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Kentucky students providing Service to the South

LIVINGSTON-If you have driven by the Livingston Presbyterian Church in the last two days you may have noticed the Houston-Bailey House undergoing much needed renovations. But there is much more going on at the house than just repairs.

The job is also serving as a learning experience for 25 Kentucky students who are traveling through Alabama as part of a program called Service to the South. The program is sponsored by the Frankfurt, Ky. YMCA and allows special students from their state travel to the Southeastern United States to provide services and gain a history lesson on the side.

Heather Perkins, who is leading the group, said the program has been in practice for several years.

“This is one of the many programs we do called Service to the South,” Perkins said. “The trip is set up for these selected high school students to come and learn about the culture of the South, the Civil Rights movement and along the way we do service projects for local service organizations, churches, businesses and others. You name it we’ll do it.”

Perkins said they were asked to participate in the program by Bob Gamble who had taken a special interest in the project several years ago.

“We came across this project when Mr. Gamble contacted me,” Perkins said. “We worked on a historical home in Montgomery two years ago on this trip and our reputation was good, he heard about and called to ask if we could come and work on t his project on

Gamble launched a program to repair the house when he learned several years ago the unique structure was going to be destroyed. Louis Smith, a member of the church, said Gamble contacted them with a plan to save the house.

“We acquired this house about six years ago,” Smith said. “It had caught on fire and was nearly destroyed. Mr. Gamble, with the Alabama Historical Commission, found out about this and because this is only one of four houses with this design in the Southeastern United States he came to help.”

Gamble came to Livingston and approached the church members and the Sumter County historical society. Together they were able to acquire money to weatherize the house and repair what had been burned. Soon after this a process was begun to raise money to restore the house.

Things did not come together quickly. Smith said they struggled for several years before catching a break.

“For the first five years we had very little luck,” Smith said. “Then about a year and a half ago we received a matching grant from the Daniel Foundation in Birmingham of $100,000. We had to come up with $1 million in money or in kind services. Right at the last minute Mr. Gamble was able to work with Auburn and they sent some architectural students two weeks ago.”

The students went through the house and came up with a plan to restore the house in five phases. So far, the effort has raised enough money to take care of the first two phases of the project. Smith said they had applied for additional money and if the funds come through they should be able to complete the next three.

“We have recently written some additional grants we hope will be helpful,” Smith said. “We have also gotten some money from the Hillcrest Foundation of Birmingham and we have enough money right now to do the first two phases to restore the house. If we get the additional money we will be most of the way there.”

Once the program is complete the church hopes to house their music arts program and choirs. The church boasts community and children’s choirs that have both performed at Carnegie Hall. The high ceilings and wooden floors provide excellent acoustics for choir practice. Another use for the house would be a food bank to assist in community disasters.