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NCCU volunteers work on an Eagle-Habitat home.
NCCU Welcomes Fourth Family Into Habitat Home

The public is invited to a dedication Saturday for the fourth Habitat for Humanity home built by volunteers from North Carolina Central University.

The keys to the newest Eagle Habitat home will be given to Yopond Helms and her family during a noon celebration at the house at 814 Colfax St., Durham.

About 340 students have worked on the house since the Sept. 17 groundbreaking, giving at least one four-hour shift of labor. The total number of volunteer hours easily tops 1,360, said Dr. Deborah Bailey, director of the Office of Community Engagement at NCCU.

“This was a student-led project from beginning to end,” Bailey said. “This really showcases what President Obama describes as service that meets America’s needs.”

NCCU first partnered with Habitat for Humanity in 2006. After raising nearly $50,000 in donations toward building the first home at 1101 Simmons St., the university in 2008 received a three-year grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to complete the project.

The grant, which was designated specifically for historically black colleges and universities to use for activities benefiting the wider community, enabled NCCU to continue its partnership with Habitat. The school also used grant money to create other programs, including micro-entrepreneurship training for residents.

Dr. Rebecca Winders, associate professor in the Department of Public Administration, led a committee of faculty, staff and administrators who pulled together the application to HUD. For Winders, Saturday’s event will be bittersweet. The professor, who taught at NCCU for 14 years, is retiring next year.

"Dr. Winders has been absolutely pivotal to the Eagle-Habitat project. Her work, and the work of the committee, has helped transform a neighborhood,” Bailey said. “While we celebrate Dr. Winders’ retirement and the next chapter in her life, we will miss everything that she has done. She's leaving behind a legacy of care for the development of low-wealth communities in Durham."

After the success of the first house, the university and the nonprofit went on to build a second house at 615 Hickory St., a third house at 808 Colfax St., and the fourth a few doors down on Colfax. All the homes are within a four-block area, part of a multipronged effort by NCCU to restore prosperity to the surrounding neighborhood.

Helms, the newest homeowner, said she cannot wait to walk through the front door Saturday.

“I’m excited for my boys because I did this for my boys,” she said. “I’m a single parent who works really hard and I don’t have much money. I wanted them to know I love them.”

Helms lives with her sons, ages 9 and 10, in a two-bedroom apartment. The boisterous boys share a room, which means a lot of bickering. Helms said she’s eager for each boy to have his own room and more space.

“It’s just a blessing,” she said. “God has blessed me to be able to get involved with Habitat so I can provide a better place for my kids. I want to see them grow up and become young men.”

Administrators are hoping the fourth house will not be the last. The grant money is depleted, so future projects will rely on more donations.

“The challenge is to get more funds, and I am confident that can happen,” Winders said. “We have a dedicated faculty and staff committee, and an emerging student Habitat chapter. My biggest hope is that we have set things in motion to raise money and get more houses done.”

She said it helps to be partnered with a well-respected and deeply rooted organization such as Habitat for Humanity, which has a reputation for getting things done.

“They have been absolutely wonderful,” Winders said. “They make everything seem possible.”

For more information or to contribute to the NCCU-Habitat for Humanity project, contact Ruby Messick at or 919-530-5384.


-- By Angie Basiouny