Tiny Homes Fulfill Big Dreams

   

Owning your own home, it’s part of the American dream, right? Not if you’re homeless. But in Detroit, one fearless woman, Rev. Faith Fowler is making that dream come true.

The nonprofit, Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), run by Rev. Fowler, initiated the Cass Community Tiny Homes as the first project of its kind to offer rent-to-own properties to those on the lowest rung of the economic spectrum. Fowler started the project to give people who would otherwise never have an opportunity to own a home, just that, a home of their own.

“We were looking for a way to help homeless and other low-income people gain an asset,” Fowler explained over email.

 

You’ve probably seen the tiny homes, perhaps on a trailer behind a pickup truck or maybe on TV. They’re cute, they’re cool and they serve a purpose. And while the Detroit Tiny Homes are like what you may have seen, they are also atypical. The Cass Community Tiny Homes (CCTH) is the first to offer rent-to-own properties.

Here’s how it works: CCTH finds people in shelters and through neighborhood canvassing who would like to move into a home, but don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so. I mean, these folks are homeless. Who thinks about owning a home when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight? For people who can’t qualify for a regular mortgage, much less have a down payment, but have a steady source of income, the tiny house project offers a solution to both homelessness and rebuilding a life. Prospective residents must apply. Then the organization begins a review process, culminating in an interview. Once accepted, the tenants start a yearly lease, paying rent no more than a third of their monthly salary.

Each unit rents for $1 per square foot, which comes to $250 – $400 a month for a 250-400 square-foot house. Because the tiny homes are built for energy efficiency, utilities aren’t all that expensive; they usually run about $35 a month. After renting for three years, tenants will be offered a land contract to “rent to own” their homes within four years.  Could CCTH shorten the process? Sure they could. The lengthy process is intentional and meant to help residents develop financial discipline about paying their bills on time. No one wants to see them lose their houses to unpaid water bills or taxes.

After seven years of paying rent, the lease converts to ownership. Sounds easy, but there are requirements. The renters must attend monthly financial coaching and home-ownership classes.

At this writing, the Detroit Tiny Homes community has enough property to build 25 single-family homes ranging from 250 – 400 square feet. Seven tiny homes are currently occupied and six more are in the process of being built.

One of the most heartwarming aspects of the project is that the tiny homes border the CCSS campus. This is significant because unlike many low-income housing projects, residents live side-by-side, mixed in with the local community rather than apart from it. It’s not just houses, albeit tiny ones, it’s a community.

Ultimately there will be 25 different house styles in Phase One for singles and couples, a different design on each lot. Phase Two will be for families and a commercial strip. And as the photos illustrate, unlike most shelters, these residences aren’t bleak or cheerless. Each one sports a beautiful façade, chock full lots of details and a unique architectural style.

While you might assume that the project is government-funded, it’s not. The development is funded entirely by private donations and foundations, including the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund.

If successful, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, these tiny housing developments could change everything for Detroit’s low-income families. Where once there was despair, these families can settle into a life they only dreamed about – the American Dream of owning property that they can pass down to their children and future generations. It doesn’t get any better than that.

For more information please click here.

 

 

Making a Difference on Make a Difference Day

Those who regularly read this blog know that when I find a person or an organization “doing good” I write about it. I stumbled across Make a Difference Day. Sounds nice, but what is it, you may wonder? Well, it’s a movement, it’s an opportunity to do-something-good to make our world a better place, and who doesn’t want that? It’s also one of the biggest annual single service days nationwide. It started in February of 1992 and has evolved into a national event held the fourth Saturday every October. In this, its 26th year, MDD will take place on October 28th, just a couple of months away. People come together from around the country with one common goal – to better the lives of others.

