I was at the Urban Promise headquarters today in Camden, New Jersey. UP has been around for quite some time now in one of the most impoverished communities in the United States. Its founder and president, Bruce Main, is my professor for Leadership Development in my Urban Studies program. How better to show leadership than by taking us to where it all began? Here's my class:
On Urban Promise's main campus, there is a beautiful blue retreat centre. A while back, UP owned the land but there was no building. One of UP's families — a single father of four — was selected to be on Extreme Makeover:Home Edition. The only thing was, the family needed to have property or a house already to qualify. So UP donated this part of their land for the house. Cool!
2000 volunteers converged on the area and in 90 hours… there stood the home where once was empty space. In what has become a pop cultural mantra, thousands screamed with Ty Pennington: "MOVE THAT BUS!!!"… and the single father, who was mentoring other single fathers in Camden, had an amazing home.
Then the bills began to arrive.
Extreme Makeover was out of the picture. No phone calls. No follow up help. The family, with children growing up, needed more and more money but it was all being put towards the home.
Here's where community gets really good: Urban Promise continued to walk alongside this family all this time. It offered to buy the home (after 2 years, because I guess there are tax penalties if you sell an Extreme House before then), assist the father in downsizing to a home where he didn't have to unscrew lightbulbs to make ends meet, and renovated the Extreme Home into a retreat centre.
A reporter followed up with the story, but she wasn't with Extreme Makeover. Apparently, after doing some "Where Are They Now?" stories, she discovered this pattern of HUGE HELP… but only once. And the help and home are SO HUGE that the families they are supposed to be helping cannot afford to live in them.
The family I'm speaking of here had Urban Promise to create a sustainable future. What about the ones who don't have those supports? What happens to those Extreme Houses? Fall into disrepair? Get bought up by rich people who can afford them?
Sustainability is key here.
Having 2000 people converge on one spot over the course of 1 week to provide housing for a family is a GREAT IDEA!!!!! Extreme Makeover doesn't make the grade though in terms of true community building. There needs to be follow up, there needs to be true lasting connections, and… (this one's hard because we like bigger and better)… the homes themselves need to be scaled back to manageable places to dwell in. They can't be castles that draw millions to the TV, but in the end cause more harm then good.
So, Ty… you've taken some good first steps in community building and poverty alleviation. But you're not going far enough. If you're going to claim to provide "X and Y", you need to factor in "Z". Complete the picture.
That piece of the picture is sustainability.
Families might need a house built in a week, but they need more the assurance they can live in it for a lifetime.