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A House Becomes a Home
Project Phoenix House ready to accept families
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Saturday, January 19, 2013 4:00 AM
Most of the work is now complete at the Project Phoenix House. There will be an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Project Phoenix volunteer Gary Partridge paints a door to a bedroom. Volunteers were hard at work this week, preparing for the open house on Sunday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Tim Harmon stood in the kitchen of the Phoenix House this week overseeing the "final punch list" tasks for the red-brick, two-story structure he hopes soon will be called home for families in need.
Standing in the same spot a few years ago, Harmon said he could see potential in the then rundown home, which sits on the edge of the Madison State Hospital grounds.
"It's just incredible to see it finally pulling together," he said. "The whole thing has turned out beautifully, even more so than what we had envisioned when we tore into it."
"The first day we walked into this kitchen, I thought, 'I know we can bring this back,' but actually seeing it at this point is really nice."
Project Phoenix Inc., which was started in 2008 by Harmon and his wife, Holly, plans to use the house as a place for those who have lost their home to a fire or other disaster. Displaced homeowners can stay up to six months in the fully furnished home while rebuilding their lives. During that time, all utilities will be paid by Project Phoenix.
There will be a public open house on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.
"The idea being to help as many families in the course of a year as possible," Harmon said, putting an emphasis on families or those with children.
The project started when the Harmons received $100 from pastor Bob Hicks of North Madison Christian Church to be used in a prayerful way to help and bless others.
That 100-dollar bill has since stretched into tens of thousands of dollars in private and corporate donations, and helped create a nonprofit organization with an active board.
A team of volunteers started the lengthy project of gutting and restoring the home in February 2011, and Harmon said the total makeover cost only $30,000. He said a core group of seven volunteers has consistently worked on the house, which was donated by the city of Madison in 2009 and built in 1939 by the state.
Before the renovations, the three-bedroom home was in rough shape. There were gaping holes in several portions of the roof and the front porch was on the brink of collapse.
Now the home features restored hardwood floors, a renovated roof, insulation, new appliances and fresh paint job that volunteer Cecil Rowlett said pops out "like a new dollar bill."
Rowlett, who is retired, has been one of the several men and women to put their skills to good use for the Phoenix House over the past two years. Rowlett said he has volunteered at the house every Saturday and sometimes throughout the week.
He stood on a ladder as he talked about the home's transformation while installing a smoke detector.
"I told them to take a lot of pictures of what we had and what we have, so everyone can see what the good Lord can do," he said.
Another volunteer, Larry Mannix joined the cast of workers in late summer and lent a hand with much of the painting and work restoring the hardwood floors. On Friday, Mannix worked in the two-car garage putting together the final touch-ups for the house.
During the project, Mannix managed to find time to volunteer in between working full-time at Lowe's Home Improvement and his duties at home.
"With all volunteers, it's a challenge. But God bless every one of them; they all put a lot of hours in," he said.
Harmon said Project Phoenix will be accepting applications and hopefully begin inviting guests soon after the open house. The plan is to use the first year to measure the need in the community.
"It's kind of a unique situation," he said. "We can't find anything similar to this house anywhere in the country. So, we're kind of in uncharted territory trying to figure out how many people will actually want to use it."
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