Samantha Stearns, 19, a freshman integrated marketing communications major at the University of Mississippi, said she volunteered in high school for Habitat for Humanity and once at UM.
“With a busy college schedule, it’s hard to get in as much volunteer time as I would like to,” she said. “I helped out building houses a lot in high school since I had more time on the weekends, and I do miss it.
“Something about doing manual labor just really puts into affect the volunteer work you’re accomplishing. Everyone working on the site comes together as a mini community. It’s an awesome experience.”
The cost of living and affordable housing is an ongoing issue in Oxford-Lafayette County. Darryail Whittington, president of Oxford’s Habitat for Humanity organization, said Oxford volunteers can help solve that problem.
Whittington has been with Habitat for Humanity since he moved from Jackson County, Mississippi, to Oxford in 1975. “I’ve been everything from on the board to a gofer at the site, and now I am president.”
He’s now retired from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, but he has been a longtime HFH volunteer.
Growing up, Whittington’s father and brothers built his home. He was in charge of running the wheelbarrow, transferring concrete into the foundation.
“That was the first thing I ever helped build,” he said. “I then tore down the house we were living in before, stick by stick. I came from a giving community. When we were pouring concrete, we had 25 people show up. No one called. They just showed up to help. That’s the community I grew up in.”
Whittington said HFH is an international organization founded in Plains, Georgia, by a man named Millard Fuller.
“It got its prominence when Jimmy Carter was president, because he was also from Plains, Georgia,” Whittington said. “He and his wife worked at Habitat sites while he was president and after, so they (HFH) got a lot of national recognition then.”
HFH raises their own funds, and they recruit local volunteers. “We have had volunteers from as far as from Virginia to California that have come through for a weekend or week and volunteered for us,” Whittington said.
Volunteer work is done on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until “exhaustion,” which is usually around 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
Whittington said they find homeowners by letting the community know they exist. “Homeowners have to come to us, and they have to qualify,” he said. “Qualifications are that below eight percent of the median income for Lafayette County, which is around $50,000 dollars. It’s an application process. They have to have a job, an income, paid bills. Those are the basic parts of it.”
Whittington said almost all homeowners are below the income line, which means they cannot afford any home in Lafayette County. “That’s the reason we’re here,” he said. “Because they cannot afford housing in Oxford and Lafayette County.”
As of now, Habitat for Humanity in Oxford-Lafayette County, is working on finishing their 15th home, which should be done in about two weeks.
“It is three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, kitchen, and laundry room,” he said. “The current family moving into it has two sick family members, so most of their income is going towards medical bills.”
Whittington wants to spread the word about Habitat for Humanity Oxford-Lafayette to locals. They accept volunteers ages 15 and up. Ages 15 through 18 need parent approval.
“For ages 18 and up, all you have to do is be able to hold a hammer in your hand, just about,” he said. “We can find work for anyone that wants to help.”
Visit the HFH website to become a volunteer. Donations are always accepted. Whittington said whether it’s in the form of money, furniture, or construction supplies, anything helps.
Volunteers and funding are Habitat’s main priorities in building homes. Whittington’s goals for the future of HFH Oxford are to “get organized.”
“I would like to have a weekly press release,” he said. “Most of our volunteers, in numbers, come from the university. If we could get the word out more on campus, that would help immensely … Everyone has a skill on site. You just need to find it when you show up.”
Whittington and the HFH community are hoping for more affordable housing in Oxford-Lafayette County. He said everything from small donations to volunteering, even for one day, helps.
Stearns also strongly encourages others to donate a few hours, at least one Saturday, to help build a HFH home.
“Sometimes the homeowners are at the site volunteering,” she said, “which makes the whole thing even more worthwhile.”
HFH meetings are held every second Tuesday of the month at Oxford University Methodist Church at 6 p.m.