• 73°
franklin county times

PC Habitat home dedicated

When a man named Phil Campbell from Brooklyn, N. Y., found out that his namesake town and been devastated by the tornado on April 27, 2011, he knew he wanted to do something to help.

After months and months of brainstorming and fundraising, the vision of the man now affectionately known as Brooklyn Phil was realized this past Sunday as the Habitat for Humanity home built with funds raised by Brooklyn Phil and many others was dedicated and officially turned over to the McCulloch family from Phil Campbell.

The Habitat for Humanity home was the culmination of an idea that was already in motion before the tornado ever roared through the town, destroying so much in its path.

Brooklyn Phil was already organizing a gathering of people named Phil or Phyllis Campbell from all over the world to come to the town’s Hoedown Festival in June, but when he received the news of the destruction throughout the Phils’ adopted hometown, Brooklyn Phil decided a change in the scope of the Phil Campbells’ visit was in order.

And so the “I’m with Phil” campaign was born and Phils from literally all over the world began to turn their focus from a fun, whimsical gathering to a relief and recovery effort.

For the next several months, Brooklyn Phil and many of the other Phils banded together to raise money they would then use to help the town in some way.

Brooklyn Phil, who is a writer and author, arranged a screening in Phil Campbell of the movie “Grassroots” starring Jason Biggs and Cedric the Entertainer that is based the book he authored in 2005 called “Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics.”

In addition to the movie screening, the group of Phils sold T-shirts, solicited corporate donations and donations from individuals who were able to give through two different websites, and held a marketing blitz that showcased the “I’m with Phil” story on the Game Show Network, ABC Nightly News and NBC Nightly News.

With all the fundraising efforts combined, the group managed to raise an impressive $42,000. Brooklyn Phil said $2,000 of that money was donated to the Y.E.S. Foundation’s emergency fund for tornado relief, $2,000 went towards administrative costs of the fundraising campaign, and the rest of the money was given to help build a Habitat for Humanity home for a deserving Phil Campbell family who lost their home in the storm.

Brooklyn Phil said there were many options as to what the group could do with the funds they raised, but ultimately, Habitat for Humanity seemed like the best choice.

“We picked Habitat for a number of reasons, but they all revolve around the fact that Habitat is an international organization, and we Phil Campbells were coming from all over the world,” Brooklyn Phil said. “That’s important when you think about it, because the brand-name of Habitat for Humanity enabled all the Phil Campbells everywhere to be able to do individual fundraising before they arrived in Phil Campbell. It also meant that the big companies that we solicited for donations would know that their donations were being handled by a recognizable, trustworthy non-profit.”

Since Franklin County doesn’t have their own Habitat for Humanity division, Brooklyn Phil talked to representatives from the Marion County Habitat for Humanity branch about the possibility of being able to help with their house.

David Cooper, president of Habitat for Humanity of Marion County, told those gathered for the house dedication on Sunday afternoon that they were more than glad to be able to help those who had lost their homes in the tornado.

“We have been in the mode of building one home per year in Marion County but when the storm hit, the board met and decided we wanted to make a bigger impact,” Cooper said. “We started in Hackleburg last August and build four homes in two weeks and wanted to continue up into the Phil Campbell area so we put together a 45-day schedule [for this home].”

After going over applications, James and Christina McCulloch and their three children, who lost everything in the tornado that came through Phil Campbell, were selected as the recipients of the Phils’ Habitat home.

After securing funding for the lot where the home would be constructed from John Nevels, a man who ran from Gulf Shores to the Tennessee line to raise money for tornado relief, the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place and construction began on the home in February.

Cooper said throughout the 45 days of construction, over 100 volunteers showed up to lend a hand including several of the Phil Campbells who lived close enough to make the trip.

“The fruit of [the Phils’] efforts and their dedication has really transpired in the home you see here today,” Cooper said. “For the effort of one man and the group of Phil Campbells to do that was extraordinary.”

The McCullochs gathered with family and friends on Sunday to show off their new home and Christina McCulloch said she felt very blessed to be the recipient of something so wonderful.

“I just want to thank everybody that made it possible for us to have a brand new home and feel normal again,” she said. “Sometimes I think to myself still ‘Is this true?’ I have to pinch myself and realize, yes, I’m getting a brand new home. I feel very blessed.”

Brooklyn Phil said he couldn’t be prouder of the group of Phils and the impact they’ve been able to make in the town and in the lives of the McCulloch family.

“It really is a good feeling, to know our efforts actually made a difference, however small, and that we were able to raise enough money to actually build a home – for a family of five, no less,” he said. “Personally, I want the inspiring events of 2011 in Phil Campbell – for Phil Campbell – to be a guide for how I live the rest of my life. These are the kinds of values I want my four-year-old son to learn.”

As for the future of the Phils and their namesake town, Brooklyn Phil said they are still working with local filmmaker Andrew Reed to promote his “I’m with Phil” documentary in the hopes of raising more money for the town. He also hopes the Phils will continue to visit the town and keep up with the residents who have now become friends.

“The Phil Campbells will never be far from the town of Phil Campbell,” he said. “It’s a special, unique relationship I only want to see grow.”