Serving families through Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Serving families through Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods

By Rebecca Hix

Habitat’s new metrics and goals around serving families rather than building houses, is, I think, the reality and core mission Habitat has always had. At family selection meetings, fundraisers, and most especially, house dedications, we preach that it is not the houses, but the families that are most important. It is the families who will own those homes, raise their children in those homes and draw closer to what God intends them to be in those homes that matter. With that in mind it seems appropriate that Habitat would change its language to more clearly reflect our focus.

But how do we do that? Counting roofs will always be easier than counting how our ministry impacts people’s lives. Being able to evaluate impact is important because it tells the story of transformation and helps us evaluate the stewardship of resources entrusted to us.

In this environment of old ideas receiving new emphasis, Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods (TBN) was born. TBN’s mission is to be a catalyst for neighborhood transformation by joining with other funding and community-based partners to support new or existing initiatives to revitalize lower-income neighborhoods.

Two key ideas have guided program design:

  • Serving families requires more than building houses. To affect transformation, a comprehensive strategy must be created that affects the many elements of poverty in a neighborhood.
  • Habitat alone can neither eliminate poverty, nor the conditions that create it and sustain it. Therefore a coalition of partners is needed, where each brings a needed core competency to the table.

In order to test these design ideas, four neighborhoods are currently piloting a planning process that will culminate in the creation of a business plan for transformation.

  • MorningSide Commons in Detroit, Michigan
  • East Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland
  • King Irving & Mondamin in Des Moines, Indiana
  • Harambee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Following the planning phase, each neighborhood will submit its business plan for the potential of US$1M from TBN to catalyze implementation of their plan.

A program with such significant investment requires rigorous evaluation. We must know both what was accomplished and how it affected families’ lives. To do this, TBN is partnering with Success Measures, an outcome-based evaluation module that conducts participatory evaluations of programs to improve neighborhoods and communities. The Success Measures Data System (SMDS) offers:

  • 44 indicators to measure the impacts of housing, economic development, and community-building programs at the individual, organization, and community level.
  • Over 100 data collection tools corresponding to these indicators on SMDS. These data collection tools include surveys, interviews, observational protocols, focus groups and formats for analyzing program administrative data or public records and data sources.
  • A credible method of evaluating quantitative and qualitative data to give a full picture of transformation in a neighborhood.
  • A strong training and technical assistance program.

Under the guidance of Success Measures, TBN has selected three major areas of change that it will study:

  • perception of neighborhood quality of life
  • neighborhood’s physical environment
  • empowerment/engagement (community/individual)

As an example of this process, a coalition would track its progress and effectiveness by documenting the what (30 houses built, 1 community policing effort put into place) and how the neighborhood was impacted.

Because understanding the “how” is more complicated, the four sites will use Success Measures’ tools to gather key data. For example, to evaluate the change in perception of neighborhood quality of life, a coalition might use a resident satisfaction survey tool or host a focus group to assess the external perception of the neighborhood.

In combining the qualitative data of surveys and focus groups with quantitative data of activities completed, we begin to understand impact. The two components together—what was done and the difference it did (or did not) have—help us to understand both how many roofs were put on and how those roofs transformed the lives of those under them.

In the Revelation to John, God proclaims “behold I am making all things new.” Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods is partnering with coalitions to make all things new, both the physical things and, more importantly, how God’s children are affected by those things.

Rebecca Hix is the New Programs team leader for Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity.

For more information on the Thrivent Builds alliance and Thrivent Builds Neighborhoods, please visit For more information on Success Measures, please visit