Shortly after the Anderson County Habitat for Humanity was formed in 1992, First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge sent a team to assist in the construction of affordable houses for low-income families. Calling themselves the Doctors of Drywall, the team members worked on weekends on houses for several years. Most were men with doctorates, including Tim Myrick, who died a few years ago.
“Tim was a huge supporter of and volunteer for Habitat,” said Charlotte Bowers Cunningham, executive director and construction manager of the recently formed Clinch River Habitat for Humanity, which serves both Anderson and Roane counties. She spoke recently to a Sunday school class at First Presbyterian. Myrick also served for multiple years as president of Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties, which has offices at First Presbyterian.
Cunningham said the local organization needs teams of volunteers from churches and companies who specialize in certain house construction tasks such as framing, flooring and installing cabinets.
Cunningham made a case for the importance of Habitat for Humanity for low-income people because of record high apartment rents and house prices and record low inventories of housing in East Tennessee, as well as the inflated prices of food and fuel. Families that qualify to apply for a Habitat house must earn less than 80% of the area median income, or under $50,000 for a family with five children.
“One of our goals is to get people off government assistance,” she said, “By bringing people’s house prices down, we enable them to have more money for food, gas and medication. We don’t want to pay for labor so we are dependent on volunteers to build affordable homes.”
An Oak Ridger and Roane County commissioner, Cunningham was asked to become executive director of the Roane County Habitat for Humanity while serving in the same position for the Anderson County Habitat. Early in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown, she and her husband handled the paperwork, solved debt and non-compliance problems and combined both outfits to form on July 1, 2020, the Clinch River Habitat for Humanity.
Currently, it is building a house in Harriman with assistance from carpentry students at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Harriman and volunteers from First Baptist Church of Kingston who specialize in framing.
Cunningham said that the old business model for funding Habitat houses has shifted from constant “begging” for money from large sources to securing extremely-low-interest loans from banks for Habitat house owners. (Some large sources are now giving their funds for charitable donations to the East Tennessee Foundation.)
“With our new approach we can build more houses and serve more families,” she said. “Fundraising is only part of my job now.”
The headquarters and one of this nonprofit organization’s two stores (called ReStores) are located on 111 Randolph Rd. in Oak Ridge. The other store and office are in Kingston.
To learn more about the Clinch River Habitat for Humanity, visit its website (https://clinchriverhfh.org/).
Charlotte Bowers Cunningham is executive director and construction manager of the Clinch River Habitat for Humanity, which has an office and store (called ReStore) at 111 Randolph Rd.
Local Habitat for Humanity house with the family that will own and occupy it and the volunteers who helped build it.