The point of Make a Difference Day demonstrates that everyone and anyone, regardless of age or circumstance or background, can make an impact on their community. Each October, individuals and groups get involved and they indeed make a big difference in their communities. Some are big, some are small, but they all matter. So what kind of things do people do to make a difference? It’s simple, but really, really important stuff. Acts that truly improve the lives of those around us. Here are a few stories from the Make a Difference Day website that made my heart sing:

Have you heard of the kids’ book, Loukoumi’s Good Deeds? In 2009 the book inspired children to do good, just like one of the characters, a cuddly lamb. That same year, the book’s author, New York lawyer, Nick Katsoris, used the book to launch a Make a Difference Day Project. Ultimately 1,000 children joined in and raised $10,000 that went to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That inspired Mr. Katsoris to write more Loukoumi books. By Make a Difference Day 2013, the volunteers grew to 40,000, and the year after that – 50,000 kids helped 100,000 people. I particularly love what Mr. Katsoris said about his books inspiring kids to do good:

“The long-term impact of Make a Difference Day is that teaching children at a young age that doing good deeds can be fun is something that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

In New Albany, Indiana, Belinda Jacobi, a member of the Moving Forward limb loss support group at the Southern Indiana Rehabilitation Hospital saw an opportunity to help a larger population – their local homeless. They knew that frostbite is a leading cause of amputation among the homeless. With more than 6,000 homeless in their community, including 1,200 children, they decided to collect socks to help keep their feet warm and hopefully prevent amputation. Members of the group placed collection boxes at doctors’ offices, the hospital and a fire station. By Make a Difference Day 2016 they collected 864 pairs of socks that they donated to the Salvation Army to distribute.

Daniel Soupiset of San Angelo, Texas was responsible for helping to save dozens of animals from being euthanized. He organized a project to increase pet adoptions from San Angelo’s animal shelter, where sadly, about 75% of its animals end up being put down. In 2014 during the month leading up to MDD Daniel and 25 volunteers raised funds for his “Canine and Kitty Coupons” project. On Oct. 25, Daniel and many volunteers set up in front of the shelter and handed out coupons to cover the adoption cost. They didn’t just raise over $4,500, they saved the lives of 57 animals who went onto their Forever Homes.

Maggie Leach, a Minnesota 12-year-old learned a big lesson when her family lived in a hotel for six months while their home was under construction. She discovered that many homeless families could not afford to do their laundry more than once a month. Laundry seems like something minimal, but to someone who must choose between food and doing laundry, it’s a no-brainer, food will always win that contest. But it has its consequences. Not being able to do laundry, and having to wear odiferous clothes over and over, can greatly affect self-esteem and one’s dignity. Maggie figured that out and decided to help by collecting laundry soap and quarters for families living in shelters. On last year’s Made a Difference Day Maggie collected $810 in quarters (81 rolls), 21 baskets of laundry supplies and a pack of diapers. Her effort assisted numerous families living at Lewis House, a shelter for families fleeing domestic violence.

How Make a Difference Day started is really cool and all because of our crazy calendar. When Leap Day fell on a Saturday in 1992, Gannett’s USA WEEKEND magazine suggested to their readers to spend their extra 24 hours doing something good for others. Pretty simple, right? Absolutely and the response was stupendous; it’s been going on ever since. Then in late 2014 sponsorship of Make a Difference Day shifted to USA TODAY and Gannett’s portfolio of newspapers, TV stations and digital properties. The following year, Gannett’s broadcasting and digital businesses spun off to form TEGNA Inc. Lest you think this is just one more corporate spinoff, it’s not. Tegna awards $140,000 annually to 14 honorees who are chosen by a panel of judges. Award winners designate their charity of choice to receive the grant money. Kinda a double-good, don’t you think?

Starting a service project on your own is easy. Projects can be as simple as cleaning up your local park with your family and friends or hosting a lemonade stand and donating the proceeds to charity. The ask is simple – just do something good for somebody else. Submit your project in advance at the MDD website and you could win a $10,000 grant for your project’s charity. If Make a Difference Day sounds like something you’d like to do, click here to find out more on  their website. Together we can all make a difference.

 

 

 

Texas Shows Harvey a Thing or Two

It’s been said that the worst brings out the best in people. The past few days has shown this to be true in the Lonestar state of Texas. When Hurricane Harvey hit, no one could foresee the devastation that would hit the coastal areas. No one could fathom the massive flooding that would turn the region into one big bayou. In other low-lying states where similar devastation has hit, the residential response has been, how should I say it, less than eloquent. But Texas is not like other places. Texas takes care of its own. Texas did what Texas does, the state and its residents ran to the aid of their friends, neighbors, and people they didn’t know, regardless of their own safety. In countless cases people didn’t wait for the authorities to rescue them or rescue their neighbors. They took matters into their own hands. They pulled out their canoes and boats and dinghies and anything that would float and paddled to the aid of anyone who needed help. They became emergency workers and rescuers. Never mind that no one asked them to do what they’ve done. They stepped up even though no one asked them to.

