Raise the Roof for Sonya

As the clouds are becoming darker and thicker, Sonya starts to worry about where to stay for protection from the expected rain.

Sonya Kemp, a Tuscaloosa native, is the owner of a run-down house which was originally built in the 1930s. The house was severely damaged by a violent tornado that tore through the city in 2011, which caused a partial roof collapse and structural damage. The roof no longer serves as a barrier between the inside and the outside of Sonya’s home. Instead, a large blue tarp is functioning as protection from cold and rain. However, it does not prevent water from leaking into the house which forces Sonya to sleep in her car or her relatives’ home during inclement weather. Additionally, the water leak has resulted in mold, decaying floors, a non-functional bathroom, and electricity that only works in parts of the house.

Sonya did not receive any insurance benefits for repairs as she was not the owner of the house at the time of the tornado. She applied to Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa for home repairs, but the Habitat team determined that the house was too far gone to restore. This past summer, Sonya applied for a new Habitat home and she was notified of her selection for a home in September 2017. Ellen Potts, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa stated, “Sonya was chosen based on the fact that she does not have functional indoor plumbing and the fact that she has to sleep in her car when it rains due to the leaks in the roof.  No one should have to live under those conditions.”

Now the campaign to raise money for her new home has begun.

“Raise the Roof for Sonya” aims to raise $100,000 to tear the old house down and build a brand new home in the same location. The organization does not give away the house for free. Instead, they sell the house to the homeowner at the market price over 30 years without interest.

What makes the campaign for Sonya special is that the project is being worked on entirely by students. Graduate students from the marketing program in the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce, the Habitat for Humanity UA Campus Chapter, and a public relations intern for Habitat are involved in every step of the project. They have raised $32,000 so far by reaching out to large corporations.

They are now looking to local individuals and business for help. Students are working on building connections with local business, promoting the campaign through different social media platform, and exploring potential marketing channels on and off the UA campus, in an effort to raise people’s awareness and increase donations.

Once construction begins, Sonya herself is required to do at least 250 hours in the building process.  Members of the Greek system at the university have stepped up and agreed to help and earn their required volunteer hours.

“You all came into my life, and dreams do come true,” said Sonya.

The students working on this campaign realize that $100,000 is not a small goal, however, they believe they will reach their goal. Members of the community who are interested in helping Sonya can donate through Venmo at, or at the organization’s website Any donations made through the Habitat website should note that the donation is for Sonya’s home.

View a WVUA YouTube video about Sonya’s home at

For more information about “Raise the Roof for Sonya,” please contact Shulang Cheng at

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email