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Build Up for Phillip: The Lasting Ripples of the Life of Phillip Evans
By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Amy Long and Cody Moore

Phillip Evans was a wonderful Christian husband, father and friend who left a lasting impact on his community and on anyone who was lucky enough to know him. Thanks to many of his dedicated friends and family members, his legacy will live on through Build Up for Phillip, a community partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Jonesboro that is working to build a nine-house subdivision and pocket park in his honor in the town he loved to serve.

Phillip passed away on Jan. 23, 2017, from pancreatic cancer after being diagnosed in June 2016. He left behind his wife, Brooks, and children, 7-year-old Noah and 5-year-old Hannah, as well as a legacy of caring for others and showing God’s love whenever he could.

“Phillip was a man who could do it all; that is not an exaggeration,” said Brooks. “He knew how to do everything, and if by some small chance there was something he was unsure about, well, he would just do all he could to learn how to do that, too. Phillip was always more than willing to help anyone who asked, or sometimes would help even without being asked.”

His willingness to help others and his desire to build up people and communities left a lasting impact on those who knew him. Michelle Laws and Michelle Boots are two of those people.

“The way this all started, after Phillip passed, I put his name in my phone when I was taking notes in church one day,” said Laws. “For a year, I had that nudge that I was supposed to do something that tied in with what I do, and it was supposed to connect. I kept seeing his name when I was thinking about this nudge I was feeling to build houses and do something. Then the light came on, and I thought of what Jonesboro Schools did with Habitat to sponsor and build a house and thought we could maybe do the same thing. Habitat said they could work with us to sponsor a house in his memory, and it grew from there.

“There were so many people that were missing Phillip and his characteristics. We talk all the time about the ripple he had on other people, and that’s what we wanted for this project.”

Laws spoke to another friend of the Evanses, Boots, about her idea, and Boots spoke with Brooks about it. From then on, the idea that was on their hearts became a reality.

Laws says that when she approached Habitat for Humanity and sat down with Construction Manager Jeff Herndon and Habitat Executive Director Micheal Sullivan, they were excited by the project and ready to dive in. Less than a week later, they came back to Laws with an even bigger idea; instead of one house, Habitat wanted to work with Build Up for Phillip to complete a nine-house project off State Street that could be turned into a new street, subdivision and park in Phillip’s honor. To finish that project, Build Up for Phillip would need to raise $325,000.

As soon as the committee heard Sullivan and Herndon’s proposal, they knew right away it was the perfect way to honor Phillip.

“This is a God project,” said Laws. “You have to have everybody involved to raise that much money. It’s not a single person or small group raising that much on their own, it’s a community effort from the ground up. There are so many ways to get involved. Micheal helped secure a $1.2 million grant to help complete the nine houses, but to complete the whole subdivision with the park, we needed $325,000 more.

“The city said if we built the park, they would adopt it, and same with the street, so they will maintain it all from here on out. We hope that the design of the houses going in will help rejuvenate a spirit of change in that area. Hopefully, it will invigorate landlords and homeowners to build up the community and build up the area. We pray it keeps that ripple effect going.”

Sullivan, who began as a volunteer at Habitat in 2012 and was hired on as executive director in June 2014, is passionate about what Habitat can do for the community, especially with a project of this magnitude.

“I love my job,” he said. “Being able to help families take ownership of a home is such a neat thing. … We are a hand up, not a hand out; they put in the sweat equity to help build them, they pay their mortgages, they take educational courses about home maintenance, and insurance, etc. It’s not ‘Here are your keys,’ it’s ‘Here is your opportunity.’ They have mentors to guide them through the whole process and even help them after they moved in.”

Since Habitat for Humanity of Greater Jonesboro got its start in 1992, the nonprofit organization has built 20 homes, a number that Sullivan hopes to increase at a greater rate with more funding and with partnerships with groups like Build Up for Phillip.

“We have so many great partners through Build Up for Phillip,” said Sullivan. “Columbia Forest Products, E.C. Barton & Company, Laws Flooring & Rugs, The TJX Foundation (Home Goods), First Security Bank, Simmons Bank, Allen Engineering, Ashley Lighting, St. Bernards, First National Bank, Compass Church and Centennial Bank have all stepped up in a huge way.”

As for Build Up for Phillip, Laws took on the role of committee chair and was joined by Brooks as committee co-chair, committee members Boots and Davina Mitchell, Habitat board member Mari Beth Shelton and Sullivan. To date, they have raised $87,000 for the project, and the goal is to have the rest of the funds secured by Sept. 12, Phillips’ birthday.

“There are little God fingerprints everywhere in this project,” said Laws. “Synchrony Bank had a contest when this project was first on our hearts; they would give $10,000 to a business and $10,000 to charity of that business’ choice. Davina wrote the essay, and we won. We hadn’t really begun yet, and we used their check presentation to launch the project. It came together really quickly.”

