February 11, 2008
Rachel Smith, better known as "Miss USA," is climbing to new heights to give South Mississippians a hand.
"I felt like, as an American, I hadn't really done my part yet to help out in the relief effort with Hurricane Katrina," Smith said.
Now is her chance, she traded in her tiara, gown and heels, for a sweatshirt, hammer and nails.
This kind of work is new for Smith, but she's quickly learning Habitat's tricks of the trade for rebuilding lives.
"When you hammer, you have to hammer like this, so if you hit your finger, you hit the meat, you don't hit your pretty nail!" Smith said.
In a few months, Gulfport resident Shelly Frazier will receive her own Habitat home. In the mean time, she's putting in work to help others in need.
"We've come a long way since Katrina, but we still have a really long way to go. The fact that she's down here helping us, get these houses together and doing all this, I think it's wonderful," Frazier said.
While this home will make an incredible difference for one family, there are still 11,000 Mississippi families in FEMA trailers. That's why Smith hopes to use her title as Miss USA to spread awareness about Mississippi's continuing challenge to rebuild.
"I'm hoping that my actions will speak louder than my words and hopefully will serve as a purpose to get other people motivated to make a difference and create change," Smith said.
A message that hopefully will keep Habitat's dream of rebuilding the Gulf Coast alive and give people like Frazier, hope for a better future.
Smith's new skills didn't help her win her crown, but she plans to use this experience to help her hammer out the housing crisis from Coast to Coast.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Habitat for Humanity chapter has a goal of building 1,000 homes by 2012. In the past year and a half, they've built nearly 200 homes.