I have family in Texas whose roots go back to the 19th century. However, it is not just my family connection that makes me proud to be “part” Texan. With all the political and societal divisiveness of late that seems to be splitting our country apart, I have taken great pride in witnessing how when the going gets tough, as it has in Texas, all those things that have pitted people against one another has dissolved. All that mattered was that people came together to help each other out, just as they should.  As a friend said to me, “it was not about politics or color, it was about humanity and compassion, people helping one another.”

God bless all the police, fire, coast guard, sheriff, swat teams and other first responders who have worked tirelessly to save thousands of lives. And not just those in Texas, but also first responders who came from all over the country. And then there are companies, like Anheuser-Busch that shut down beer production at their Georgia plant and switched to filling cans with water to ship to Texas.

However, it’s been the unsung heroes who stepped up and did the right thing that formed lump after lump in my throat. People like the Houston pastor who waded through chest deep water checking submerged vehicles looking for people who needed rescuing. A man named Aaron Jack who stopped for gas and when a lost, wet dog jumped into his vehicle, he set out to find the dog’s owner, and did. John Griggs, who used his kayak to ferry 22 people to higher ground out of harm’s way. One of the most dramatic rescues I saw on Facebook was of two men riding horseback through the flood waters to save livestock left behind to fend for themselves. The clip showed the men freeing a penned-in horse standing in water up to its neck. Then there are the stories of the news media, who had to step away from reporting the news and become a part of it like KHOU reporter Brandi Smith who flagged down a sheriff’s boat to rescue a man stuck in the cab of his truck that was rapidly filling with water. And a news photographer who freed a dog tied to a pole who was going to drown in the rising water and took him to shelter. How about the group of teens in Meyerland that weren’t old enough to drive but they used a boat to help people in their neighborhood? And the boat owner who was asked by a reporter what he was going to do and answered, “try to save some lives.” The stories of heroism are endless, and beyond heartwarming. They renew one’s faith in humankind.

And then there are the celebrities who can always be counted on to chip in, especially when the disaster hits home. You don’t realize how many of them are Texas natives until disaster strikes. They didn’t disappoint. I can’t possibly keep up with all the donations; here’s a small sampling of what I found as of this writing:

JJ Watt – set up the Houston Flood Relief Fund to raise $1,000,000. It quickly reached the goal and kept going. As of this writing it’s at $4,796,074, with a goal of $5 million. I suspect it will top that too.

Sandra Bullock donated $1,000,000 to Harvey Red Cross relief

Country music star, Chris Young: $100,000

Jim Crane and the ownership group of the Houston Astros: $4,000,000

The Kardashians: $500,000 to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross

Kevin Hart: $50,000 and then challenged fellow celebrities to follow suit

The Rock, Dwayne Johnson:  $25,000

The Houston Texans pledged $1,000,000 to the United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund.

Until the end of September, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame are donating 100% of the proceeds of their “Texas Forever” shirts toward restoring homes and lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Just after that announcement posted I went on to order a shirt and they were already sold out. The website said they would be restocking soon.

This list would be the length of an encyclopedia if I tried to include all the many donations celebrities are making to the relief effort. God bless them too. I just hope that when the waters recede and the cleanup begins that they come to Texas and pitch in however they can. Texas is going to need a whole lot more than money. I know in every part of my being that the Lonestar state will come out stronger than ever. Why? Because that’s what Texans do. Texas Strong!

Traveling Stories Build Literacy One Book at a Time

traveling-stories-storytent

If you live in the San Diego area, or some other regions, and you’re a frequent visitor to Farmers Markets you may have noticed a tent full of children listening intently to an adult or another child reading a story from a book. If you stepped closer you probably saw the mesmerized looks on the children’s faces as they soaked in the words and tales taking them to places they can only imagine.

