through her church in 1991. Griffin apparently took to hammering, because she traded in her volunteer efforts for a full time job with the organization.
It's the 20th anniversary of Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi, and the organization has built 354 homes in the Jackson metro area during that time, with another 16 homes in Rankin County. The people of Habitat can bang together a fully functioning house that meets all permit requirements and modern energy-efficiency constraints at a dizzying pace. They often need only a few weeks to build a structure that lasts a lifetime.
After Hurricane Katrina sent thousands of people fleeing from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Habitat went into overdrive.
"We're working on our 22nd home for an evacuee this year," Griffin says. "Before the storm, we were building at about a 28-house-per-year rate. This year, we built 30 houses in the first six months. We've built more than we ever have. We'll build 41 houses in Jackson this year. We have done (week-long) blitzes in the past, but the most we've done at a time is four. This was the first time we did a 10-house blitz and then another eight-house blitz on the heels of it."
Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network is helping Habitat meet the crazy build rate with landscaping and furniture for Habitat homes built for Katrina victims.
Habitat also waived the sweat-equity clause in the Habitat contract for evacuees. Normally, a recipient of a Habitat home has to dedicate some hard hammer time to another Habitat project, but Habitat was in a hurry to help Katrina victims lay down roots.
The result: rows of neat, cozy homes lining sections of Elm and Hunt Streets. The homes bring new vigor and a fresh sense of community among residents.
Griffin says she has no intention of slowing down now, even as her organization sprouts houses like mushrooms.
"We want to multiply our efforts. Even though we're dedicated to helping Katrina victims, we don't want to stop working for the families who are suffering the affects of substandard housing," Griffin says.
Jackson residents are welcome to help Griffin meet the organization's goals. Grab the heavy tool of your choice, and call 601-353-6060 to get started.