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Success Stories

The Art of Hope

Jamie Mobley
09.26.2022
Home Repair
Housing
Rural Development
Underserved
Greenwood, MS Sign

In January 2022, retired correctional officer Willie led USDA Rural Development (RD) specialists through her pitch-black, frigid home in Greenwood, Mississippi. Her three-room house had no permanent electricity, running water, plumbing, or interior finishing. In her bedroom, icy wind and daylight came through cracks in the outer walls, highlighting the lack of insulation.  

Willie was born and raised in Greenwood, and after a tragedy in the prison where she worked ended her 22-year career, she came home. The decision to quit her job may have saved her life, but it cost her a pension and benefits. This loss is the reason she purchased the small house with concrete floors and no water or electricity for just $2,000. She thought she could make repairs while living in the house, especially after the city installed a temporary power pole in the back yard that afforded electricity via extension cords. This may have worked out, but then COVID-19 arrived and stalled the local economy. Willie was not able to find work and went without an income for nearly two years. 

If Greenwood sounds familiar, it was an important town during the Civil Rights Movement, and was the place B.B. King performed his first live radio broadcasts. It was nicknamed the “Cotton Capital of the World” because it served as a shipping point for cotton to major markets across the south. After slavery ended, many former slaves earned their livings as sharecroppers and tenant farmers. When cotton cultivation and processing became mechanized in the early 20th century, thousands of these farmers lost their livelihoods. Echoes of this loss can still be seen in Greenwood today, where the median household income is within $100 of the federal poverty line for a family of five.  

Willie needed help, and luckily found a place to get it: the Delta Design Build Workshop (Delta DB) based in Greenwood. Earlier that year, Delta DB had applied for a USDA RD Housing Preservation Grant (HPG), which provides funding to sponsoring agencies to repair housing owned or occupied by low- and very-low-income rural citizens like Willie. Emily Roush-Elliot, a social impact architect with Delta DB, used a portion of their just-approved HPG to address the direst of Willie’s needs. 

Seven months later, Willie’s home has electricity, running water, air conditioning, insulation, and interior walls, but these improvements are not the only changes. In place of the tears on her face during the first visit, Willie had a tentative smile. Instead of decay and damage, she showed off photos of art projects she has done over the years. There is still work to be done in the house, but her hope is coming back.  

“I’m an artist; you can’t tell right now but I am,” she said. “It will all come back one day. Thanks to Emily and USDA, I’m not giving up.” 

Obligation Amount:
7,540
Date of Obligation:
September 16, 2021
Congressional District:
2nd