by Chris Myers

In 2003, when Sarah and Beau Henry purchased their home just west of State Street, they had a list of things they wanted and needed to do to the property. And, like most homeowners, they didn’t quite have the money to do it all. It was a typical middle 1940’s Fondren home. At some point along the way, the siding had been replaced with vinyl, which was in good shape. However, the original wood trim was rotting in places, the single pane windows had been painted shut, and the gutters were falling down in places. They tried making the repairs as money became available, but many of their interactions with contractors left a foul taste in their mouths.

Then, one day, while looking through the Our Fondren Neighborhood Association message board, they heard mention of a project called the Phoenix Initiative.

The Phoenix Initiative was started in 2006 as the brainchild of St. Dominic Health Services, Fondren Renaissance Foundation and local community leaders. Prior to Phoenix, St. Dominic’s had been a major contributor to the neighborhood, donating over $1,000,000 to kick start efforts at revitalizing the commercial center of Fondren and creating organizations like FRF to aid in those efforts.

According to Barry Plunkett (current owner of Interiors Market, then vice president of St. Dominic’s  and FRF board member), the next step was obvious. The business district could not meet its potential without the success of the surrounding neighborhood, specifically the west side of State Street, where an ailing Jackson economy had taken its toll over the previous twenty to thirty years. They decided to name this initiative after the mythological phoenix, a bird that could gain new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor. St. Dominic’s pledged $250,000 ($50,000 each year for five years) to begin the program which would assist applicants with matching grants up to $6,000 for home improvements. During that period, 56 homes took advantage of the program.

When the Henrys applied in 2012, the initial phase of Phoenix had run its course. For the next phase, St. Dominic’s had been working on gaining broader community financial support. The hospital would put it $96,000, but only if Fondren area churches would match it. Some churches have, and the program came back to life.

Bill Scruggs, a project coordinator for St. Dominic’s, was a Fondren Renaissance board member during the program’s original run from 2006 to 2009. “I don’t want this to stop,” he said. “It’s a great thing and I see the fruits of our labor. I’m hopeful Phoenix will continue finding the right partnerships with the right people. You think you’re just rehabbing a house, but it’s much more.”

The Henrys were some of the first homeowners on the list at that point. According to Beau, once the paperwork had been approved in 2013, “Bill (Scruggs) showed up with their contractor, Paul Gifford, and we looked around the house. He made a list of items he saw. We made a list of things we wanted done, and we decided how to best use the money.”

Once Gifford, owner of Abbey Road Workshop, got them on his calendar, the work took a little over a week. Improvements to the house included replacing all of the existing windows with double-pane operable windows, replacing and painting defective sills and trim, cleaning and painting the foundation, and replacing damaged pieces of gutter. “The house looks brand new,” he said. Beau admits that it wasn’t easy coming up with their part of that money, but when an opportunity like that came along, they had to make it work.

Since that time, the neighbors on each side have also gone through the program, giving rise to arguably one of the prettiest streets in Fondren.

Apply for the Phoenix Initiative through Fondren Renaissance at fondren.org/phoenix-intitiative.