Expecting the Unexpected

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.” – Frederick Buechner

At some point during each of the six audit projects assignments during the span of my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International’s Internal Audit department, there has been a moment, if not moments, which have taken my breath away. These moments take on many forms – joy, heartbreak, discomfort – as I learned about the context in which Habitat is working. They are those moments that, while I can anticipate them coming, I can never quite be mentally and emotionally prepared. After this past year of service, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

As an Internal Audit department, our role distills to asking the right questions and observing the operations of each Habitat entity either domestically or internationally. Often, this involves analyzing financial statements, probing staff for longer answers, and most importantly, developing trusting and confidential relationships with each staff member. In addition to providing information on the Habitat entity’s operations, each individual provides critical insight as to the culture and socioeconomic situation of the communities and families Habitat serves. Anecdotes of her or his personal life pepper conversations, preparing me mentally for the homeowner visits.

The excursion to visit partner families in Madagascar is one that, five months later, I continue to have the same reaction. As the team piled out of the Habitat truck and proceeded to follow the GPS coordinates to the reported location, we set off on foot to traverse ragged dirt pathways. We zigzagged between half-finished houses, outdoor latrines, and buckets of standing drinking water as well as passing by families, children, and the occasional barnyard animals in the scorching 90°F heat of the January summer. I was reminded of the world’s deep need for more solutions for whom the fundamentals of daily life are missing – food, water, and shelter. Peering around a corner, I knew we had reached our final destination as I saw a home that was complete with a roof overhead and panes in the windows. That was the model Habitat home – a decent place to live.

During our conversations with the homeowners, who spoke only French and Malagasy, we learned that the mother and father felt that the Habitat home had provided a stable and dry structure in which to raise their three elementary-aged children. In addition to the primary goal of stable housing, the homeowners had been welcomed into the Habitat network of their rural community which provides additional non-quantifiable opportunities for support and friendship. The community formed in that village has brought deep joy to the partners and kids alike, and owning a decent and simple home has brought peace to the parents.

Each individual home I have visited this past year across the world – ranging from Madagascar to Malaysia – has provided joy, but only temporarily. It reaffirms the necessity of organizations such as Habitat to be working in locations of extreme need and poverty in order to empower partner families and provide sustainable support to these communities. But each project further stirs my intellectual and personal discomfort not only in the moment but months later as well. As my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International draws to a close, I know that I will carry these moments forward which will prevent my own real peace and joy until the world’s deep needs have been met.

Hope and Housing

A large part of my job as the Management and Development Fellow is fundraising. Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC) has its two main fundraisers during the winter, before Christmas and for the Super Bowl. While planning for these fundraisers I noticed a trend. When in doubt about the name for a fundraiser, incorporate “Hope and Housing” into the title. For instance, Campaign for Hope and Housing and Holidays for Hope and Housing. This got me thinking, what do we as an organization really mean when we say “hope and housing?”

The housing part is pretty obvious. DHC has almost 60 affordable apartments targeted at lower income families and helps other families achieve their dream of home ownership, by educating them and walking them through the home buying process.

But, hope can be an abstract idea and can take various forms in different situations. In the nitty gritty day-to-day of a nonprofit, sometimes there can seemingly be little hope. The craziness, business, lack of money, juggling act, and stressfulness can take a toll. I think that anyone in the nonprofit field would admit that it is all too easy to get caught up in the daily grind. This can obscure the good work that goes on in these organizations and can sometimes make us downright cynical. Finding hope here can be tough. It can be easy to focus on the negative. It is during these times that I realize that hope is what we try to give clients and is just as important as the tangible things we provide, such as an apartment or a home repair.

Many of our clients hope for a better, brighter future in which they have stability and are self-sufficient. Safe housing, secure jobs, and financial counseling all provide the hope of achieving a better future. For instance, when single parents finally find an affordable but also safe and clean apartment for their family. Or, when a person that has worked for years on rehabilitating her credit score and stuck to a strict budget purchases her first home. Or, when a client lands the job that he has been wishing and working for since becoming unemployed. In turn, these circumstances give me hope and are what makes my job so fulfilling. After much consideration, I would say that we are in the business of “hope and housing.”

