Be a part of World Habitat Day 2010

8″x10″ framed oil on board
Not for sale.

Fortunately, it has been brought to my attention by friends at Habitat for Humanity that October 4th is World Habitat Day. This international day of awareness has been initiated by the United Nations to rally support behind both organizations’ efforts to improve health and housing conditions for families in need.   Habitat for Humanity provided me with powerful facts and statistics about the impact of stable housing, including these select few highlights:

  • Children younger than 5 living in Habitat for Humanity houses in Malawi showed a 44 percent reduction in malaria, respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases compared with children living in traditional houses.
  • Children of homeowners are more likely to stay in school (by 7 to 9 percent), and daughters of homeowners are less likely to have children by age 18 (by 2 to 4 percent). (Green and White: 1996)
  • Homeowners are more likely to know their U.S. representative (by 10 percent) and school board head by name (by 9 percent), and are more likely to vote in local elections (by 15 percent) and work to solve local problems (by 6 percent). (DiPasquale and Glaeser: 1998)

To contribute to Habitat for Humanity’s work, you can donate by clicking here. You can also find out how to get involved in a number of activities specific to October 4th by searching by location here. And as always, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this painting will be contributed to the cause.

‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Stephanie & Aaliyah


11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board

Gallery caption:

Project Women (now the Family Scholar House) provides housing to single mothers who are experiencing homelessness and supports them in obtaining a baccalaureate degree, thereby enabling them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.


Although Aaliyah coming into this world is the best thing that ever happened to Stephanie, being a committed single mother left her unable to give adequate attention to her own needs, specifically her education.   Without her college degree, Stephanie knew finding employment that would afford them stable, sufficient income was not a reality.   Project Women has provided them with housing and given Stephanie the support she needs to pursue her degree full-time.

Stephanie’s quote in the painting:

I began to believe that this was a blessing designed specifically for me.   I am now in an environment that understands the importance of education and does everything possible to help keep me on track while I pursue my dreams.

Champions 4 Her 2009 in T-minus 10 days

For months, eleven artists have been creating beautiful street paintings designs with clients and staff from the nonprofit partners of the Norton Women’s Pavilion Champions 4 Her Festival.   These designs will be translated onto the sidewalk of Witherspoon at Water Front Park the morning of Saturday, June 20th, which coincides with a 5k walk/run.

Last year’s event and street paintings were a huge success.   The goal was to raise $100,000 for the participating nonprofit partners, but instead over $170,000 was allocated to the organizations.

Join us this year to see the street paintings unfold at your feet, participate as a walker/runner, and check out all of the educational/health booths.   You can register here for the 5k.

And thank you to the artists for all of their hard work and service:

Worthwhile reality TV show in my backyard

There’s not much that discourages me more about American culture than most reality TV shows. The Simple Life, Fashionista Diaries, The Bachelor, America’s Next Top Model and many more make me want to throw my hands up (or just throw up) and say, “there’s no hope for us!” It’s a sad sad state when the general public is more informed about Tyra Bank’s latest runway reject than our own presidential candidates.

All is not lost within the realm of reality TV. There are a few shows that have turned my scrunched brow of disgust into a teeth-baring smile. The crowning example is Extreme Makeover – Home Edition, wherein deserving families with incredibly compelling stories rife with misfortune are selected by ABC to be swept away on the vacation of their dreams while a small army (often including members of the family’s community) renovate or rebuild their home into a personalized palace (completely free of charge, thanks to business sponsors) in SEVEN DAYS.

A gargantuan for-profit company like ABC certainly doesn’t need marketing assistance from me, but today the spotlight is on their show because they’re working their home-building-magic here in Louisville. 19 year old, University of Louisville Spanish major, Patrick Henry Hughes was born without eyes and uses a wheelchair. Hughes and his family (both parents and two siblings) had their old small digs flattened this week to make room for their new 3,200sq ft, handicap accessible abode. The house is fully equipped with a “verbal command automation system” that allows Patrick to literally give his house cues, such as “computer goodnight,” which dims the lights and locks the doors (thanks to the generosity of Kentucky based EyeOn Automation). The full story is certainly worth a read.

Now, isn’t this better than, “Like, I just want to be a model because like I just love the industry, you know?”   Go back to school! ugh.

“The Unforeseen” showing tomorrow

For those Louisville residents interested in the topic of land development, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (a statewide advocacy group) will be showing a screening of the documentary The Unforeseen at the Kentucky Center for the Arts tomorrow, Aug. 24.

The film is an fair and unbiased look at both sides of the story of transformation in the landscape of Austin, Texas as big plans were set in motion in the 1970’s and 80’s to develop a residential neighborhood. As I would imagine is always the case with land development, there was a polarization of opinions and beliefs that threw politics and law in to the messy mix. Click here to watch a preview of the film from a PBS interview with the director.

