It’s pretty exciting when the entire staff and board from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga decide to gather on Glass Street to participate in a work day together. Our team at Glass House Collective was honored and energized that special Friday, November 11, as we put aside our desk work to pitch in around the neighborhood with the crew of Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization program.
The day kicked off with coffee, donuts, and cheerful, early morning mingling before the official welcome and overview about our collaboration, offered by Teal Thibaud, GHC Executive Director, and Daniel Gamble, Habitat’s director of the pioneering NR initiative.
To accomplish maximum results in one day, we were split into groups to tackle residential repair work for two local homeowners, clean-up and restoration work at one local business: Ashanti Hair Designs, and conducting neighborhood surveys.
Rondell Crier recalls that stepping away from the studio to work on porch repair at Gloria’s home gave him a sense of tangible usefulness. “The artistic work I do both on my own and with the kids at Studio Everything often feels abstract, but this was a day to roll up my sleeves and serve in an immediate need. That’s why I’m so supportive of the Neighborhood Revitalization work model that Habitat does here in East Chattanooga: they team up with the homeowners to involve them in the entire home improvement process.”
Although Rondell had to get to another meeting in the afternoon, and was unable to return to the work at Gloria’s residence, we were able to share lunch conversation, during which she spoke about her skills with sewing and dream of perhaps even turning her craftiness as a seamstress into a creative business venture. Without the whole day committed together, the casual lunch discussion wouldn’t blossom in such an open way.
During the morning, Nikki Lewis, GHC Community Coordinator, worked with the crew clearing out the storage area adjoining Ashanti Hair Designs. She felt encouraged to have the extra enthusiasm and support for Tina, the owner of Ashanti, as she works to keep her business thriving. Nikki recalls: “Even when we were tired and hot, we knew that once we got done Tina’s upstairs would look amazing, and she could begin to have a broader vision for her upstairs.”
Teal Thibaud, Executive Director of GHC and Whitni McDonald, Communications Coordinator, were each paired up with Habitat for Humanity staff to visit homes and ask survey questions, opening channels for discussion and assessing the neighbor’s overall experience living on his or her particular block.
Both were glad to have the chance to connect with our neighbors so directly in this way, and found that being paired with Habitat for Humanity allowed for a more neutral stance for engaging in vulnerable, honest conversation about neighbors’ day to day life experience as Glass Street residents. The survey includes many questions about quality of life experience, safety, community trust, and access to various types of resources. Additionally, there is a survey question about any particular skills or talents the resident may want to mention.
Teal was just overwhelmed with appreciation for the fact that Habitat invited their entire staff and board, and even closed their Re:Store, a commercial enterprise, in order to allow the entire staff time to participate together out here in the Glass Farms neighborhood.
David Butler, the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga was struck with how different residents’ impressions were depending on what block we were visiting. Some residents shared that they felt safe, generally liked the neighborhood, and gave the impression that they were satisfied. While others felt pessimistic about safety, yet had plenty to share about personal goals and talent areas. As David expressed, “I was struck with the importance of keeping an open mind as conversations progress. One young father seemed reluctant to have us approach at first, but he’s talented (an artist); enterprising (has his own construction business) and open (spent at least 45 minutes with him, and he was very honest about his thoughts). Overall, I learned a lot and feel that the day made me more aware of the work that Neighborhood Revitalization is doing in the area.”
There’s really nothing more powerful than a joint effort to get out and engage with an entire neighborhood, asking questions and directly assisting projects that transform a home from a costly liability into a source of pride and value. As Habitat’s NR Director, Daniel Gamble has taken on the challenge of coordinating efforts focused on one particular neighborhood at a time. Now in Glass Farms, he values the partnership GHC fosters with NR, as their work directly fulfills our Residential Improvement strategic focus lens, which articulates the 2 year goal to restore residential property in the immediate neighborhood. It was a particularly satisfying day for him, as he had the opportunity to share his method and projects with the whole Habitat for Humanity Chattanooga team.
As Daniel expressed in reflecting on the day, “I can’t imagine how it could have gone better. Individuals from each level of our organization experienced the same things I do every day: the hospitality of the residents, the impact of the work, and the strength of our partnerships. I felt privileged to see all of the moving parts working together, exemplifying what Neighborhood Revitalization is.”