I have now been in the housing and community field for 30 years with the last 23 acting as the President/CEO of Beyond Housing, a community based not for profit in St. Louis. The one constant that drives me 30 years into this work is that the end result of any success we have is that someone’s life is better due to our efforts. Today our work is emblematic of the Home Matters movement, in that we understand the critical importance of intentionally integrating our work in the housing field to education, health, jobs and economic development. A real home can only be created when all the components that make up a vibrant and successful community are in place.
While our work and any understanding of home includes buildings both residential and commercial, I believe the physical structures are just the vehicle to serve families. In the Home Matters Open the Door video, young Samantha anguishes as the door to her stable and happy life closes. The door closed because she and her family lost the place they called home. Samantha’s ties to her friends, the library she loved and her community were all taken away. The building that she called home was important but it was all the things outside her front door that were the drivers for a great deal of her happiness and stability. It is such a simple and basic premise that I believe each of us understands – where you live matters. Your home and all that it means, like it did for Samantha, is a large part of your success as an adult today. This intuitive fact is backed by more research than is imaginable and should be enough to drive public policy and philanthropic dollars to ensure every “Samantha” has the best home and community possible. Sadly this is not case. The door has been closed for far too many for far too long.
“Your home and all that it means, is a large part of your success as an adult today.”TWEET THIS
I want to highlight that behind the data points in all the research about the power of home there are real people, with real names and real lives. Samantha is fictional in the Home Matters video. Tanzania is a real person with a real story about the power of home. I first met Tanzania over 20 years ago when she and her six sisters and their wonderful mother Connie rented a home from Beyond Housing. Tanzania was in elementary school at the time. Her mother Connie was a quiet, hard working woman who adored her daughters and pushed them to do well at school. Their home was in a quiet neighborhood with a big side yard for the girls to play in and plenty of neighbor children. The girls received back-to-school supplies and gifts during the holiday season from our organization. Connie participated in our Welfare to Work program and was on her way to great things Sadly, Connie died suddenly of a brain aneurysm and the girl’s world was shaken dramatically.
Beyond Housing worked with the girl’s father who had only been nominally in their lives. He moved in the home and we supported him with a variety of services to ensure that stability for the girls continued. He stayed in the home until all the girls left for college or work. This would be fine ending, but there is more. Last year a board member arranged a meeting with a young man who grew up in our community and wanted to give back. I arranged a meeting with James and he showed up with his wife whose name was Tanzania. When I shook her hand and said hello (not remembering her) she in turn looked at me in that strange way that I knew she somehow knew me.
We walked to a small conference room and James, an engineer at The Boeing Company, began telling me about his interest in giving back to his community. After a brief conversation between James and I, Tanzania blurts out “do you know who I am”? I said no. She said, “I’m Connie’s daughter.” My eyes welled up and I stood up walked across the room and we hugged. Even better, she told me that she and James went through our first-time home buyers program when they recently bought their first home! Tanzania was finishing her degree in education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and was looking forward to helping children. She told me that the school supplies and holiday gifts were so important to her and her sisters. It made them feel special. They loved their big five bedroom home and all that it meant to them.
We were able to open the door for Tanzania and look what it did for her! She walked through and achieved her part of the American Dream. Let’s get going. There are more doors that need to open.
Group photo courtesy of Beyond Housing