Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa has launched a multi-faceted plan that will help countless people in West Alabama by combining aspects of workforce development to its existing mission of providing affordable housing to those in need.

Ellen Potts, the executive director of Habitat Tuscaloosa, told the Thread that the aptly named "Operation Transformation" is the combination of three major initiatives: a large-scale property acquisition and two new partnerships -- one with the Tuscaloosa Career & Technology Academy and another with Birmingham's Dannon Project.

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INVESTMENT IN THE WEST END

The first pillar of Operation Transformation is a massive real estate deal that closed in early July. Potts said Habitat has purchased 40 lots of land in West Tuscaloosa, including 26 properties that are together and 14 more close by.

The parcels will be the future sites of Habitat homes that are sold to families in need for a fair market value with 0 percent interest.

"We bought these 40 lots from Barr Realty, and those have been under contract since last summer," Potts said. "We bought five of the 40 lots in January with the understanding we would buy the other 35 later and we've finally been able to do that so we could continue to build and wouldn't run out of property."

Habitat finalized the purchase of the remaining lots on July 1st, Potts said, and work is already underway on the properties they acquired in January, including the 18th "National Championship House" funded by Nick and Terry Saban's Nick's Kid's Foundation.

REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE FOR TUSCALOOSA HIGH SCHOOLERS

The second pillar of the new initiative is a promising partnership with the Tuscaloosa Career & Technology Academy, a school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard that provides college and career readiness training to high schoolers in the area.

Potts said through Operation Transformation, students at TCTA will get hands-on experience in the field. Under the supervision of their instructors, young people will frame the new houses, wire them electrically and install plumbing in the homes.

The framing and electrical work on the 18th National Championship House was done by TCTA students, Potts said, and work on plumbing will begin there in the fall.

"That's just so serendipitous because you think about how much the Sabans have done to help young people especially and for their 18th house to be the first house where these TCTA students are really getting some serious training -- that's just phenomenal," Potts said. "That's just the icing on the cake for us."

As the partnership continues, hundreds of students will benefit from the experience they gain working on these Habitat houses, which in turn will enrich the lives of the families who live there.

WORK FOR NONVIOLENT OFFENDERS THROUGH THE DANNON PROJECT

Lastly, Operation Transformation will see Habitat Tuscaloosa join forces with the Dannon Project, a nonprofit out of Birmingham that has spent more than 20 years helping non-violent offenders coming out of the criminal justice system get the skills, experience and income they need to successfully re-enter society.

"For those people who have both an interest and an aptitude in construction, those people will come work with Habitat," Potts said. "What we're going to do is a 12-week curriculum and they will learn to do all the things we normally do with volunteers. They will frame, install windows, do roofing and put in flooring and cabinets, paint and more."

Program participants will also partner with Skilled Trades of West Alabama and attend classes to get specialized certifications that will propel them forward and help them quickly find a place in the workforce to make a living.

"They will be ready to go for work for a home builder or a commercial contractor, even a plant that needs forklift or scissor lift operators," Potts said. "They will be ready, if they want to, to go straight into an apprenticeship program."

Potts said in its 22-year history in the Southeast, the Dannon Project has seen recidivism rates among its participants drop from an average of around 67 percent to about 5 percent.

"Think about the lives that will change," Potts said. "These people will have a way to earn a really good living and have a new start in life."

TRANSFORMING TUSCALOOSA

Potts said those three ingredients  -- new land to build on and new opportunities for young people and nonviolent offenders -- will combine to transform Tuscaloosa.

"This just exponentially increases the number of people we can serve in ways that are desperately needed in our community," Potts said. "If we can help train people in skills that are needed in the job market while also giving them an alternative to a life of crime and building 40 new homes, that's just a big win for everyone."

What may be most surprising about Operation Transformation is how much cooperation it required to pull off and Habitat's unique ability to bring all those parties together. Potts said in addition to pivotal participants like TCTA and the Dannon Project, the new initiative wouldn't be possible without the support of private donors, the city of Tuscaloosa, Skilled Trades of West Alabama and so many more.

That's just the power of Habitat for Humanity, Potts said. Everyone can agree that the work they do is good and worth supporting.

"That's one of the things I love about Habitat," she concluded. "You can be the most conservative of Republicans, you can be the most liberal of Democrats, you can be any religion or no religion, you can be of any background and we can all come together on a Habitat job site and work together to accomplish a goal we can all get behind."

Stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates on Operation Transformation as they become available.

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