Field Notes: June 2011 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1
Field Notes: June 2011
Perspectives from around Habitat’s world
Affiliate Spotlight: Building Better Communities
A Habitat affiliate in Paterson, New Jersey, uses a photo exhibition to show a city’s transformation.
By Phillip Jordan
Photo by William Neumann, Paterson Habitat.
The three maps of Paterson, New Jersey, are filled with pushpins. Strings connect the pins to dozens of surrounding photographs, most featuring people sweating on construction sites. On each map, concentrated swaths of the city are colored in red. In this case, red means go. Or, more correctly, gone — as in, where Paterson Habitat for Humanity has gone into neighborhoods and built homes with families over the past quarter-century.
The maps are part of a larger exhibition that Paterson Habitat created to illustrate how — and why — Habitat’s approach has worked here. Titled “25 Years of Housing Hope and Humanity,” the show debuted earlier this year with a sold-out opening reception at the historic Paterson Museum; the crowd included U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (a Paterson native) and Mayor Jeff Jones.
“We wanted to show physically how we had helped change Paterson,” says Billy Neumann, photographer and curator of the exhibition. “When the idea for this show came up, I thought let’s give everyone our history, but in a way that really exemplifies how much we’ve been able to change in this city.”
Neumann has witnessed much of that transformation up close. Over the past 20 years, he has served as a volunteer, board member and, most frequently, as a photographer chronicling the affiliate’s ministry. That long-term perspective helped Neumann craft a show that could visually narrate Habitat’s work in Paterson.
“The first thing we wanted to do was just explain our story,” Neumann says. “Give people the message that there’s action to take: ‘We have done it, here’s how we’ve done it, and we’d love to show how you can get involved.’”
Telling its tale
Paterson Habitat’s story begins in 1984. By then, the city — once a bastion of American industrial might — had become another example of vast American flight. As factories and businesses closed or relocated, people followed jobs out of town. There wasn’t enough new, affordable housing being built for those who remained, and older housing stock wasn’t being repaired.
From its earliest days, Paterson Habitat targeted three wards within the city, particularly focusing on the First Ward and its Northside neighborhood. By the early 1990s, Habitat Paterson started a 28-home build there. The affiliate’s bold ambition: to stem the tide of neglect and offer new hope for an entire community.
“North First Street became an all-Habitat block in that ward,” says Barbara Dunn, the affiliate’s executive director. “Prior to us being there, it was a burned-out warehouse. The area really became a symbol. Before, this was a place that people had really walked away from.”
Since its founding, Habitat Paterson has partnered with more than 240 families to provide new or improved housing. More than 200 of those homes stand within this once-abandoned part of town.
“Today, it’s no longer considered the worst area of the city,” Dunn says. “The homeowner presence here has been a stabilizing effort. Now, we’re looking to replicate this success elsewhere.”
As part of the “25 Years” show, a history wall illuminates Habitat’s progress. In the process, it also shares the story of Paterson Habitat’s founding and growth. Twenty people volunteered to start the affiliate in 1984; a newspaper photo shows some of those founders celebrating their official incorporation. An old brochure trumpets Habitat Paterson’s inclusion on the route of Habitat’s 1988 “House-Raising Walk” from Maine to Georgia — a key moment in the affiliate’s growth.
More recent pieces highlight Paterson Habitat’s tithe relationship with Habitat Kenya, as well as annual volunteer trips to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Family portraits are ever-present. Appropriately, a final wall details the many ways people can join Habitat and details projects under way in 2011.
The exhibition’s variety is intentional: The goal is to create a lot of entry points for people interested in getting involved. “It’s indicative of Habitat in many ways — people get attached to it from so many different perspectives,” Neumann explains. “As a family, as a volunteer, as a neighbor.”
“For us, this show allowed us to think back and assess the impact we’ve had and recognize all the people that got us here today,” Dunn says. “It’s an imaginative, tangible way to show what we’ve accomplished. And hopefully to reach a wider audience to help us going forward.”
Most people have a distinct image of what Habitat looks like to them. For one, it might be the wall-raising from their first volunteer experience. Someone else might remember watching an abandoned house being rebuilt on their street.
As a photographer, Neumann’s job is based on capturing those images. After all he has witnessed in his 20 years of Habitat service, he doesn’t hesitate when asked what image first comes to his mind when he thinks of Habitat.
“It’s always a family,” Neumann says. “I mean, we’ve done every type of house you can imagine, different types of methods and construction. But it’s really the families that mean the most. That’s always the image that pops out. When you see someone work on their house, or hold their keys for the first time, that’s the best. It’s always about the families.”
Pioneers in Excellence
U.S. affiliates and leaders recognized for innovation in the field
Volunteers at work on Green Mountain Habitat’s innovative “passive house” in Charlotte, Vermont. Photo courtesy Green Mountain Habitat.
When more than 2,000 U.S. affiliate staff and volunteers gathered in Atlanta for the 2011 National Affiliate Conference in March, Habitat announced its annual Pioneers in Excellence awards.
Clive Rainey Lifetime Achievement Awards
In 2010, the Lifetime Achievement awards were named after Clive Rainey, Habitat’s “first-ever volunteer.” This award honors those who have made exceptional and sustained commitments to advancing Habitat’s mission.
Joan Jaynes’ support of Habitat of Central Arizona dates to 1985 when she helped start the affiliate. She created Habitat Central Arizona’s first Faith Relations committee, forming coalitions to build many homes through sponsorships. She also used her professional realtor skills in acquiring and developing land for the affiliate — land that was often donated or sold at discount thanks to her relentless efforts.
Our Towns Habitat’s Mal Murray has worked on the North Carolina affiliate’s behalf for nearly 26 years. Most recently as a member of the board of directors, he single-handedly secured $500,000 for the affiliate in one year. Over the past quarter-century, he has participated in just about every facet of the organization — most notably igniting the affiliate’s house-rehab program, which is changing the face of once-neglected neighborhoods.
Dan Pearson has worked with Habitat Forsyth County (North Carolina) since 1988. An on-site Collegiate Challenge leader, Pearson designed a youth-friendly construction-learning method. The technique works for volunteers of all ages, too, enabling more volunteers to effectively aid the affiliate on the build site.
Habitat North Central Georgia estimates that Gene Stelten has helped 1,000 families achieve homeownership over the past 26 years. And while he’s worked in just about every position, his unique contributions include reaching a younger generation with Habitat’s message through books such as his latest, A House for Wally and Me.
Clarence Jordan Awards
The Clarence Jordan Award — named in memory of the founder of Koinonia Farm, who came up with the idea of “partnership housing” that led to Habitat — is given to two affiliates in recognition of their creativity and innovation.
Green Mountain Habitat (Vermont) built a “passive house” as part of a series of new, energy-efficient homes. The house is primarily heated by solar power and includes design features such as a solar hot-water system, high-performance insulation, balanced ventilation and shading. Passive houses can lead to a 90 percent reduction in annual energy costs for homeowners.
Habitat of Mesa County (Colorado) radically reimagined their affiliate’s ReStore. They reorganized the entire 28,000-square-foot store and created a new volunteer training program. The result? An effectively run ReStore that brings in almost $100,000 a month and retains long-term volunteers.
Affiliates of the Year
The Affiliate of the Year award is presented annually in three population-based categories. This year’s honorees are: Habitat Bay-Waveland Area (Mississippi), Indian River County Habitat (Florida) and Habitat of Collier County (Florida).