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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Riverview Resident Is Ready For Her New Youth Build Home

"I had never heard of a Youth Build home."

That was Deborah Davis' first reaction when she heard about the new homes to be built in Riverview, alongside the new HOPE VI homes planned for the neighborhood.

"Then, I looked at the name," she says. "I immediately decided that I did not want Youth Build, that's just training, just a home some young person trained on and practiced on. But the more I got to watching them passing by every day, I saw what they were doing, and thought 'hey, those guys are good. These homes look good and they're sturdy."

First Riverview Youth Build Homes

Youth Build is a program targeting at-risk young people ages 18 to 25, that gives them the chance to get on-the-job training in home construction, and also get a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Although the Youth Build program has raised two homes so far in Riverview, with two more to go, it is not part of the HOPE VI home construction planned for the site of the historic Riverview Apartments.

"Back in November, we graduated 23 students who'd been with us for several months," says Lisa King, project manager with Youth Build-Kingsport. "The best part of the program is, all of them completed their G.E.D. requirements, and 16 of them graduated with diplomas. That is a wonderful success record, because typically, Youth Build in general, sees less than 50 per cent G.E.D success rate."

For Deborah Davis, owning a home is a dream come true. She and her family lived in the Riverview Apartments for many years. Later, she moved to Abingdon, Virginia where she owned a house, but it was in her husband's name.

"I prayed about it, and when I left Abingdon, the Lord promised me a house," she remembers. "And this one is just perfect. My church (Central Baptist) is two blocks away, my people close by.. I didn't much like the word 'village' that they had planned for Riverview. It sounded like the city wanted to put us all in a certain area, like what put us all in Riverview many years ago."

But once she learned that the city's 'village' concept involves transforming the neighborhood back into a place with a homely feel, with community and convenience businesses nearby, Deborah feels differently now. "I understand that we will still have the right to move in or out, live whereever we want to, that makes a big difference. I understand what it means now."

"At first, I asked about qualifying and moving into one of the HOPE VI homes," says Ms. Davis, "and my counselor saw that all the bedrooms in the HOPE VI homes were upstairs homes. She knew I had a problem going up and down stairs. But then, she called me up and said 'I've got just what you're looking for.' And when I went by and saw what the young people were doing, I thought 'well, those guys are GOOD! I started watching 'em every day, and now I'm talking everybody into a Youth Build home. These homes look good, and they're sturdy."

"This is home ownership right here," she says. "I'm buying this, because I'm tired of renting. It feels great to be moving towards home ownership after all these years. It's going to be mine and I keep saying 'I'm hoping to live the length of the 30-year mortgage to own it outright. I've got a daughter that's younger and if I don't make it, it will be hers and if it doesn't, then I've got a granddaughter and it'll be hers."

It's this kind of success the Youth Build program has enjoyed in just about every city it's been in. "We're just thrilled with the success we've had in Kingsport," says Mrs. King. "We're encouraged with how the community has embraced us and the work we're doing to change lives. The fact that we can educate an at-risk segment of the commuunity, and get a qualified person a new home out of it, is the biggest reason for our success."

Towards that end, Youth Build now has a new set of students, ready to begin construction on a new set of three homes in the Riverview Community. One is at the corner of Dunbar Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive--the footings are already excavated there. The location is right at the dead end of MLK--the site of a proposed extention through the General Shale brickyard into downtown. More on that story later.

The next project will be at the former home of Anna and Dewey Long at 224 Dunbar Street. Little does the future owner of this home know, but Dewey Long's legacy as a squirrel and raccoon hunter was legendary at this site. His hound dogs were a fixture out back, as he hunted on a regular basis with friends O.M. Gillenwater, "Uncle Buck" Leeper and others. "If these dogs can smell 'em, I can hunt 'em," Dewey Long used to say.

The third location is on Louis Street where a red cinderblock home already stands, nearest to the renovations planned for the V.O. Dobbins Center. "One of our classes will be to demolish the house on that lot," says Mrs. King, "so that we can give them
experience in tearing down am existing structure, hauling away the debris, then clearing off the lot. The new home will be started, once the lot is cleared off. We're still on the same time frame for building both homes.. about a year-and-a-half."

"We teach these students how to contribute TO society, instead of drawing ON society."

Meanwhile, one Youth Build homeowner is all too ready to get moved in.

"I'm already saving up for things," says Deborah, "already cutting corners.. I'm already practicing throwing away stuff," she laughs. "I know Youth Build has kicked off the transformation of the community, and I'm proud just like Helen (Bunting--HOPE VI's first homeowner) to be one of the first people in."

"I see this beautiful home as helping change the neighborhood around," she says. She paused for a minute, thinking, then she started giggling. "I can just 'em talking now..' I can't believe she owns that.. I can't believe Deborah lives there.. she got that house. "All I can say is.. they'd better get me a good house-warming gift," she laughed."

"It's a scary thing, home ownership," she says. "I hope the young people don't wait as long as I did to get into it. Get out of the apartments.. you get tired of renting. Rent goes to somebody else, it's paying for somebody else's mortgage and I'm tired of that. The landlord gets all the benefits and tax breaks that homeownership brings.. if I'm paying rent, why can't I pay a mortgage? The same thing I pay in rent, I can pay in a mortgage and I can do to my house what I like."

"In 30 years, I'm going to have the biggest mortgage-burning party you've ever seen," she laughs.

"And Calvin.. you're invited to bring that crazy camera of yours and record the moment."