Stay tuned to hear more about our upcoming fundraiser, Holidays for Hope and Housing!

Hope and Housing

A Return to Davidson

A Return to Davidson

Two weeks ago, the town of Davidson became inundated with students as Davidson College began freshmen orientation and the fall semester. For the last four years, I have been among the ranks of students visiting the bookstore in droves and moving an unimaginable amount of stuff into my small dorm room. But, this year is different, I am not a student but an outsider surprised at the transition from the quiet summer months to a busier fall with an extra 2,000 or so young people in the area. With the knowledge of hindsight, I can now look back on my time at Davidson College and how my perspective has changed as a Davidson Impact Fellow now working here in Davidson.

After graduation, I knew that I wanted to live and work in the greater Charlotte area; I imagined myself working in Charlotte, a somewhat unknown, big place where I would embark upon my first “real” job. Fast forward six months and here I am working as a Davidson Impact Fellow at the Davidson Housing Coalition (DHC). DHC’s programming is focused on four main areas: affordable housing, financial literacy and homebuyer education, job search assistance, and emergency home repairs. My role is the Management and Development Fellow, which means that I am the office manager (wearing many hats on a daily basis) and I also play a major role in fundraising and grant writing for the organization. I started my two-year position in the middle of June and with excellent training from the former fellow and current co-workers, I dove into my new title. In the ensuing two and a half months, I have learned so much and am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make a real impact at DHC.

Working in this community, outside of the supposed “Davidson Bubble” of campus, has given me a new perspective of the town. Part of my job description is to be the first point of contact with anyone that calls or walks through the door at DHC. This means that I am able to have conversations with the people that our organization serves, providing me much-needed moments of personal contact to break the monotony of staring at a computer screen. Through speaking with our clients and viewing the neighborhoods in which some live, it has been eye opening to see the side of Davidson other than the idyllic college town, the so-called “other side of the tracks.” This side of Davidson is one in which many people live in substandard housing and/or in financial instability, one emergency away from not being able to pay their bills. Thus far, I have been fortunate to get the chance to get to know to the clients I serve, many of whom I immediately recognized as the friendly faces that work around Davidson. At DHC, we strive to provide safe, affordable, decent housing; I now comprehend just how necessary the services we offer are and what the consequences to individuals and the community would be if we didn’t offer them. Unfortunately, during the last several months I have also come to the realization that there are many people that need assistance that our organization simply cannot help, due to a number of circumstances. These experiences underscore glaring needs in the community, such as the lack of emergency housing in the area. Although this other side of Davidson is not as glamorous as what I was used to, the work I do makes a tangible impact in the lives of the tenants that I have come to know and respect.

Conversely, my time spent at DHC has also shown me some of the best qualities of the town of Davidson that I couldn’t appreciate as a student. While I was a student, I realized that Davidson was a close knit community; yet, during my time fundraising at DHC, I have gotten a new appreciation for how much community members and restaurants support local organizations that in turn strengthen the community. When there is a fundraiser for an organization or a family in need, action is taken immediately. Similarly, I have been amazed by the DHC board members’ dedication to the organization and inspired by the energy they bring to the table. Their example has provided me with a new definition of service, giving their time and their skills for the good of the organization. Lastly, by working with both middle school and college students in Davidson, I have realized just how important these young, inquisitive minds are for social justice and change, especially when these minds are encouraged and guided wisely. Local schools and the college cultivate this powerful combination of learning and service in the community.

Overall, my time at DHC has been one of transition; I have been learning a lot but have also started new projects and continued with ongoing ones. After two and a half months on the job, it is fulfilling to contemplate the change in perspective that (I hope) has made me a more informed member of this community that I am honored to serve as a Davidson Impact Fellow.

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