LP builds quick relationship with Habitat

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at 1:00am

Louisiana Pacific Corp., maker of a variety of building materials, wasted no time getting involved with the Nashville community after moving its headquarters here from Portland, Ore., about a year ago.

"They actually searched us out," said Chris McCarthy, executive director of Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity. "They had worked with Habitat in other places, and even though they're new in Nashville, they felt it was a good mix since they make building products."

LP contacted Habitat shortly after setting up headquarters in July. In addition to committing to sponsorship of a house - which is $47,500 - LP also paid for the development of the land, about $28,000.

The company also helped underwrite Houses of Hope, Habitat's first annual fund-raiser last year.

"That's about the quickest I've ever seen someone come into town and not only make friends, but already wanting to give back to the community," McCarthy said.

LP has 31 manufacturing facilities around the country making various building materials including OSB (siding made of small wood chips), composite decking, interior moldings, laminated veneer lumber, and I-joists.

LP has worked with Habitat for Humanity groups in many of the communities where it has operations, according to Mary Cohn, president of the Louisiana Pacific Foundation. "We were incredibly impressed with [the Nashville organization]," Cohn said. "It's one of the best we've seen."

There are about 200 LP workers at three facilities in the Metro Nashville area. Company and foundation officials reviewed the opportunities available to them in Nashville and eventually focused on the local Habitat operation.

Less than a year later, Omar Sinjo and Nafla Mohammed, who left Kurdistan in 1996 to join Omar's parents and brother in the United States, now occupy the first Nashville Habitat house built by LP and its employees.

The couple has four young children, ages 5, 4, 2 and 1. Nafla is a full-time homemaker and Omar works at Hermitage Elementary School as a custodial engineer.

At the dedication ceremony for their house and several others recently completed by other Habitat sponsors, Mr. Sinjo said he wanted to become a homeowner because it is an opportunity to invest in his family and "not throw money away."

Also, he added, becoming a Habitat homeowner will allow him more freedom, more time to spend with his wife and children, and provide a safe neighborhood for his children to grow up in.

The Sinjo home is located in Providence Park at Interstate 24 and Harding Place, which is the largest all-Habitat neighborhood in the United States, according to McCarthy.

Dallas-based Centex Corporation, a large nationwide homebuilding company, donated the development's 43 acres to Habitat in 2003. It is planned that there will be 53 houses in Providence Park by the end of June and a total of 140 houses when the development is completed.

"This is a piece of land that had a half-million dollars on the tax rolls when we started," McCarthy said. "When we're finished, it will be valued at about $14 million."

"Anyone can apply. All different kinds of religions are represented in our sponsors, clients and volunteers," said McCarthy, who started working with Habitat in 2002 after leaving an upper-management career in the computer and human resources fields.

"There are families here from seven different countries in addition to the United States," she said. "It is a good reflection of what Nashville is made up of now."

Cohn is staying involved with the local Habitat and now is a member of its advisory board. Another LP manager, Jeff Duncan, the company's chief information office, is on Nashville Habitat's board of directors

"It ended up being a wonderful partnership agreement. Without partners like Louisiana Pacific, it wouldn't be possible to help the people we help," McCarthy said.

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