It Takes All Of Us To Build Stronger Communities
The following article was featured in the Opinion section Viewpoints of the Pensacola News Journal on Saturday, May 12, 2012.
It takes all of us to build stronger communities
Written by Timothy H. Evans, executive director of Pensacola Habitat for Humanity and Patrick A. Corvington, senior vice president of volunteer and institutional engagement, Habitat for Humanity International.
Every community has a story, but sometimes you have to look past the surface. What at first glance appears to be desolate, deserted and deteriorating might actually be a community on the brink of recovery, revitalizing itself with the help of homeowners, partners and volunteers.
Habitat for Humanity believes that communities, like the people who live in them, are resilient. For 25 year-old Mandy McCulley, giving back to a community in need is an important part of her story. When Mandy was 10 years old, her mother purchased a Habitat home. Mandy’s formative years in her mother’s home provided a sense of security and she later went on to study rural populations and affordable housing. After graduating from the University of Iowa, Mandy signed up to serve for a year as an AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity, her way of giving back to families like her own, living in communities like she once had.
It’s people like Mandy who come back to serve. And it is private and government funding, and the origination of cross-sector partnerships, that help struggling communities create their own solutions, solve their own problems.
Habitat for Humanity is committed to our work within these communities and while we have made great strides toward our goal of providing safe, decent and affordable housing for all people, much work still needs to be done. That work, and our understanding that we can’t do it alone, is what makes our longstanding relationship with AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs that target the nation’s critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment, so very important.
This year, there are more than 550 AmeriCorps members serving with Habitat in more than 180 communities in 38 states and the District of Columbia. These members are anticipated to serve nearly 2,400 families, provide more than a million hours of service, mobilize 200,000 volunteers and raise millions of dollars in cash and in-kind resources. The Pensacola Habitat affiliate has maintained a working relationship with the AmeriCorps program for several years, and has benefitted greatly from the service of many very dedicated workers.
In some of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis and urban blight, Habitat for Humanity’s AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon will be a tangible sign not only of recovery but of hope. For two weeks in May, hundreds of AmeriCorps members and Habitat volunteers will build, rehabilitate and repair more than 30 homes in Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; and Pensacola, Fla.
Next week, seventy five AmeriCorps members from across the country will travel to Pensacola to work. Their efforts, combined with that of thousands of local volunteers over the years, will help Pensacola Habitat build affordable housing for low income families in northwest Florida. The 2012 AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon in Pensacola will add six new homes to the Ensley community in one week concentrated construction.
In addition to the beneficial Habitat-AmeriCorps partnership, this year’s Build-a-Thon adds another layer of public-private collaboration. Pensacola Habitat for Humanity is participating in the second phase of the federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides funding to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed or abandoned homes and to build new homes on vacant lots. The grant program has allowed Pensacola Habitat to expand its program over the past few years to add significantly to the area’s affordable housing stock. New construction numbers have topped 100 homes annually. However, in just the last calendar year, Pensacola Habitat received over 1,000 applications from families hoping to join with Habitat in partnership, the end result being the opportunity to purchase a house at cost, with a no interest loan from the affiliate.
The sounds of power saws and hammers — in the hands of people deeply committed to national service — will be a vibrant reminder of what’s possible when the public and private sectors work together.
A stronger nation begins with stronger communities, and organizations alone cannot repair the massive, heartbreaking damage that has been done in many of our neighborhoods. Recovery is something we can only create together. It takes all of us. The homeowner determined to buy a house. The volunteer willing to pound a nail. The private or corporate donor pledging support. The critical government funding of programs like AmeriCorps. Together, we are building not only homes, but relationships, opportunities, security and hope.
The kind of hope that allowed a young 10-year-old Mandy McCulley to dream big, grow up, attend college and give back.