girl, former CEO team up to raise thousands, build Habitat house

Izzy Black's parents were very skeptical that their 17-year-old daughter could raise the $60,000 needed to build a Habitat For Humanity House. Then a check for $5,000 came in. And another check. And another.

“We ended up with a stack like a phone book,” says John Black, Izzy's dad and a Charlotte equity money manager.

It didn't hurt that Izzy crafted a fundraising letter with her Habitat For Humanity buddy Hugh McColl. Izzy turned to McColl in January for help raising money. The McColls and Blacks are friends, and the retired chief of Bank Of America was happy to help, but also doubtful a kid could pull the funding together.

“The fact is, I didn't discourage her enough,” says McColl, laughing.

This week Izzy and McColl have been hammering nails together at the work site at 2307 Augusta St. in the northwest Charlotte neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. On Wednesday, McColl spent his 73rd birthday working for Izzy. (“My youngest boss in a long time.”)

About 25 volunteers have been out at the site this week. Izzy, a rising senior at Deerfield Academy in western Massachusetts, might be the founder of the project, and so at the top of the organizational chain. But her workers have to tell her what it looks like from the top of the house. “I'm too young to get on the roof,” she says. Habitat's insurance only covers roof workers 18 and older.

The Black family lives in a comfortable home near Providence and Wendover. Driving to Lincoln Heights to work on the house takes them to another world. Habitat officials say bringing privileged volunteers into struggling neighborhoods is part of the organization's mission.

Habitat for Humanity uses volunteerism and fundraising to build homes for needy families and improve blighted neighborhoods. Homeowners benefit from “sweat equity” and get help with financing.

Linda Kirk, who lives across the street from the project, has lived in Lincoln Heights for 32 years. She's glad Izzy and crew are building this house, and grateful for several other Habitat homes on the block.

“This place can be rough. We're getting new houses. We're getting new neighbors who care.”

Three of those new neighbors will be Ynghiep Ksor, his wife, Hhue Adrong, and their 6-month-old son, Benjamin. The Vietnamese family is eager to move into the new home, and has been helping out at the site. “We have always dreamed about having a house,” says Adrong through a translator. “I don't know how to describe all the work (Izzy) has done. I am so happy about it.”

Charlotte is seventh in the nation with 60 to 70 Habitat houses built per year. Izzy's house and two others being built this summer will make 24 in Lincoln Heights. This is McColl's 110th Habitat house. It's Izzy's first. He has helped finance projects that changed this city forever. This is Izzy's first development, but maybe not the last. She hopes to attend UNC Chapel Hill, and perhaps to study business or architecture.

“I would probably hire her,” McColl says.

For now, Izzy is just happy to collaborate with her hired hand. “I just love him,” she says of McColl. “He's so fun to work beside.”