Paths of Gregg Lewis IDP’93, Karraine Moody ’01 meet in Hartford
By Mary Howard
Though they both graduated from Trinity College, Karraine Moody ’01 and Gregg Lewis IDP’93 were strangers before collaborating recently on the building of an energy efficient concrete home in Hartford. It was their shared interest in the welfare of people in the state’s capital city and beyond that connected them, says Moody, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of North Central Connecticut (HHNCC). “We both want to support people at a local, national, and global level,” she says. Lewis, chief communications officer for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), notes, “I believe we all have a responsibility to help those in need.”
In March 2021, Habitat for Humanity joined Build With Strength, an NRMCA initiative, to construct concrete homes in 16 locations across the country. These homes—built with expanded polystyrene forms that are fitted together and then filled with concrete—are durable, fire resistant, and cheaper to heat and cool than a typical home, says Lewis. “We’re building in a way that allows the owner to incur less [energy] expense, while providing solid walls that are resistant to anything Mother Nature might throw at them.”
Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the country expressed a great deal of interest, says Lewis. After a deliberate selection process, they chose 50 affiliates to collaborate with over the next two years. And the one in Hartford was one of them.
Moody was thrilled. “I thought it was a great way to make [net-zero-energy homes] affordable to first-time homeowners,” she says. In addition, the use of concrete instead of lumber would save her organization thousands of dollars in building costs. “Lumber prices are really high, and we are trying to find alternative ways to build affordable housing.”
The team broke ground for the house, located on Cleveland Avenue, in June 2021. A year later, Lewis handed the keys to Tammy Lubin, a customer service manager for a local supermarket chain. Claiming ownership of the attractive, two-story home was a dream come true for Lubin, who emigrated from St. Lucia in 2011. “This is a launchpad for my son,” she told a reporter for WFSB, a Hartford-area television station. “I started from nothing. My son doesn’t have to.”
As part of her path to homeownership, Lubin contributed 150 hours in “sweat equity” to HHNCC, working on her own house and those of others. “I think a lot of people are of the opinion that [Habitat for Humanity] gives away homes for free,” she says. “The program simply gives you a chance to meet the homebuyer requirements.”
Families must be committed to get through the process, says Moody. HHNCC hosts meetings for potential homeowners twice yearly, but more than half of the 100 families who apply each year won’t qualify because of debt or low income, she says. “Each year, we have 45 to 50 families competing for 10 to 12 homes,” which breaks Moody’s heart, she says. “The reality is [many] families aren’t going to make it.”
By the end of this year, Build With Strength expects to complete 70 homes in 32 states, says
Lewis, who grew up in Deep River and Hartford. But it is the Hartford house that has been most meaningful to him. “Coming home to Hartford to deliver sustainable results for the people living there has been very gratifying,” he says. “Bringing that ideal into this project with Karraine’s team makes it even more special.”
It was during the planning phase for the Hartford house that the two realized their Trinity connection. While on a Zoom meeting, Moody noticed a framed Trinity diploma hanging on the wall behind Lewis’s desk. “I thought, ‘No way! He went to Trinity?’ ” she says.
“It was a fun realization,” adds Lewis.
Both agree that their experiences at Trinity helped foster their interests in helping others. “Making a commitment to have a positive impact wherever we work is a vital part of what I learned at Trinity,” says Lewis, who describes his college education as “less than traditional.” Though he matriculated in 1982, it was 11 years before he graduated through the Individualized Degree Program with a degree in art history. “I spent a lot of time working and figuring out my path,” he says. Along the way, classes with Professor of Fine Arts Kathleen Curran helped spark his interest in architecture, “not just as a career, but as a way to impact my community.”
He also credits his stepfather, the late David Winer, who was dean of students at Trinity for 22 years and a faculty member for nearly four decades, with developing his sense of equity and justice. “He was a tireless advocate of students of all stripes.”
Lewis graduated from Yale School of Architecture in 1998. Over the years, he has held a variety of positions in the field, including spending a year and a half in Haiti to help rebuild the country following the 2010 earthquake.
In 2015, he joined the NRMCA, where part of his work is to “tell the story of how concrete building provides a better quality of life.” Because concrete homes are cost effective, resilient, and easier to heat and cool, they can play an important role in providing affordable housing, says Lewis. “It’s not just in places like San Francisco or New York City. The lack of affordable housing is impacting every community across the United States.”
Notes Moody, “Everyone is talking about solar, but they should be talking about concrete.”
A Hartford native, Moody spent time on the Trinity campus in high school as part of Upward Bound, a national program that helps increase the rate of college graduates among low-income students and those whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees. “Trinity was a great fit for me,” she says. “There was so much going on. The campus energy matched my energy.”
Initially, Moody planned to major in engineering. “My dad was in construction,” she says. However, conversations with professors including Stephen Valocchi from the Sociology Department and Alta Lash, now deceased, who taught a community internship seminar, led her to design her own major in community development. At Trinity, she shadowed community organizers, volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity build, and graduated knowing exactly what she wanted to do in the world, “to change people’s lives and create a better community.”
After Trinity, she served as a work-life coordinator at United Technologies and, later, a manager of the community technology center for Hartford Public Schools. In 2005, she joined Habitat as family services director, rising to the role of CEO in 2014. Moody, who holds a master’s in organizational management from the University of Phoenix, says she is blessed to have a career where she helps individuals and families achieve their dreams.
Though they don’t have definitive plans to build another concrete-insulated house, Moody and Lewis say they are confident it will happen. “From the outset, Karraine recognized the benefit this type of build would have to her homeowners,” says Lewis.
Says Moody, “It has been a joy working with Gregg and his team. We are going to continue to implement this system. These are strong, fortified, energy-efficient homes that are not a financial burden to homeowners. What more can you ask for?”