UNT Dallas Provost John Beehler and faculty members Glenda Moss, Gretchen Choe, Matthew Babcock, Juanita Simmons, Mr. Wayne McInnis and wife, Chapisse, and Larry Bryant chipped in a day’s work on the UNT Dallas Habitat for Humanity House June 2.

The initial phase of construction kicks off a larger effort to create an entire neighborhood called Oak Cliff Gardens where UNT Dallas students will live among and engage residents in community service. UNT System Regent Brint Ryan recently donated $1 million to Dallas Habitat for Humanity for the UNT Dallas house, and to help raze and construct 500 new homes in parts of the city south of Interstate 30.

Sheryl Santos-Hatchett, dean of the Division of Education and Human Services, said the work proves the university is serious about making a difference in the community.

“One of UNT Dallas’ distinctive goals is civic engagement,” Santos-Hatchett said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Ryan family and Habitat for Humanity, our students, faculty, and staff will have the perfect venue to provide sustained, high quality community service. Our vision is for students from varying majors to live in UNT Dallas’ two-story, four-bedroom, customized house embedded in Oak Cliff Gardens. Services such as tutoring, mentoring, tax preparation, college entrance advising, literacy skills, English as a second language, and others as identified by the community itself, will be organized and provided by the UNT Dallas community.”

The Ryan Habitat house experience will provide students with practical applications for their academic skills while developing their social, ethical, and leadership potential, she said.

Ryan said donating to the cause was an “easy decision,” adding that owners of Habitat homes have default rates on mortgages far less than the average and provide $2 million in property tax revenue annually for the city.

Only building houses, however, will not permanently change neighborhoods, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at Dallas City Hall on the day the gift was announced in November 2011. The area also needs retail and jobs.

State Senator Royce West, legislative aide Kelvin Bass, Brint Ryan, Councilman Dwaine R. Caraway and other dignitaries who were on hand for a press conference and “fight the blight” activities, which included the demolition of several dilapidated houses.  There were also several UNTD students and Teacher Education Advisory Committee members from the community either building or at the Community Fair nearby, including Patricia McBride, Constance Lacy, and Education & HUman Services Dean Sheryl Santos-Hatchett and her spouse, Mike.