Oduwole and his fraternity brothers are the new owners of that empty lot, as of about two weeks ago. They pooled their funds and purchased the property through Newark's Valentine Day land sale, which offered vacant lots to couples for $1,000 each. On their lot, the college students plan to build a house not for themselves, but for a homeless family they've never met, who'll be able to live there rent-free. The fraternity does community service projects annually, but wanted to do something different from their typical bake sales or food and clothing drives this year, Oduwole said. "We were trying to think of something that would be more of a lasting effect," he said. "If you provide coats for a winter, after that winter is done, it's a fleeting effect."
Fraternity members developed the idea after hearing about the land sale, and reached out to the Sierra House, an East Orange nonprofit that works with homeless women and families. They explained their idea and that they wanted to offer the home to a family housed in the organization's transitional shelter. Sierra House staff found a family to connect with the fraternity. Oduwole described the home's future residents as a single mother, working a part-time job, and her two children. "We thought she would be the best person we could help, someone who is trying to support a family," Oduwole said. The family and the fraternity brothers plan to meet this weekend, to introduce themselves and talk plans.
Iota Phi Theta members hope to build a two-family home on the lot, offering one unit to the family that's now in the Sierra House and renting out the other. The rental income, Oduwole said, will be put toward the utilities and other bills for the currently homeless family.
Oduwole and his girlfriend formally purchased the lot, waiting in line at the first-come-first served event. He said they got one of the last few of the 100 available properties and were able to get a green light for the plan from city officials. The fraternity is now in the process of getting their site plan approved and has been making visits to the land with a contractor. They've picked out plans for a prefabricated home with a price tag of $95,360, and have launched an online campaign to raise money. Once the funds are in, Oduwole said it would take around 12 days to build the house, allowing for the family to move in shortly after. He envisions the house build as "a huge community event," with help from other students, police officers and military members who have already expressed interest in lending a hand.
So far, the Iota Phi Theta members' goal has been earning a lot of support from their fellow Kean students, Oduwole said. "They're very energetic," Oduwole said. "On our campus right now, everybody's excited. It's an opportunity for our fraternity and our campus to show Greek life is not only about partying." (excerpted from the Newark Star Ledger for educational purposes; byline Katie Lannan)