In April 2012, I went to Atlanta Ga. to meet Bob Lupton, author and Urban leader for 40 years of Urban Community Development and planning. Meeting Bob Lupton changed me for the following 4 years(and still), I feel like I have been in college once again for the last 4(8 years total, could have had my Ph.D by now) years, sadly graduation doesn't look like it's in sight. I have been in touch with Mr. Lupton every year since meeting him in Atlanta, last time we met was Dec. 2014, again, he filled me with great inspiration and great recommendations, still more changes and learning that needed to take place.
When I started thinking I should be "doing more" for MY community, I was green and naive, had zero idea what lied ahead for my life(thanks be to God), EXCEPT, I knew, what I was doing on a daily weekly basis wasn't what I was being called to do. I had such a tugging, but had no idea what I should do or what it all meant.
2007 Help was needed in a church food pantry in the Northside, friends told me, it was thier home church, so I said..."Let's go!" This is where God had me start, right here in the thick of things, good and bad.
2009 I was still helping in that corner of the back of that local church, still not content that what I was doing was really making a transforming difference, I of course wasn't thinking that deeply, just doing what I knew, but knew very little. Each day that passed I learned and loved, I wasn't even sure what my purpose was except to build relationships with the community, I only knew that for sure. Love.
2009 We began the process of becoming a 501(c)3: Hands Up Ministries www.HUMinistries.org Finalized in 2009
As we waited for our non profit, JT(my husband) and I agreed, to liquidate our IRA, and we purchased 5 homes with our own money, in Northside(affordable housing was our thoughts) certain folks would follow, that was something that never happened. We now own 6 homes, including our own, we were bonkers, having no idea what was in our future again, Thanks be to God!
2011 Hands Up Ministries took another HUGE leap of Faith, we discoverd by random surveys, what most of our friends talked about repeatedly, was Housing. Affordable, Landlords Not Slumlords, and the possibility of Home ownership. "Holy Smokes Batman!", it was a leap of Faith we needed to take, we purchased our first non profit home, 2600 sq feet with non profit funds, we finally had enough money saved to buy this home in cash, then had to sink another $20,000 into renovations before we could let the first resident move in. There was a great need(and still is) for housing for single men, LONG STORY, but we were willing to try. We were definitely a wreck, this was the first home of this type. We dreamed of 10 men first, 2 in each bedroom, then we learned many had served YEARS in prison, stacked man over man, the dignified thing to do, was one person per bedroom(5 bedroom home). We thought we would open the house to those leaving drug rehab, and prison, but we were smart enough to insist on a job prior to moving in. We were highly unqualified for this group of people, with addictions, but we were willing. We were not successful in every aspect, but again, we learned a great deal. I was able to finally discern crack from heroin, something new in my life. I was lied to constantly, I was too kind, taken advantage of, rents weren't paid, it was a tough road, but we tried it, and we once again, learned a great deal about recovery and addictions. What we didin't do, was hire a manager who had years of recovery to guide us. Lesson learned 101.
2015 Four years of renting to men, we have changed our M.O. The above home will soon be a home for a family of three, we have finally found our niche, when we can find a family or singles who WANT a home, who can take care of a home, who value the accountability and responsibility, we are finally onto something. June 1, we move our first family into this HUGE home, we have housed over 50 men in this house, finally, with enough grit and grind, we are praying for a smooth 2015/2016 and more lessons learned. Currently, we have three non profit homes all 3 homes are filled with familes and couples who HUM is the microlender, no banks involved, the families save money, they would not have other qualified through a mortage brooker of ANY kind, this is a win win, for HUM and it becomes a sustainable non profit, and our tennants (through lots of education) become homeowners. We currently have mortages they all can afford and are no higher than they were paying in rent. This is how we will develope the neighborhood, take out the blighted homes, the folks who are peddling drugs will see, there is a new sherrif in town, not me, but new HOMEOWNSERS have reason now to take personal responsibility for THEIR neighborhood, it's not my neighborhood, its taking the neighborhood BACK, and not through gentrification.
More personal stories to come, just wanted to quickly bring you up to date.
Still in school, have learned a GREAT deal and willing to learn more, 8 years later. Hanging on nails embedded tightly, with God's Grace.
I'm back, my head is full of stories, ups and downs, and they are long at times and they are painful. They are joy filled stories and they keep me plooding along in the trenches. The last time I wrote was April 2012, hard to believe I even wrote that long, but now, I know writing saves me.
Running and starting a non profit isn't easy, keeping it running isn't easy, I heard a statistic that most Non profits crumble after 3 years, well I can see why now, but that will NOT happen here. Not today. There is so much work to be done, people to meet, houses to fill and give to families who qualify. What is taking so long? I want to share some of our stories, that you may not have heard.
Yesterday, we have a home that is close to 100 years old, the HVAC was being replaced,($8000) last month, same home a broken water pipe from the city meter tour house of course...! More cash. I decided to walk downtown while the guys were working, I talked to the tennant, who is really a great friend, he agreed he would help watch the car, while I went downtown. The last thing he said to me when I got back, was "I cannot believe you, a white woman, would walk 8 miles, through the worst part of town, not be scared, and not be afraid."
I thought about that as I was walking, I wasn't afraid, I had friends yell out to me..."Ms. Cassie, why are you walking?" Just walking. So happy to be there, and realizing my friends WALK everywhere, everyday! I look at it as: "Oh goody" I'm gonna TRY to walk 8 miles today, they are doomed into walked 8 or more miles everyday. What I call exercise, is life for most in the city without cars, bikes, or bus fare.
I walked by so many beautiful churches, empty buildings, empty warehouses, and I walked by many homeless spots, where feces was present, cardboard was waiting for another night. The cardboard keeps the ground cold from seeping into your bones, or the bugs from easy access. These spots were a little hidden, not too much, because I stayed on the sidewalk. I noticed police walking around, like at any MOMENT, there would be a HUGE disruption, walked right past me, didn't speak. I need to teach classes on kindness. If I didn't speak yesterday(I was listening to music) I SMILED BIG, and you knew I was smiling at YOU! My friends smiled back, most. In fact I was on 3rd ave, coming back home, waving like Princess Diana to families on their porches, and I rolled my ankle, the side walk is NOT level. Something that Wyndham never experiences. I really enjoyed my walk, but my heart was so angry at ALL the delapedated, blighted empty homes in the city, something we as "suburban haves" would NEVER tolerate. These empty homes cause so much danger, fires, loss of lives, squatting, unpaid taxes, risks to passerbys. I saw one home with bricks on the roof...i was wondering..."what in the world?, Who would heave bricks on the roof"...silly me, the chimney had collapsed. At any moment, those bricks will fall off and nail someone in the head, they will probaby die, who is at fault? People are and can sue for anything, but when a brick falls on your head as you are walking on the sidewalk...who is at fault? NOT THE CITY! YOu cannot sue the city, we have tried. It is so hard to see the INJUSTICE of the HAVE NOTS and JUST because we have "money" we are considered the "haves." We just pick up our fancy phone, and let the "county" know, there is some stuff going on next door and I WANT IT TAKEN CARE OF! Heartache in the city, what can YOU do? What can I do more, I have done very little.