July 22, 2011
By John Painter
UT Media Relations
Dry eyes were hard to come by Friday afternoon when the Tennessee football team presented the keys to a new Habitat for Humanity home to Debra Tate.
The entire Vols football squad was on hand at Geyland Heights Road in South Knoxville, squeezing into the living room and kitchen for a ceremony that was four tough weekends in the making. Each and every one of the 2011 team members had played a part in the home's construction over a course of four consecutive recent Saturdays.
"The Habitat people came to me last fall about the possibility of doing this project," said Andre Lott, UT's Vol for Life Coordinator. "Once we got everything organized, it was a no-brainer for us."
The squad took turns during construction, with a team of freshmen working the first week, followed by sophomores, juniors and then seniors, building from the ground up and then finishing the inside with fixtures and trimming.
"We were here from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. all four days - a lot of man hours in the hot sun," Lott said. "There were retired construction workers helping us make sure we were putting everything together in the right way, so it definitely was teamwork by everybody.
"It looks amazing."
The Best One
Tate, who previously had helped build homes for other Knoxville individuals, couldn't wipe the smile from her face or the stream of tears from her cheeks.
"Of all the home dedications I've been to, this is the best one," she said. "This is the most exciting moment for me right now. These are tears of joy you see."
Tate made herself part of the work squad each Saturday during the building process, so she quickly developed a bond with her co-workers.
"One of the guys asked me when we were building it if this was my house, and I said yes. He said, `Do you want to adopt a kid?' I laughed and told him no, because from the size of him I didn't think I could feed him!
"He said he was still going to come by to see me because he knew where I lived."
Senior Anthony Anderson, a Knoxville native, said he turned a new experience into something good for his hometown community.
"I've never done this and it was one of the best opportunities in my life, especially working alongside Ms. Debra. She said she is truly blessed to have this house, and that made it all worthwhile."
And senior Austin Johnson credited Lott for his leadership in the project.
"Andre really worked hard to get this organized on our end, and the guys pulled through to get it done from the ground up. It was a hard-working project and a great experience."
Inroad to Community Service
Covenant Partners for the project were the Haslam Family Foundation of Jim and Natalie Haslam, and the Haslam 3 Foundation of Jimmy and Dee Haslam. Knoxville Habitat for Humanity development director Archie Ellis was the one who approached the Haslams with the idea.
"I have known them for a long time and they have been so generous, that I decided to approach them about a competition between the football and basketball teams," Ellis said. "It would be good PR for us, good PR for the teams and give these kids an inroad to community service.
"So I sat down with Jim and he got really excited about it, and we went from there."
Knoxville's Habitat organization has built more than 425 homes, nearly all going to families that probably would never have had a home otherwise.
Tate says she certainly fit that description, and Friday's ceremony amid all her new "grandsons" is something she will remember for the rest of her life.
"It's a special moment. Those guys - I really appreciate all they did. It won't be forgotten."