Recognizing No Single Answer, Is the Answer

“As our world grows more complex, time moves more rapidly, and needs become more numerous, we have discovered that we can only meet the challenges we face when all the gifts given by our creator God are unleashed to work in harmony for the common good.”  This is the passionate vision of Brother Loughlan Sofield and Sister Carroll Juliano in their book, Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry.

As I sat listening to Br. Sofield it hit me that the concepts he was sharing can and should be applied to our community’s response to the availability of simple, decent, affordable housing and the needs of our “at-risk” youths.

Over the past 10 years, I have watched the rise and fall of many programs attempting and suggesting they are the solution for these issues.  Each organizer feels they have the right stuff to crack the code to save our youth or to develop affordable rentals units and homeownership opportunities; lofty goals for any individual organization.  I know because I use to be one of them.  We spent millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours in our community, searching for the best and the most cost effective method to provide the greatest return on the community’s investment.

Lessons Learned

What I have learned over the years is the solutions we seek are illusive and cannot be solved when approaching them with an individual program.  It takes a collaborative effort between multiple organizations, gifted in the many areas of family and community life, willing to work in harmony for the common good.  Inspired, I returned to work with three simple questions that helped transform our organization and gave birth to a number of partnerships that have contributed to the restoration of families and neighborhoods.

The first question I asked the staff was, “What are our organizational gifts; what is it we do best that contributes to the common good of the community?”  The obvious answer was building quality houses.  As the staff discussed the construction process, we identified our giftedness in relationship building, with our homebuyers, volunteer management and the communities in which we build.

The next question was, “What are we doing that diverts our attention from our primary giftedness that may be provided by another agency, having a complementary vision and mission?”  This question opened our blinders to the realization that there are other organizations that deeply share our passion for providing affordable housing for low-income families.  While our organization partnered with other agencies, we did not enter into a fully collaborative relationship with them, until now.

By asking ourselves the right question, we opened the opportunity to collaborate with the Community Housing Initiative, Inc. (CHI).  CHI had been the point of entry for Habitat clients who are eligible for the available government first-time homebuyer grants.  As Habitat and CHI dialoged we found our in-take processes to be the same and in some cases, we were duplicating work for the same clients.

New Focus, New Opportunities

Renewed in our mission and gift focus the question arose, “What opportunities exist to use our giftedness to assist other service providers for the greater good of the community?”  The willingness to offer our resources has led to a dynamic collaborative effort between the Department of Labor (the funder), Brevard Community College, Brevard Public Schools and Habitat’s Space Coast Youthbuild program.

Youthbuild provides at-risk youths, ages 16 to 24, who do not have a high school diploma and are/have been in trouble with law enforcement, the opportunity to earn their GED, obtain construction trades skills on the Habitat sites, and re-open the door to a brighter future through education, self-respect, and job opportunities beyond the Youthbuild program.  They have assisted in the construction and rehabilitation of over 32 houses in Brevard County over four years.  The youth that are often viewed as tearing down their community are now literally rebuilding them.

What I have learned by entering into these true collaborative efforts is that as opportunities expand, quality of service can improve and relationships do grow deeper.  Yet let’s not fool ourselves into thinking collaboration is easy.  The challenges we face, the trusting effort made, and taking the risk to be open and honest with each other is producing amazing community results.