Saturday, December 02, 2006

Focus On: Walls of Hope

Gene and Gene Butterfield

Month by month, day by day, Gene Butterfield looks for new ways to build more house for less money. And as the Walls of Hope go up, Gene hopes so does a room to house the Lord inside each heart.

Walls of Hope is a work in progress. As each of the two dozen homes they've built in Pearlington were constructed, Gene found ways to get a bigger bang for the homeowner's buck. He claims that Walls of Hope can now build a fully-enclosed and dried in exterior, complete with vinyl siding and shingled roof, roughed in electrical and kitchen cabinets for just over $25. per sq. ft. This he compares to the local rate for the same thing of about $140. per sq. ft.

A registered non-profit corporation, Walls of Hope is the brain-child of the entire Butterfield family, including Gene Sr. and brother Paul. One of their Directors is young Kristian Dambrino, the author of the Pearlington song, who will be in town on December 28th. Brother Paul, a contractor in Iowa, can build modular sections of the five available models back in his factory in Iowa and ship them to Pearlington, cheaper than it is to buy the materials alone locally. And with post-Katrina pricing on the coast, this has made the real difference. The pre-fabrication of the walls in Iowa also cuts down on the skills required by volunteer builders and is a safer and more consistent process all around.

Gene originally came to Pearlington from his own contracting business in Virginia, to rebuild the First Southern Baptist Church. Working with David and Patty Baldwin, who graciously took over the task of volunteer coordination and housing, Gene was able to concentrate on the church, which is now virtually finished. On Thursday, as I was trying to locate him for our interview, I went to the First Southern looking for him. There, a small crew was preparing to mount the new steeple. Strangely enough, I asked one of the men if they had seen him. There was a bit of confusion, as the man I asked turned out to be named Gene BUTTONfield!

Soon, Walls of Hope will have their own trained Case Manager and Gene confirmed for me Thursday that they are now prepared to sponsor the homeowner for a Salvation Army grant to finish the interior of the homes. They have create a unique reciprocal agreement with Home Depot to provide the elements and ship them to the site in Pearlington. They have been treated well by the County, who has pre-assessed the five models of homes and only charges minimally to assess the land. They are also in negotiations with several local and national banks concerning the facilitation of mortgages.

In the end, Gene estimates that, using volunteer labor and with the system they have in place, the entire house can be done for around $50. per sq. ft.

The Butterfields recognize that Walls of Hope is not for every resident in Pearlington. As they struggle to survive and as they streamline their methods and search for creative ways to get things done, they have no desire whatsoever to see housing shells lining the streets of Pearlington. They will work with interested homeowners to secure grants and funding to finish the interiors and their sincere desire is to see people back in the homes that Hope built.

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