Laws says that many of the donors personally knew Phillip, and others really connect with what he was all about. Columbia Forest Projects donated nine houses worth of cabinets and loved the idea so much they gave a $25,000 donation and bought T-shirts for all their employees. Barton’s jumped in to provide shingles for all nine houses and made a $10,000 donation, along with helping with the labor and cost of goods that have to be purchased. CahoonSteiling Architecture provided a rendering of the project, and Laws Flooring & Rugs is providing all the flooring and paint that will be needed.

“The build process will be a three-year process,” said Laws. “This year, they want to finish one or two houses, the next year, four more houses, then whatever is left in the last year. When those are done, they can finalize the park. But, the sooner the funding is done, the faster we can build the houses and get our volunteers in there to help build.”

To raise those funds, Build Up for Phillip is relying on personal donations and sponsorships, such as $100 for an engraved brick in the park, $200 for an engraved paver in the park, $1,000 for a tree and plaque, $10,000 for a park bench with sponsorship plaque and more.

The group has also held several fundraisers and has more in the works; several local restaurants have had nights where a portion of their proceeds were donated to the cause, T-shirts are available on the website, there was a recent fundraiser through Bliss Cupcake Café and Brooks is currently organizing a 5K that will be held on Aug. 4.

“I wanted to do a race, because he loved races and ran in so many of them,” said Brooks. “I wanted to tie it in to this because they’re both things that he loved so much.”

From the 5K fundraiser to the partnership with Habitat, those who knew and loved Phillip are proud that the project is such a fitting tribute to his memory.

“This was Phillip’s passion – in the country and out of the country,” said Laws. “This is what Phillip did. It wasn’t just a physical building, it was a relational, spiritual building. He just loved people, and you could tell it by spending time with him. … This helps his kids see how one person can make a difference. He is still making a difference, even if his physical body is not here. They get to experience that.”

Brooks, who actually met Phillip on one of his many mission trips, feels the same way. She says that Phillip had the heart of a servant and traveled the world to serve others and show them Jesus. From building furniture for friends and helping a friend lay 25,000 square feet of sod to fixing a friend’s dishwasher and remodeling his mother and mother-in-law’s kitchens, he was a man who practiced what he preached.

“Build Up for Phillip is such a great fit for remembering Phillip,” said Brooks. “(It’s) his love for building, serving and bringing people together all wrapped up into one great cause. If he were here, he would be all over every part of it. He would want to help design the houses, frame the houses, paint the houses, decorate the houses, build the furniture, work on logistics, landscape and build the playground, too – with the help of Noah and Hannah, of course. He would be thrilled to see it unfold, and perhaps he is. Perhaps God has already shared with him how He has so beautifully set this in motion and has shown him how it will all work out in the end as people are still served because of Phillip Evans. To God be the glory.”

Upon completion, the street, Evans Way, and the park, Phillip Evans Park, will be dedicated in his honor. Even then, Sullivan says he hopes Habitat’s partnership with Build Up for Phillip will continue.

“I feel like I knew Phillip,” said Sullivan. “He seemed like an amazing person, and they talk about his ripple effect. While he was here, he created these ripples, and those effects are still going. Even after this development is finished in three to four years, Build Up for Phillip wants to continue to help raise funding for more projects, and we hope to continue this partnership with their family and committee to help more families achieve their dream of home ownership.

“When Habitat has a need, the community steps up. This family has adopted us and is taking the time out of their lives to keep his legacy alive and help those in our community who truly need it. Anyone who wants to help, whether it’s 50 cents or $10,000, from buying a T-shirt to organizing a fundraiser, it means so much. If you can’t do that, be a voice for Habitat or donate your time.”

While the community has stepped up in a big way to help fund the current project on the State Street property in memory of Phillip, Sullivan says that not only are more funds still needed to complete that project, there is a growing need in Jonesboro to fund Habitat, as well.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Jonesboro’s poverty rate is 21.6 percent,” said Sullivan. “… It all comes down to funding. We can build a house for $65,000 to $90,000 depending on what discounts and donations we get. When we have opportunities for volunteers to participate, they do. We work with what we have. We are fortunate to have some really great donors, but we could truly do more in Jonesboro if we had more money. That’s what it comes down to.”

Build Up for Phillip committee members hope this is just the start of what they can do with Habitat. As for the Evans Way neighborhood, Brooks says she is thankful the community can remember her husband in such a fitting way.

“Phillip loved building and serving,” said Brooks. “More than that, he loved me and our kids. This project allows us to carry on something he would be doing if he were still here, but it also allows me and Noah and Hannah to see the community remembering him. That is such a sweet thing. I love that my children can see that their daddy is still making a difference for good. What a treasure.”

For more information about Build Up for Phillip and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Jonesboro, visit jonesborohabitat.com/buildup, call (870) 203-9898 or email info@jonesborohabitat.com.