HABITAT BUILDS NEIGHBORHOODS

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Fri, 10/05/2007 - 10:36.

Jeffrey Bowen, who heads up Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cleveland, Ohio, met with Meet the Bloggers Thursday October 4, 2007.   Keep your eye out for the new post. 

The photo above shows 3 homes under construction on E110 off Woodland.  Habitat is working at the complete other end of the spectrum from the demolition crews.   Hat's off to Habitat's conviction and gumption.   More soon...

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Habitat's Reckford, Paul Hawken, Martha Graham

On the morning of October 4, 2007 a small but interestingly diverse group of individuals gathered for breakfast and to listen to the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, Jonathan T. M. Reckord at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cleveland does not "do events" outside its regular and steady build events in Cleveland's poverty stricken neighborhoods. There are busy build sites and house dedications, but no golf outings, no gala dinners replete with women in ball gowns and men in tuxedos to raise funds. The business of fund raising at our local Habitat affiliate is more akin to the business of home building, one letter (signed by the ED, Jeffrey Bowen personally), one meeting at a time, one new member of a growing family at a time; just like one board, one nail, one shingle at a time builds a home. So it was unusual to see folks gathered in this way paying just enough to cover the cost of the food we shared in the gorgeous setting of Trinity Cathedral.

Habitat makes its home in the most dire, the most difficult infill lots in our struggling city. One family at a time, one house at a time begins slowly to repair a neighborhood, pushes back the all too common reality of life in substandard housing and all the grief that situation engenders.

At Meet the Bloggers later that day a gentleman reminded us of the story of the starfish thrower. You remember the story: a boy is throwing starfish one by one back into the sea to save them and a man comes along and seeing the thousands of starfish washed and washing ashore suggests that the boy’s task is impossible. “You'll never save them all”, he says to the boy. “What does it matter to throw back this one and that one and that one?” The boy picks up another starfish, and throwing it back to the water, he says, "It matters to this one."

If you are made queasy by the overwhelming foreclosure rate in Cleveland and many cities around America today, you might ask how Habitat for Humanity persists in its mission to eradicate poverty housing worldwide. They would answer you, one family at a time. It is just that simple and just that personal.

Jonathan Reckford shared a story with us that struck a chord with me. He spoke of visiting a place where Habitat built homes in Brazil. In this village, the people lived in mud huts. The mud made a great breeding ground for an insect that caused devastating disease in the children. The women of the village had to spend 4 hours each day crossing the mountain to carry water to their homes for drinking, washing and cooking. When Habitat built homes for the villagers, simple stucco homes, they put walls between the children and the insects that plagued them. The homes were built with large cisterns with enough capacity to hold the rain from the rainy season and supply water throughout the dry season. Now freed from the task of carrying water, the women formed an embroidery collective to earn the funds to pay their mortgages. Children now have health and time to attend school. This is how a decent home can break the cycle of poverty.

I have just begun to read Reckford's slim volume; Creating a Habitat for Humanity No Hands But Yours. Here's a sample:

"Por que esta aqui?"  "Why are you here?"

The question came from a lovely 15-year-old girl named Haylim as we worked alongside one another building a home for her and her mother in the village of Amecameca an hour north of Mexico City. They had been sharing a two-room house with another family of five and were within weeks of having their own home. I had answered that question many times conceptually, but it was different trying to explain to a young girl why strangers from around the world and around Mexico were there to help her family realize their dream.

I told Haylim that I was there for three reasons: First, because I believe that we are all one in God's eyes and that God cares passionately for every single person in the world. Second, because I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, decent, affordable home. And third, because every time I have the privilege of working alongside someone like her, it gives me a glimpse of the kind of person I aspire to be and the kind of community we are called to create."

This idea dovetailed perfectly with a talk I had recently heard Paul Hawken give via podcast at the Long Now Foundation’s SALT Talks: His talk, called The New Great Transformation, video podcast here. About 5 minutes into the talk he discusses the metaphor of the social justice/environmental movements as an immune system. The root is in+service. So I imagined white blood cells attacking an ailing body, healing here, there, coming to the aid to restore health. Hawken’s website, wiserearth.org offers a compendium of this growing collection of earth immunology: 107,296 Organizations working for the common good environmental and social justice worldwide.

Habitat is like white blood cells rushing to heal communities worldwide. It is our local small part of a much larger web of life returning.

Hawken sites a quote from Martha Graham that I have lived with most of my life in the title of his book and talk Blessed Unrest.


“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is ever pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. --Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille


You see, dance does connect to all these other things that concern me. That blessed unrest is in the marrow of my bones. Knowing that others walk alongside me up this steep path is an immeasurable comfort. Thank you realneo community.

 

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Nice front porches

One lesson I've learned living in and exploring the urban core is that in dense neighborhoods, especially with high poverty, people live on their front porches. Their homes are hot so they need the air, and from the front porch you visit with your neighbors and passer-bys. Most of the new infill urban developers miss this important point, but it is nice to see HFH including a big full width front porch to their design. As a side note, we bought many of the materials for the House on Roxbury project at HFH's Restore store, allowing us to support an important social service organization, recycle useful building products and get unique items at great prices... check them out each Saturday morning!... More on Restore here and to post on REALNEO as I more fully document the Roxbury renovation project!

 

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