Many of the children who visit the StoryTents are refugees whose families fled their war-torn home countries; children like seven year-old Abdullah and his four year-old brother, Abdulramah, who escaped Iraq in the fall of 2015.  Such children are fairly commonplace in this nirvana on the sea. San Diego absorbs approximately 3,000 refugees a year, many from Iraq seeking a better life, a safer life for their families.

traveling-stroies-abdullahWhen the boys’ family arrived in the U.S. the children didn’t know a word of English. And it didn’t help that the boys were exceedingly shy. The boys’ mom said that leaving friends and family in Iraq was hard on the brothers, sadness often filled their days. She told a friend who had also escaped Iraq years earlier about her boys’ difficulty with adjusting to life in America. The friend told Mrs. Aleze about the StoryTent at the Farmer’s Market in El Cajon, a small city east of San Diego. Mrs. Aleze took them to the Thursday market, found the tent and the boys sat down to listen to a story being read. For the first time since their arrival on American shores she observed a spark of happiness. No matter that they didn’t understand English, the boys were hooked. After that first visit, their mom made sure they attended every week and their perseverance has paid off. Over the past year Abdullah not only learned to speak and read English, he now insists on reading aloud to the adult volunteer and the other children.

So who started these StoryTents? The literacy program is the brain child of San Diegan, Emily Moberly. When she was 22 she taught English in a bilingual high school in Honduras. She discovered that the kids didn’t read books; she soon figured out why. There traveling-stories-emily-moberlywere few, if any, resources for kids to procure books. The town had just one insufficient library that rarely opened and a small, equally insufficient bookstore. On a visit home she bought as many books as she could stuff into her luggage, returned to the Honduran school and started a library. Over the next few weeks and months she watched the students connect with the books; she observed them fall in love with reading. Emily returned home and never forgot how unlocking the world of books to non-readers opened up a new chapter in kids’ lives, exposing them to new ideas, observations and insights. She decided to do the same in her home city, though not as a permanent structure. In 2010 she founded Traveling Stories as a 501c3 nonprofit operating primarily in farmers markets. Why tents?

“A tent allows us to be mobile and to fit in easily at a farmer’s market or other community hotspot. We want to make reading a part of everyday life,” Emily says. “We want to make reading more visible in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Kids in these neighborhoods have access to books through libraries and schools, but still the fact remains that 82% of low-income children in America are not reading at grade level by 4th grade.”

Emily is definitely onto something. According to the Literacy Project Foundation 50% of adults cannot read a book written at eighth grade level. 45 million adults are functionally illiterate. Among the 20 highest income countries the U.S. ranked 12th in literacy. That’s pretty astounding for a country as big and as sophisticated as the U.S. To combat illiteracy in adults, it must start with children; Emily gets it.

“Traveling Stories helps kids develop strong literacy skills, confidence in their ability to read out loud and a love of reading,” she says.

She chose the farmers markets because she saw that kids needed one-on-one reading support with people who love to read. She noticed children accompanying their parents to travelling-stories-taythe local farmers markets and decided to try out a tent at the City Heights farmer’s market in 2011. It was a huge success. Now they’re in markets across San Diego, in Long Beach, Turlock, and Canada with plans to expand to more communities in San Diego over the next five years which Emily surmises will enable them to reach 5,000 children, turning them into better readers. After that they plan to go nationwide.

Emily spends much of her time raising funds as it costs about $20,000 to operate each tent per year. Between private and corporate donations, special events, sponsorships, grants, merchandise sales on their website and in-kind donations, so far they’re making ends meet and building for the future.

“That’s how we’re able to serve 40-plus kids every week at every StoryTent,” she says.

These days the StoryTents pretty much attract their own following, occupying the same spots week after week, making it easy to find them. Plus there’s an incentive. When children visit a tent, they pick out a book and read it aloud to the adult volunteer who traveling-stories-girlsfollows up by asking questions that help the child build reading comprehension and crucial thinking skills. The children earn a “book buck” for every book they read. For particularly long or complex books they can barter with the volunteer for extra bucks, which can be used to “buy” prizes (like the in-kind donations). Not only do the kids learn invaluable reading and comprehension skills, they’re also learning basic finance. Earn a buck, spend a buck. Pretty basic stuff and pretty darn smart.

