Construction starts on new homes for wildfire survivors

Construction starts on new homes for wildfire survivors

United Methodists join in "Community Build Day" last April in Sevierville, Tenn.


ALCOA, Tenn. (July 7, 2017) – Construction has begun on four new homes for survivors of last year’s wildfires. The foundation for a fifth house will go into the ground next week, an organizer for the Sevier County Rebuild Project said today.

The five new homes are the first of at least 25 that Appalachia Service Project (ASP) will build in partnership with Holston Conference, more than two months after the official groundbreaking.

Claire Kopetsky, ASP case manager, said that volunteers with debris-moving experience and equipment are needed to help prepare future sites where homes can be built.

“We have several sites that we want to start building on, but there is still debris, ash, old foundations … in the way,” Kopetsky said. “The other issue is a lot of those sites are steep, which makes it more difficult.”

To date, Holston Conference has donated a total $262,500 to help ASP build the homes, said Mollianne Hubbs, Holston wildfire response coordinator. The total includes a starting gift of $125,000 and sponsorship of the walls for the first 25.

“This money came from your churches, individual donors, matched gifts from the conference and many others,” Hubbs said in an email to Holston district offices. “Thank you for all you’ve done.”

When the partnership was announced in March 2017, Holston Conference had received more than $400,000 in wildfire-relief donations from all over the nation.



Several United Methodist groups have been involved in building house frames to get the large building project started.

On April 29, Holston Conference hosted 125 volunteers for “Community Build Day” at The Connexion in Sevierville, Tenn.

On June 10, about 90 members of Fairview United Methodist continued the frame-building project in the church parking lot in Maryville, Tenn.

On June 18-23, several United Methodists joined in a wall-building effort during Holston’s annual Youth in Mission Week, held at Smoky Mountain Outreach in Maryville, Tenn. Five youth from two churches participated, representing Mt. Olivet (Galax, Va.) and Wesley Memorial (Johnson City, Tenn.), according to Laura McLean, Holston associate director of connectional ministries.

An additional 60 adults representing other churches also helped build frames during the June 18-23 gathering in Maryville, McLean said. The churches included Pleasant Hill (Knoxville), Cedar Lane (Knoxville), St. Mark (Knoxville), St. Paul (Wytheville), First Cleveland, First Johnson City, First Sweetwater, and Clapp’s Chapel (Corryton, Tenn.).

"Everyone was excited to play a part in helping folks get new homes," McLean said..

Kopetsky said that Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic groups had been involved in building the four houses now in progress.Two or three of the houses are using walls assembled by Holston groups, Hubbs said.



Ten more families are lined up to receive homes in the future, Kopetsky said. The process has been delayed by several challenges, including debris removal, steep sites, and obtaining permits.

“We’re definitely building 25 homes, it’s just a matter of planning and getting the foundations in place,” she said. “We’re working with a few former renters who have saved their insurance and FEMA money, but they don’t have the income to buy land. So we’re looking for land.”

Volunteers are invited to sign up by calling ASP at (423) 268-0240; visit Volunteer East Tennessee; or email

Financial gifts may be made directly to ASP, 4523 Bristol Highway, Johnson City, TN 37601 (attention: Sevier County Rebuild Project). You may also send checks to Holston Conference, P.O. Box 850, Alcoa, TN 37701 (attention: Wildfire Relief).


See list of Holston's wildfire relief coverage

$3.5 million awaits as Mountain Tough gears up to help fire victims (KNS, 6/11/17)



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.