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Friday, March 24, 2023 — Houston, TX

Effort to build Centennial House succeeds

By Hallie Jordan     5/22/12 7:00pm

This summer, Artissue Flowers and her two children, ages three and five, will move into their new 1,300 square foot, three bedroom house in the Fifth Ward. Her new place of residence, though, is anything but ordinary.

Since the beginning of this semester, the Rice Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter has been working to fundraise the $65,000 needed to build the Habitat House and complete it in celebration of the Rice's Centennial. Normally when Rice Habitat works on a house, they volunteer manpower at different building sites around the city each week and do not fundraise. However, Director of the Centennial House Tawfik Jarjour (McMurtry '12) wanted to show the city Rice's dedication to volunteer work and connection to Houston. With this idea in mind, Jarjour decided to help his organization take on the challenge of building one house from start to finish - including fundraising for it. After a semester's worth of work and nine different building days, move-in day for the family is scheduled for the beginning of July.

Flowers, who is 23 and works at Home Depot, will have to contribute 300 hours of "sweat labor," or building time, on other houses as partial payment for the house.

"I did this project because I wanted to leave a lasting impact in both the Rice community and the Houston community before I graduated," Jarjour said.

Not only did the group fundraise $85,000, $20,000 above the required amount, two Rice graduate architecture students also designed an original house for the project.

"I think the coolest thing is that it was designed by two Rice architects, so that it's environmentally friendly and Habitat has completely embraced that," Incoming Habitat for Humanity President Maripu Nunez said. "It is going to be really good for the homeowner and breaking her cycle of poverty."

The two Rice architects, Yoni Pressman and Courtney Benzon, designed the house with solar panels so that utility bills will be as low as possible. Normally the Houston Chapter of Habitat for Humanity builds around 50 houses around the city per year and uses two or three different designs, Houston Habitat for Humanity Publicity Head Bronwyn Walker said.

"They really changed up the model for Rice and we thought it would be a wonderful experience for the both us," Walker said. "Houston Habitat is really proud of the efforts the Rice students put into this project and they have done a really good job of letting the students do everything and they have been amazing."

On April 21st, the Rice chapter organized what they called "Centennial Day," with Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Rice President David Leebron and University Representative Ping Sun making a visit to the site.

"The mayor and President Leebron's visit was really exciting because it was a chance for us to show the greater Houston community that Rice University cares about the community and wants to make a difference," Jarjour said. "For me it was a lot of fun getting to see the mayor use a nail gun and getting to talk to her."

According to Rice Habitat, 300 Rice students also volunteered on building the house over a few weekends set up for that purpose.

While the Centennial House project was on an unprecedented scale for Rice Habitat, Nunez, a Sid Richardson College junior, hopes that in the future the organization can build a house every other year. That way they can fundraise for one year and use the funds to build the second year. If a house is expected, she feels fundraising will be more straightforward.

Though the project has succeeded, Jarjour said that only a few months ago, the house was in danger of never being built.

"By the last week of January, we had only raised about $25,000 and we were looking at a fundraising deadline of Feb. 12, so we had less than two weeks to raise the minimum of $40,000 to make the project happen."

Calling from a list of donors who had not yet refused, Jarjour found a savior in Key Energy Services, which donated $10,000 two days before the deadline.

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