The culmination of this year’s Home Builders Blitz was Build Community Day (held on Saturday, October 19), inspired and funded by the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Project Neighborly Program. The purpose of these 2 events was to bring community volunteers, professional builders, and neighbors together to build and mend homes and hearts throughout the neighborhood.
This year’s highlight was a first for us, a political forum, where volunteers and guests heard from candidates for Mayor of Bellingham and Whatcom County Executive to discuss how, if elected, their administrations might partner with organizations like Habitat to solve the housing crisis in Whatcom County. The forum was moderated by John Moon, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County.
It turns out, this is exactly the kind of community exchange that the Project Neighborly Program was created to inspire.
“We launched the Project Neighborly Program in November of 2016,” said Rachel Myers, Philanthropic Advisor and Program Manager with the Whatcom Community Foundation. “2016 was such an intense political year for the United States. A few of our board members on our Executive Committee were meeting with Mauri Ingram (pictured above), our President and CEO, and this topic came up.
“It was such a divisive election season in 2016,” she continued, “and our Board felt that no matter what happened, about half of the people in our community were going to be happy, and about half of the people in our community were going to be upset and angry.”
The Project Neighborly Program was born when the Community Foundation took on the difficult task of asking itself what its role might be in healing our community, how they might encourage neighbors to come back together and keep talking to each other.
The Whatcom Community Foundation invests their assets in a diverse portfolio intended to produce asset growth as well as generate income for future grants. Every year, with the help of the community working with their Board of Directors, the Community Foundation distributes grants based on a diverse set of criteria, balancing community needs with opportunities, as well as distributing donor-advised and designated funds.
“We decided we could do something,” said Myers, “especially around supporting a grant opportunity where the focus is on bringing people together, especially people who might not typically cross paths. Building connections, building trust. And maybe, in some cases, rebuilding neighborliness.
“We hadn’t done a grant like the Project Neighborly Program before, but we all thought this makes sense for us,” said Myers. “Our mission is to connect people, ideas, and resources so that our community thrives. And this idea seemed like it did all of those things.
“We didn’t know what the response would be,” she continued, “so we decided to launch the grant round on election day, 2016, not knowing what the election results were going to be. We thought, ‘We don’t want this to look like a response to whoever was elected, we want this to be a response to the tension.’
“The response back to us with ideas was way beyond what we expected, and the responses were so varied in their focus, including intergenerational suggestions around technology, around food (there’s nothing more neighborly than sharing food), and even language exchange.”
This year, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County was selected. “The idea of Habitat volunteers coming into a neighborhood where a new build is happening, doing projects for other neighbors, I mean, what could be more neighborly, right?” said Myers. “To thank the community, to integrate with the community, Habitat wants to do other projects around the community. We loved that idea on so many levels.
“Build Community Day brings new people together. It brings people together to work together. Like sharing food as a bonding thing, doing something productive is another cool way to bond with someone. It doesn’t really matter what your other beliefs are, you’re in synch with that other person to get the project done,” added Myers.
The Project Neighborly Program is designed to reach out beyond typical nonprofit partners in the community. The program includes neighborhood organizations, schools, churches, granges, anywhere people might be gathering.
“As people get to know each other as neighbors, it cuts down on the distrust and anger,” said Myers. “It’s the idea that it’s harder to hold a grudge or dislike someone across the table from you. Personally, I believe people have far more in common than not. Everyone wants a good life for themselves and their families. They want secure jobs. And they want strong relationships with the neighbors around them.
“We’re always looking for what other tools, ideas, and creativity we can channel into making this community a more equitable, caring, and inclusive place to live,” she concluded.
Habitat for Humanity is deeply grateful for the Project Neighborly Program grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation. It’s partnerships like these, with visionary neighbors, that will serve as the catalyst for new forums that we need, like our Political Forum in October. Ending the housing crisis in Whatcom County will take neighbors helping neighbors as well as new partnerships as we move into 2020.
[Every cash gift we receive at Habitat, no matter how small, returns when each Habitat homebuyer makes their monthly mortgage payments, enabling us to purchase more supplies for another home. Habitat’s core value, “a hand-up, not a hand-out,” means that every penny is repaid. Please consider pledging $5 per month.]