Friday, May 01, 2009

Poverty housing and Habitat for Humanity in the Allegheny Valley

112.jpgIn many older communities in the Allegheny Valley there is an ongoing problem of substandard housing, which is often the only option available for families living in poverty.

Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley offers one faithful response to the problem of poverty housing. Organized in 1996, it has been building decent homes with partner homeowners since 1997.

Support for Habitat is so broad that it is easy for people to forget that Habitat is a Christian ministry. Countless local church groups volunteer their time in our building projects. Church groups come from out of state as well. Although we don't require volunteers or homeowner families to make to make a formal profession of faith, we do invite them to join us in something that Jesus is doing in the world.

Beyond faith groups, our local affiliate has had help from American Eagle Outfitters, State Farm, and Comcast, to name just a few of the corporations who have lent a hand and provided resources. We've had an amazing partnership with the new mall in the area - the Pittsburgh Mills.

Habitat's work involves a careful balance of enlisting and deploying volunteers, soliciting donations of funds and materials, identifying and supporting partner homeowners and their families, and developing projects in which all of the above can come together. A couple years ago I visited one of our local affiliate's work-sites on a day when an unexpectedly large group of volunteers showed up. I was amazed by the flexibility of our Executive Director Diane Belitskus in adapting to the greatly increased number of volunteers that day, and her ability to identify tasks that were suitable for the unexpected group.

Our local affiliate is working on increasing its building capacity. We have benefited from a special partnership between Habitat for Humanity International and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans called Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity. Under this larger partnership Thrivent Financial is providing $125 million over five years to help Habitat for Humanity significantly increase the number of homes it builds. Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley is one of the many local affiliates that has received grants and extra commitments of volunteer hours from Lutherans to build more homes.

As I have seen the wonderful things that Thrivent Builds has been able to accomplish in partnership with affiliates around the world, I have been asking myself one question: Is there an entity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that is in a position to make a similar partnership with Habitat for Humanity?

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