A private reception with the director, Laura Dunn, will begin at 6:00 at Bomhard Theater (tickets for the reception are $100). The screening will begin at 7:30, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker as well as local authorities on land use policy, economic development, and environmental impact. General admission tickets are $15. Click here for more details.

The film title was inspired by a poem from Kentucky writer and environmental activist, Wendell Berry, who wrote,

“I walked the deserted prospect of the modern mind. Where nothing lived or happened that had not be foreseen. What had been foreseen was the coming of the stranger with money. All that had been before had been destroyed. A new earth had appeared in place of the old made entirely according to plan.”

Urban Robin Hood serving modern poor

30″ x 36″ oil on canvas

During my recent 2 weeks in Seattle, an unintentional theme of poverty presented itself in my agenda of meetings with community activists and nonprofit staff. Talking to people both personally effected by poverty and those involved in administrative roles opened my naive eyes to the nature of the issue and deepened my sensitivity. Just finishing Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family was also a rude awakening to a culture foreign to a middle class kid like myself.

I held a preconceived perception of poverty that assumed there was something “wrong” with a person who couldn’t afford housing, food, and other essentials; that something needed to be fixed about that individual. True, there are many factors, such as substance abuse, that may contribute to an individual’s inability to support themself, although in many cases, poverty means that a full-time job and frugal living does not equal the cost of living. Hindering circumstance outside of one’s own control, taking on a multitude of forms, can snowball into devastating financial results demanding more than a lifetime to surmount (ie death of a spouse, illness, or even a car accident resulting in a sudden loss of transportation).

Of course, I have several pieces in the works inspired by my interactions with the folks in Seattle, but the broader issue of poverty is a great tie-in to a nonprofit in New York that has been collecting dust in my backlog of organizations waiting to be featured here. The long awaited completion of this painting of NYC presented the perfect opportunity to bring Robin Hood to center stage.

Robin Hood, much like United Way, boasts a record of impressive efficiency with dwarfed administrative cost. Both organizations fund other nonprofits rather than offering services directly to individuals themselves, inherently cutting administrative costs, but additionally,

“Robin Hood’s Board of Directors underwrites all of [their] fundraising and administrative expenses. From the rent to staff salaries to the website…it’s all paid for so your money goes to help others. [They] believe the urgent need in New York’s poor communities requires [them] to put every dollar out on the streets helping people and not in an endowment.”

What all of this means for New York residents is that more services and aid are made available to them to overcome poverty, whether that condition be the result of a self-destructive lifestyle, or the more common inability to afford the cost of living in spite of very sincere effort to make ends meet.

Much of what I read on their website reads like a landing page for a venture capital firm: “follows an extensive due diligence process to ensure that every dollar invested generates results,” and “before investing in a program…reviews its strategy, scrutinizes its financial statements, evaluates its management teams, and conducts multiple visits.” The business speak certainly is indicative of backgrounds of the successful board of directors spearheading the organization. Such an approach has proved to be highly effective, as indicated in their quarterly updates and success stories. Thank goodness since, reportedly from their website, 1 in 6 New Yorkers live in poverty.

Not surprisingly, “Beyond Housing” is about more than a roof over your head

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $220 ($50 donated to Beyond Housing)
See all artwork available for sale.

Thanks to Eileen Flanagan for bringing to my attention a St Louis nonprofit I would have otherwise missed: Beyond Housing. Comparable in focus to Habitat for Humanity, the organization’s aim is to couple an increasingly unlikely pair: low income individuals or families and affordable housing. The niche of Beyond Housing differs from that of the larger scale Habitat for Humanity in that their work is devoted to building educational, financial, and personal skills necessary for homeownership verses literally building the actual homes.

Bad habits, learned routines, lack of education, illness, debt, lack of resources and so on can keep a suffocating leash on people who otherwise have the potential and wherewithal to beat the paycheck-to-paycheck rat race. Intervention can be key in shifting gears and implementing a new plan towards attaining adequate, affordable housing. St Louis area residents utilizing Beyond Housing have an array of services available to them including: Service-Enriched Rental Housing, Homeownership Services, and Community Building. A few of the particulars of the three programs are:

  • Employment counseling and vocational assistance.
  • GED educational support.
  • Transportation assistance.
  • Individual Development Accounts (matched savings accounts to encourage saving and asset accumulation).
  • Parenting skills.
  • Crisis intervention.
  • Child care assistance.
  • Money management training.