Interested in visiting a StoryTent or volunteering? Click here here to learn more.

 

Hitting It Big, Giving It Back

Who doesn’t harbor a secret fantasy of winning the lottery? It’s not uncommon for people to dream what they would do with the money should they hit the ‘big one’. A new car, a new house, travel, maybe a small tropical island. Anything is possible depending on the amount of the win.

HIB Win Photo

Back in late 2012 when Mark and Cindy Hill of Dearborn, Missouri won half of an astounding $587 million Powerball payout (netted to $136.5 million after taxes) they were simultaneously shocked and ecstatic. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

When asked at a press conference held at the high school where they met how they planned to spend the money, Mark, a mechanic, said he was thinking about buying a red Camaro. Not a Jag, not a Lamborghini, a Camaro. That gives you an idea what kind of humble people the Hills are. Ultimately Mark bought a pickup truck.

HIB Messsage on FBCindy, a laid-off office manager had been looking for work. They had already adopted a little girl from China and with the influx of money were thinking of adopting another. They also planned to help family members, by paying for their four granddaughters, nieces and nephews college educations. Their other big plan was to take their little daughter to the beach because she had never seen one.

Not much has changed for the couple, except that Cindy gave up her job search and Mark retired. He still meets friends for coffee every morning at a local convenience store and they still live in the same home and keep up with all their usual activities. No fancy cars, no tropical island, no exotic cruises to places they can’t pronounce. Instead they have slowly begun using their windfall to give back by funding civic projects in their local community, as well as in Mark’s home town, Camden Point, Missouri, a small settlement of less than 500 residents.

HIB Dearborn signSo far they’ve donated a scholarship fund to nearby North Platte High School in Dearborn, where both graduated, paid for a new ball field for children, safely built far from the dangers of traffic, and donated $50,000 towards the sewage treatment plant.

Who uses their lottery winnings to fund a sewage treatment plant? Good people with their priorities in the right place, that’s who. The new sewage treatment plant will allow residents to remove their personal septic tanks. Ever had to deal with a personal septic tank? You know this is a biggie.

HIB Fire StationAnd then there’s the fire station they funded in Camden Point, a gesture to thank local firefighters for twice saving the life of Mark’s father. Mark took a vested interest in the new fire station by working with architects, contractors, and members of the local volunteer fire department to make sure they got everything just right.

The new station, built to be larger than needed so it could meet demands as the community grows in the decades to come will be dedicated mid-July. It’s built from reinforced concrete to make sure it lasts for generations. In local reports city officials estimate that these projects would have taken around 25 years to complete had the city needed to rely on its existing tax base.

Often big money, like a lottery win, changes people. It’s gratifying to hear of a case where it didn’t, where people stuck to their values. At the press conference that announced their huge windfall, Cindy Hill explained their plans in the humblest way she knew how. “For some reason (God) put it in our hands,” she said, “I think to make sure it goes to the right things.”

If it were up to Mark, he would have kept the fire station a secret. He told a local news station, “If my wife and I could have built this without anybody knowing, that’s exactly what we would have done.” He doesn’t want people making a big deal over the gift because it’s simply their way of giving back to their neighbors, to their community.

Now if these folks aren’t the epitome of The Goodness Principle, I don’t know what is.

 

Hailey, the Extraordinary Kid Caregiver

Hailey 3

There are good people everywhere, and then there are remarkable people like Hailey, who takes care of her grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Not so unusual? Actually, it’s quite unusual because Hailey is nine years old and began caring for her beloved grandmother at the age of four. She adores her grandmother and has gone to extraordinary lengths to give her the best life possible.

What you may ask can a child do for an aging grandparent with such a challenging disease? Well, let me tell you. This child, who is as insightful as someone 50 years her senior, makes her grandmother’s world an easier place to live in, and one where she knows she is loved, deeply loved. How does Hailey get through, how does she communicate with her?

Hailey 5“I manage it by doing puzzles with my Grandma,” Hailey says. “Even if we don’t solve it exactly right it still makes Grandma happy.”

