Johnson City Press: It's a full house on MLK Day of Service

It's a full house on MLK Day of Service

Hannah Swayze • Updated Jan 21, 2019 at 9:50 PM

Ever wonder what a community build day looks like on a Habitat for Humanity project?

As part of Milligan College’s honoring of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of servant-leadership, two groups of Milligan College students gave their time at a Holston Habitat for Humanity build day on Monday. For a full workday, students were in and out of a site in Johnson City laying floors, installing cabinet and building on to the home. 

Holston Habitat for Humanity is the local branch of the national Habitat for Humanity organization. Members of the local community who are struggling financially can apply to receive a Habitat home. The future homeowners that get approved then go through homeownership classes where they learn to budget and how to take care of a home.

Recipients also pay in, “sweat equity” by putting in 300 hours of volunteer work on their homes and other homes Habitat builds that year in addition to the interest-free mortgage. 

Every weekend, volunteers sign up for shifts and take part in construction. 

9 a.m.

It’s 17 degrees outside the Johnson City house, which is surrounded by cars, construction materials and two big white trailers. Thankfully, heat has just been added to the home so it’s a comfortable 68 degrees as Trish Patterson, executive director of Holston Habitat for Humanity, welcomes the first group of Milligan students. 

This is week 13 on the building project. The task for the day is putting down flooring and installing cabinets in the kitchen. 

Art Weeks, the site supervisor, tells the students a little bit about the house. He talks about the energy-efficient house, designed to save money for the homeowners once they move in. He also starts to go over rules, like how he’s not allowed on the roof because his wife doesn’t like it.

Quickly, he divides the volunteers up with other experienced volunteers and sends them to their respective rooms in the three-bedroom, one-floor home. 


Matthew Silva and John Hockema place the last section of flooring in the main bathroom. The project has gone relatively smooth, aside from the challenge of cutting a circle out of the material to fit around a pipe.

Silva and Hockema are both Goah Diversity Scholars, a program named after an alumna of Milligan who had a heart for service. 

Silva volunteered with Habitat for Humanity last year, but during the earlier part of a build where the group built the walls at Habitat for Humanity ReStore. 

“It’s a great way to give back,” Silva said. 


Mandy Penz, volunteer manager for Habitat, arrives with a donated lunch from Pal’s and the second group trickles in. On second shift are 20 willing bodies from the Milligan baseball team, their coach, his son and a few others. 

The first set of volunteers eat lunch and socialize for a bit before letting the next group take over.

Tammy and Steve Hodges stop by for lunch and to check out the house. Their daughter, Jessica, along with their two grandchildren are the future recipients of the home. 

The two admire the house and the color of the wall and lighting fixtures that were hand-picked.

“You really are making it your own here,” says Hodges, “You’re really making all the decisions like if you did it on your own.”

She says Jessica works in healthcare and is going to school part-time. Hodges says the home will be a blessing since the cost of the mortgage is a lot less than her current rent.

Hodges pulls up pictures of her two grandchildren form Christmas. She says they are excited. When work on the house started they would beg to drive by to see what it looked like. 

Hodges also says the house will be good for the children as they start school. The home will give them a sense of stability, she says. 

“It helps build that confidence to know that nothing’s changing,” said Hodges. 

Soon, everyone is finished eating. Tasks are assigned once again and the site is bustling.

2:15 p.m.

Since Milligan College encouraged all students and faculty at the school to participate in service projects on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the whole baseball team had made it out one way or another to volunteer. The other 30 team members spent Saturday morning at The Melting Pot serving warm meals at a church downtown. 

The rest chose the Habitat build. 

“We’re a Christian school and Jesus was a carpenter,” said the baseball coach, David Grewe.

The sun has come out, so a group decides to go ahead and get started on the shed in the back yard. The ground is leveled, the foundation is down and all four walls are up within two hours. 

3:30 p.m. 

As the day comes to a close, the last pieces of the bare floor are covered, cabinets are screwed in tight and there is a brand new shed standing in the back yard. What looked like a construction site earlier now looks more like a home.

Weekes starts to hand out sharpies and the volunteers end the shift like all the others, signing well-wishes, prayers and kind words into the two-by-fours before they’re covered up with trim. Weekes has one final rule. 

“Everyone signs the walls,” said Weekes. 

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