Future Murfreesboro homeowners Arionna “Ari” Robinson and Eduardo “Eddie” Alcocer watched as dozens of volunteers — including about 15 Middle Tennessee State University students — started the process of building their new house.
On a picture-perfect fall day in the Student Union Commons, Robinson, an MTSU alumnus, and Alcocer joined volunteers — many with years of experience of hammering nails and other expertise and others with few skills but wanting to lend a hand — in getting the Habitat for Humanity project underway.
MTSU Student Organizations and Service has a lengthy history with Habitat Builds in a partnership with Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity. Classes, fraternities and sororities and individual students raise money and contribute time and energy to the effort.
Volunteers, including those from Exit Realty/Bob Lamb, built several sections of the home, which was later loaded onto a semitrailer and transported to Legacy Pointe, a subdivision of 77 lots off Twin Oaks Drive near Halls Hill Pike, just east of MTSU. The build will be resumed in early January and Alcocer and Robinson expect to move in with their son Miguel by April 1.
“It’s a privilege, an honor and a blessing, to have the community come out and support Exit Realty, State Farm, the students at MTSU, as well as teachers who came out to support us and help us build the home of our dreams,” said Robinson, a 2018 graduate of MTSU, who majored in Africana Studies and earned minors in political government and theatre (arts and dance).
With the sound of many hammers striking nails in the background, Alcocer said he and Robinson “were very grateful and thankful for everybody that’s out here pouring out their love.”
How their future began
Robinson is a Murfreesboro native who was always fascinated by people of other cultures. Native Californian Alcocer moved to Tennessee to be near his son, Miguel, in 2019. Alcocer lived in a hotel where Robinson worked. They became friends, began to date and married in 2020.
After marrying, the apartment they lived in was too small. Robinson’s mother suggested they approach Habitat for Humanity. They applied and received approval this year and became part of the next wave of 25 new homeowners.
Robinson is starting her own nonprofit, Immerge, a business related to helping people from other cultures to fit into the American way of life. Alcocer is an inventory control lead at Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Lagos, Nigeria, native Iykemroy Nwaokike, 23, a senior biology major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, said he “came out here (Commons area) to have a good time and socialize with everybody. It’s been a great experience.” Nwaokike and other Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity brothers assisted with the build.
Jackie Victory, director of Student Organizations and Service, said “the student turnout has been great. We allow 15 to 20 students per hour to come out and help on the panel build.
“It’s been exciting to watch our students come out, not really knowing what they were getting into, to show up and realize, ‘Hey, I’m getting to work alongside the future homeowner. I’m getting to make a difference in their lives, so they are able to have a home.’”
Melissa Cross, director of development and marketing for Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity, said “doing a panel build like this allows MTSU students to get involved easily. They can come out for an hour or so and help build the house, as opposed to them having to go out the location and do an all-day build with us.”
Cross said usually 100 people volunteer for this type of panel build, plus a construction crew and other construction volunteers. She added the homeowners are required to invest 300 to 400 “sweat equity” hours by helping with construction as a down payment and 30 hours of financial literacy and homeowner education to sustain their zero to low interest mortgage payment.
Exit Realty/Bob Lamb sponsored the build. State Farm matched both MTSU’s and Exit Realty’s monetary donations. Local businessman Lamb is an MTSU alumnus.