A New Direction

By Gary Lasher, President of the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County

It is my honor to have recently been elected as President of the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County.

We will continue to construct affordable housing for families that are living in sub-standard situations or have no way of finding a decent place to live. But we have identified a need that is much greater and where we can improve the lives of many more.

This new direction is to help families in need who can’t afford the necessary repairs to continue living in their existing homes. This could be anything from external repairs such as painting to providing a new roof or a fire hazard electrical system. The typical cost for repairing homes is about 10% of what it costs Habitat to construct a new home. This way we will be improving the lives of many more of our Montgomery families in need.

 Most recently, we worked with the neighbors of a veteran who had no heat and a roof needing extensive repair. When he was released from the hospital after receiving medical treatment, he was able to move into his newly repaired home.

Our plans go one step further and that is what we call Neighborhood  Revitalization where we concentrate our efforts on a particular neighborhood. This not only improves individual living conditions, but also upgrades the entire neighborhood making it a better place to live. Our first project started in September in what we call “Rock the Block”. With support from the Norristown municipality, over a hundred volunteers, block residents and the financial support of a number of donors, we were able to make an impressive improvement in just one day. But it doesn’t stop there. Over the next two years we will continue to improve the neighborhood by upgrading boarded up residences, making them available to new families, street lighting and improving the homes presently occupied.

 I am excited about our future in Montgomery County. There is much work to be done. With the support of our donors, staff and volunteers, we can make a difference. I ask you all to join us as donors and/or volunteers. You can help us improve the lives of many families right here in Montgomery County.

Indigenous Asset

by Jean Otto Ford, Director of Family Services

 While recently reading an article on leadership and vision, I encountered this quote:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

The author went on to assert that great leaders help their followers see, hear, touch, taste, even smell their futures before launching into fevered activity, further asserting that vision buy-in is critical to effectively leading one or one hundred through the successive tasks necessary to realizing any vision. For some reason, his words triggered thoughts of the families I serve.

Helping my homeownership clients “see, hear, touch, taste, and smell” owning a home-of-their-own is easy. Most families call or come to my information sessions already captivated by the idea of homeownership, already more than sold on that vision, already imagining it. It’s that wonderful image in their heads that motivates them to seek out Habitat in the first place, then sustains them through our lengthy and, at times, challenging process. Their senses are already fully engaged in visualizing the dream – they can just taste it, feel it, see it – and their consequent longing oozes from every pore, readying them to tackle whatever it takes. I don’t have to teach these families anything; the vision is there.

But what of the families we’re serving (and hope to serve) in our neighborhood revitalization program? These families already own their homes – a stipulation of HFHMC’s help with repairs – most for years. Any inspiring, idyllic vision of homeownership and neighborhood, for many, faded long ago. Some have watched their streets decline to the point of disgust, and, frankly, futility. “Why bother?” has become a common mantra as residents’ senses oh-so-gradually dull to the dream. Sure, Habitat and its partners can gallop in on white steeds, touting neighborhood improvement and revitalization, but far too many discouraged, indigenous souls don’t believe in the possibility of lasting change, let alone its realization. Many are simply too weary, too beat up by life or their blocks’ destructive forces to care anymore or even try; others care, but are overwhelmed by a sense of futility and thwarted by a lack of resources; still others are suspicious or distrustful; a handful simply gave up long ago. Where do I begin to help them – the community’s most potent resource: neighborhood residents themselves – restore their belief in what could be and resurrect that longing for “the endless immensity of the sea?”

Then there are those residents whose senses, despite all odds, remain alive and well – those who can still see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the future of their neighborhoods, their homes. The vision is intact; it’s strong, and it’s clear, and that powerful, sensual image creates a yearning that enables these denizens to continue caring and press on, ready to do whatever it takes. Like most of us, their hearts long for the delight, the nurturing, the connectedness, the security – “the endless immensity” – of neighborhood as it could be. The difference is, like my homeownership clients, these residents can already taste it, feel it, see it. I don’t have to teach these folks a thing. And, as we (HFHMC) venture into the new frontier of neighborhood revitalization, I can think of no more valuable catalyst and mobilizer for change and no more powerful asset for sustaining it. That’s the where and the how: such residents themselves. That’s where I (and genuine, lasting change) must start.

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