Hailey’s mom, Emma, says that her mother is still able to speak and she still recognizes them. That’s a big deal when it comes to dementia; there is nothing so heartbreaking as your loved one not knowing who you are. Emma says they are grateful, while acknowledging that there are other behaviors associated with the disease that can be difficult at times, such as frequent repeating. Anyone who has spent time around someone with Alzheimer’s knows that repeating is one of the more taxing aspects of the disease. It can be incredibly frustrating. Leave it to a nine year-old to come up with an effective tactic.

Hailey explains, “When Grandma keeps repeating herself I usually talk about a different Hailey 1subject, I say words she can’t repeat, like I say ‘I love you, Grandma’. Or I ask her a question.”

As her mother plunged into dementia Emma looked, but didn’t find any books for kids that would lend support; books that might help them cope. When it became quite apparent that Hailey had figured out a few innovative ways on her own Emma encouraged Hailey to create something that would help other kids navigate the caregiving waters.

“I started thinking that I needed a blog to help kids, so that they know they’re not alone and show them ways that they could care for their loved ones,” Hailey says. “On April 5th it was published.”

Emma set up the blog for Hailey, who took it over. She uses the hunt and peck system and for smaller entries she completely types it on her own. Emma, a teacher, proofreads and edits if necessary. Sometimes Hailey dictates entries to Emma who types it for her. Emma emphasizes that Hailey definitely does most of it on her own. Hailey comes up with posts, such as her caregiving tips and strategies. She’s even featured her friend, Katie, as a guest blogger. The blog has become a passion for Hailey and for her mother, too. The following post that Emma wrote on Hailey’s blog explains why it was so important to launch the blog and the new community it is building:

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving there are at least 1.3 million children between the ages of 8 and 18 who are caregivers. Hailey realized that children can make a big difference in the world. Unfortunately, Hailey and I had difficulty finding other kids who are going through the same thing as Hailey. There were times, when Hailey would have loved to know that there were other kids “out there”; who are also going through similar experiences. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”, so Hailey created the type of support group that she would have loved for herself. Her goal is for kids to have a platform to share ideas, offer tips, and get advice. She shares her experiences, to model for other kids.  Kid Caregivers is in its infancy, since the seed was launched in February (2016). I am excited to report that there are readers from: India, Africa, Greece, Germany, Israel, Russia, UK and the United States. Clearly caregiving is a worldwide issue and for children a very sensitive one. Her goal is to let other kids know that they are not alone. Hopefully, her dream of reaching “hundreds” of kids will become a reality.

Hailey 4Hailey’s efforts don’t stop there. She is the Assistant Director of Puzzles to Remember, an organization that provides puzzles to seniors in various types of facilities. And then there’s a prototype she’s working on called the Memory Walker Alert. Not long ago her grandmother forgot to use her walker one day, fell, suffered a subdural hematoma and broke her hip. Hailey reports that her grandmother had to have surgery and is doing much better. But the incident disturbed Hailey; she wanted to figure out a way to get people with dementia to use their walkers. Emma told Hailey about a device called a proximity sensor. Though not an engineer, Hailey is working on a dual-sensor system where one sensor would attach to the walker and the other would attach to the senior. If the senior steps too far away from the walker it would give off a voice command “Walker! Use your walker!” and a sound would beep image source. As Emma is quick to point out, Hailey does not know how to build the circuitry, but she understands the mechanics behind it. She’s already sketched out her idea.

Hailey 2“As the adults, her father and I are trying to figure out how it can be done,” Emma says. “She came up with the seed of the idea. She told me ‘we need to come up with some kind of alarm system, Mommy, so Grandma doesn’t leave the walker.’ We showed her various videos of proximity sensors and she’s been working on it” Emma says proudly.

At the center of Hailey’s mission is heart. A big heart. Most children are content to play and be a kid. Hailey is a different kind of soul. Of course she is a kid, and does all the usual kid things, but she also has a rare vision not often seen in a nine year-old. That vision means both making life better for her grandmother and helping other children, showing them that they’re not alone in caring for someone they love. If her blog accomplishes that one task, if it helps just one child, she will be elated, because all the effort will have been worth it.

For more information visit Hailey’s Kid Caregivers blog and her FaceBook page.

Be sure to watch the music video Stay for a Little While. Written by David Light and Bakhus Saba, it reflects on how children connect with dementia patients and features several photos of Hailey and her grandma.