The story of the newest residence in Community First! Village started with a group of 10 retired guys who played golf a couple of times a week. Their wives became friends and the group began to socialize, starting a dinner club and even traveling together.
One couple, Skip Helms and his wife Connie, belonged to Lake Hills Church, a congregation providing volunteer services for Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a program that delivers dignity, opportunity and healthy meals to disabled or homeless citizens. This led the couple to Community First! Village, the visionary, ground-up Austin community providing housing for the disabled and chronically homeless and led by the indomitable Alan Graham, CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
This 27-acre east Austin property is providing individual homes for nearly 200 men and women, with amenities such as an outdoor theater, a vegetable and flower garden, pens to raise chickens and goats, art and welding studios, and a shop where handmade products can be sold. After Skip visited the Village, he couldn’t wait to tell his golfing buddies about this amazing place.
The group wanted to know more, so the couples all went to Community First! Village and took a tour, then shared a group meal on the property. They learned that the project was supported entirely by private funding, that there was a packet of tiny home designs that donors could choose from and see built, that residents were carefully selected and supported, and that all residents worked on the property to pay their rent and other expenses. Skip’s son in law, a builder, said “If you fund one of these houses, I’ll build it.”
They opened a dedicated account where each couple could personally and privately donate whatever they chose and quickly had enough funding to build a house. It is nearly complete now, and the group will assist in adding the finishing touches of interior décor and landscaping.
Like the other tiny homes in the village, it has a wide front porch to encourage engagement and community—it is not called Community First! by accident. Once the new resident is selected and moves in, the group will attend a home blessing, further personalizing their generous gift.
This lovely act of collective philanthropy was not the result of a fundraising campaign. In fact no one was asked for money. Each donor came to the project from their own motivations, aspirations and past experiences.
Skip was attracted to the chance for real engagement, to meet the beneficiary.
Roger Hamm was inspired years before by his daughter’s head of school, Dr. Judy Knotts, and her passionate advocacy for the homeless. He said, “To think we could be helpful in bringing reality to a person’s dream of living away from the streets was especially motivating.”
Jim Hilton said he understood that homelessness is a tragedy that may seem impossible to overcome, but this project was “meeting the problem in a way that was local and tangible”.
Community First! Village just acquired another 27 acres, creating more opportunity for the homeless to heal—a place where they can rediscover hope, renew their purpose, and restore their dignity. Most important, it’s a place they can call home.
This story shows that those who bring their philanthropy to this need, and participate in seeing this vision realized, also receive a significant and meaningful gift. For Rodman & Associates, we work every day to match purposeful donors with tangible needs, creating an outcome that is a gift for all. This is at the heart of all we do.
NOTE: Story contributed by Rodman & Associates, an Austin-based agency of philanthropic advisors.