8/16/2019

THE SUCCESSFUL END TO A CHALLENGING CHAPTER: SFX GROUP #3

As we end the construction year in Clarksdale (too hot for any more building until the fall), it seems good and right to see this time as the end of a chapter. Since the beginning of 2019, friends of CAHFH from all over the world have rallied to help save the affiliate, and these efforts have been richly rewarded. During the trying 7 months between January and July, we have succeeded in reconstituting an invigorated board of committed members representing our major constituencies, we have paid off the lion’s share of the debt left at the end of the year, we have obtained insurance for all of our homeowners and have pioneered new ways of involving and affirming them, and, to top it all off, we have found an umbrella organization that will embrace us as a small, under-funded, grass-roots, and broad-ranging housing ministry committed to building both homes and community, as expressions of God’s love for all those (homeowners and volunteers alike) in need of experiencing it. And it seemed only fitting that the culmination of that 7-month effort would occur during the third week of SFX volunteer activity, since that church has been so active, for over 20 years and especially during these last 7 months, in maintaining and expanding the impact of CAHFH.

This particular work week actually started on the morning of Saturday, July 20, as the SFX caravan was making its way south. For years, homeowner Elliott Kahaleua had been expressing his desire to involve some of the youth of Clarksdale in Habitat work and we had also been discussing the possibility of creating a crew to do some much-needed repairs on various Habitat houses. Then we found a willing couple—Eddie and Hester Gates, whose 19-year-old house was showing some wear and tear, causing their insurance to be dropped. As a result of this confluence of needs and desires, Ben Williams found himself with a willing crew—Elliott; Elliott and Veronica’s son, Chris Giles; Chris’s basketball mentee and son of neighboring Habitat homeowners, Alan Williams; the Kahaleuas’ adopted son, Jamaren Palmer; his friend Tarvis Gaines (both of the latter being members of Spring Initiative); and me—to join with Eddie in beginning to paint the exterior of the house. Though the morning was hot (duh!), the bonding was evident from the beginning and, by noon, when it was time to retire to the nearby dorm for lunch prepared by Jane and homeowner Lillie Matthews, we had completed over a quarter of the job, enjoying ourselves immensely in the process.

That evening, the SFXers arrived, primed and ready for their action, which started on Sunday afternoon and involved a number of projects. Seeing the successful results of getting the Gates’s house back to a place of insurability inspired us to envision the same for Thelma Sykes’s house across the street (suffering from some of the same old-age issues), so one crew, led by Party Bob Albertini, prepared for another roofing job and other repairs. Then there were the 8th Street and Edwards Street houses, which continued to need mudding (Edwards), cleaning up (8th), and priming (both), so a second crew, led by Chris O’Hea, Hoss Kelly, and Sharon Fitz, undertook those responsibilities. In addition, the Gates’ house still needed the same painting attention that the front part had gotten, so a third crew, headed up by the same leadership threesome, tackled that job. Finally, we unleashed the “Tim and Tom Home Repair” extravanganza, featuring Tom MacGovern and “Uncle Tim” Harris, on a variety of repair projects, all of which were preventing homeowners from having insurance coverage.

Everything about the week proved to be memorable. For one thing, the weather turned unseasonably comfortable early on—80s in the day and low 60s at night—unheard of for the Delta in July. For another, the work on Douglas Street (Thelma’s and the Gates’) attracted a number of young Sykes’ workers to help out (and get their necessary sweat equity hours in) and Jamaren pitched in for another afternoon. For a third, by the end of the week, thanks to Tom Terrific, Uncle Tim, and their helpers, five Habitat houses were ready for insurance coverage. And we were able to celebrate all of this with another inspiring potluck on Thursday evening before the group left Friday morning. The potluck, again held at Kings Temple, reflected the convergence of visions, set out earlier in the week in a hopeful, affordable housing meeting between Habitat leadership and Pastor Edward Thomas and reflected in the long history of collaboration between the church and Habitat, going all the way back to the days of Pastor J.J. Jackson and continuing with current board members and KT congregants, Orrden Williams and the Bobbie/Bobby Butlers. Attended by a new record of 8 homeowners, our time together featured a special gift from the SFXers to construction guru Ben Williams to help cover a family emergency and a rousing version of “Break Every Chain” by the incomparable gospel singer/Habitat homeowner/Spring staff member, Veronica (“Ms K”) Kahaleua. It was a fitting ending to a week of breaking into all sorts of new areas for CAHFH.

In light of all those successes, it would be hard to beat them as news, but I think we can do it. During our monthly board meeting, after literally years of growing dysfunction, months of vague tension, and weeks of careful deliberation, the board voted unanimously to transition as an organization from Habitat for Humanity International to the Fuller Center for Housing. Though this sounds like a momentous decision (and in many ways it is), it will make very little difference in the day-to-day operations of the affordable housing ministry we have all benefited so much from and—the best part—it is being carried out with complete and friendly cooperation from both sides. For those unacquainted with the Fuller Center (check out their website), it was started 13 years ago by Millard and Linda Fuller, the original visionaries and founders of Habitat, after directional differences with the parent organization. One of the differences in philosophy had to do with the willingness to support small, under-resourced affiliates like CAHFH, with HFHI making it clear to us that since we were often not able to complete our obligations, we were in serious danger of de-affiliation. The Fuller Center on the other hand, reached out to us over a year ago, expressing their actual desire to support small affiliates like ours, as a reflection of the original Habitat vision of helping identify and address the needs of local communities, as they themselves recognize them. To summarize the process succinctly (always a challenge for someone like me), HFHI (reluctantly, it seems) no longer wants us and FCH (enthusiastically) does. And so the hopefully easy transition has been authorized to begin! We will be keeping y’all informed as we move into the next chapter of community ministry in Clarksdale with the Fuller Center for Housing.