I’ll leave you with a few stats pulled from Beyond Housing’s website that paint a picture of the need associated with their cause:

“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, ‘for the first time … a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.” Nationally, a family with two full-time workers earning federal minimum wage would make just $21,424, while they would need to make $32,822 to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. To afford a Fair Market Rate three-bedroom apartment in St. Louis, a minimum wage employee would need to work 129 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job.'”

“Over 100 requests are made for each rental home [Beyond Housing has] available. ”

“7,000 families are on the local waiting list for public housing.”

And on a good note:

“Last year, Beyond Housing staff provided home buyers training to 441 individuals, one-on-one budget and credit counseling to 361 individuals, and anti-predatory lending training to 1,007 individuals. Moreover, Beyond Housing staff conducted foreclosure intervention counseling sessions for 54 individuals and directly intervened to prevent eight foreclosures.”

Habitat for Humanity gives Smoketown a facelift

9″ x 20″ oil on canvas, $400 ($50 donated to Habitat for Humanity)
See all paintings available for sale.

One more painted illustration from the Smoketown neighborhood, including the latest addition on Finzer Street (the yellow house in the middle). Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, Carolyn (afore mentioned) will be the owner of the new home in ’07. She tells me she already knows several of her neighbors, and although she doesn’t understand the woman immediately to her right (A Somali who is still working on her english), she likes everyone she’s met. It’s not surprising that the street is giving Carolyn a warm welcome, since all but one are Habitat houses.

Stay posted for a piece about the dedication of this house. The standard Habitat for Humanity house dedication ceremony always makes for joyful news, inspiring speeches, astonishing stories, a few tears, and in this case, a great painting.

Carolyn, the new girl on the block

I cannot get enough of the enthusiasm, encouraging spirit, and goodwill demonstrated by the people involved with Habitat for Humanity! Whether someone is on the giving or receiving end, there is an undeniable sense of compassion, pride, and appreciation. It’s an accomplishment that is not consistently found in other organizations. Many charitable organizations, by the nature of the issue they address, often work with clients who make it challenging for staff and volunteers to maintain their philanthropic vitality. Child advocacy groups, for example, frequently work with neglectful parents who honestly wish that you would go jump off a bridge and mind your own business. To make matters worse, most of these organizations have a terrible time recruiting and/or retaining volunteers. Conversely, Habitat for Humanity attracts a type of person in need who views the aid they receive as a miracle. They want to show their gratitude by being involved and are supported by volunteers who happily contribute a dumbfounding amount of time.

It is hard to stand for a policy or program that tries to assist a group of people who abuse or neglect the very system that selflessly works to help them (thank goodness there are those who see past the childhood baggage, poor influences, and addiction and move forward in spite of it). So, for those heavily involved in the nonprofit world, witnessing the success, efficiency, momentum, and realization of a problem solved is like the caffeine that keeps us going.

Again today, I met the soon-to-be-owner of the house I was taking pictures of. Carolyn was her name. She laughed when I asked her about the 400 hours of sweat equity she has had to put into the construction of her home. “I don’t know much. I think I sometimes get in the way.” Even if Carolyn is no master carpenter, the 2 house leaders, Donna and Chuck (sketched above), seemed happy to have her help.

Another happy Habitat day on Finzer Street.

It’s “welcome home!” for a new Habitat for Humanity family

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, available for sale at Expressions of You Coffee Shop.
See all paintings available for sale.

This week I will be hanging around a few construction sites, places I typically avoid at all cost. It’s a different story when Habitat for Humanity is in charge. Although the start of my coverage of various Habitat projects was planned to start this Wednesday, I decided to get involved early by attending a house dedication on Saturday. This boy, who I later learned also lives in a Habitat house in the neighborhood, watched the ceremony from the sidewalk. He soon made his way inside along with the other guests to view the new home and greet his new neighbors.

Not often will you find as diverse a group as I saw at this dedication ceremony. A few of those in attendance were Muslim and Christian religious leaders (blessing of the home, check), a girls high school soccer team (landscaping, check), a group of African friends and family (gourmet lunch, check), a very handy, retired, white, female philanthropist (project team leader, check), and small army of devoted volunteers (completed Habitat for Humanity house, check).

The home owner gave an absolutely heart warming speech of gratitude standing above the crowd from his new front porch. He told us about his arrival to the US. Then, we learned that he is now working nights at UPS, earning a degree in sociolology, being a father to 2 sons, and until this day, had been putting in a total of 400 hours into the construction of his own home. He shook every hand and invited passersby on the street to join us for lunch.

There’s something about the double-handed handshake that exudes sincerity. You know the one, when someone shakes with one hand and cups the back of yours with the other. “I thank you very much,” was repeated by the homeowner with each shake like a broken record, but spoken each time as if it were the first.