This year the Austin Board of Realtors Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of our organization, has begun a 10-year partnership with the Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ master planned development of Community First! Village in northeast Austin, as well as announcing our $1 million pledge to the community — ABoR’s largest donation ever!
As a member of the foundation’s Housing Committee, I was privileged to be on site earlier this month for the press conference announcing the partnership and to take a guided tour of this amazing community. I was, of course, aware of the development but had never been out in person to actually see it or to meet any of its residents until I took the tour — and wow!! — it blew my socks off and that is honestly putting it mildly!
So what is Community First! Village, you ask? The the best explanation is taken directly from their website:
Community First! Village is a 51-acre master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. A development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, this transformative residential program exists to love and serve our neighbors who have been living on the streets, while also empowering the surrounding community into a lifestyle of service with the homeless.
(To get a real sense of this community, the genuine good it does and its vision for mitigating homelessness long-term, this video tells the story better than I ever could. I really want to encourage everyone to take 5 minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully done and, truly, incredibly inspiring.)
Our tour started off at what will become the village’s Welcome Center, a 500 square foot 3D-printed structure (Yep, 3D-printed: you read that right — click the link to see shots of its amazing interior!) which is the first of a series of 3D-printed structures planned for the community. We got to see the printer itself (it was wildly impressive, though for proprietary technology reasons we were not allowed to take pictures of it), as well as three fully-printed micro-homes for residents that were in the midst of getting their finishing touches taken care of.
In addition to the 3-D printed homes, other dwelling options at the village include tiny homes, RVs and canvas-sided cottages. The village is beautifully laid out, with much attention paid to making it aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, making use of a lot of native plants for landscaping, wide stone and gravel walking paths, and plenty of communal areas for recreation and socializing, which is part of what helps foster a real sense of community. There are 24/7-available commercial-style community kitchens for residents who choose dwellings that don’t come with a full kitchen of their own, as well as clean and safe community shower areas for the use of residents who prefer smaller units without those features.
That sense of community — of family, of belonging — is at the heart of the success of Community First! Village. The residents don’t just have a roof over their heads, which God knows is crucial, but they have a home, they become part of a family. They take an active role in caring for the community and caring for each other, and there is a palpable sense of pride in this to be found when chatting with the residents. There are quiet areas to sit and chat or just to contemplate life interspersed throughout the village, as well as a communal firepit area, a lovely remembrance garden for residents who have passed, a Wellness and Respite Center, community library, and so much more!
Other notable ventures in the village include an outdoor theater with movie nights that are open to the general public (partnering with Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse, the Community Cinema presents free weekly screenings throughout the year) — and the volunteer-operated Community Grille is all over the concessions!
The village works toward the goal of being self-sustaining. On site there is a fantastic community organic farm with gorgeous produce I found myself envious of! Residents can spend time working at the garden in addition to several on-site, for-profit enterprises, including a full service car care garage with two bays, a beauty salon, a full service screen printing operation, a blacksmithing shop producing excellent metal works, a wood-working shop, an art house for creative expression featuring painting and pottery making (and more!) as well as an on-site shop selling these handmade wares — there are even vacation rentals to be booked through Airbnb! (Seriously, y’all, click on the link above and check out how perfect and cute these rentals are; I would totally stay here!!)
Residents are paid living wages for their work at the community and its enterprises, and they pay rent for their lodgings. They are able to attain/regain a sense of purpose, of contributing to a community and a greater good.
And the residents there are thriving! The village has become a model for a handful of other such communities slowly springing up around the globe. (Please watch some of the embedded videos, because the residents tell such poignant stories; they are truly heartwarming to see!)
If it’s not obvious, I came away from my visit to Community First! Village with my passion ignited and my sense of pride in ABoR’s involvement in this truly amazing endeavor absolutely overflowing! There are so many opportunities for volunteering at the village and through Mobile Loaves & Fishes, and I really want to encourage anyone so inclined to do exactly that — or to pay a visit as a customer to any of their businesses and spend some money there!
If you’d like more information on any of this or are looking for ways to volunteer at the community, or to take a tour, please click on this link. I plan to post regular updates about the village and its progress or any cool events happening, but please don’t wait for me — spread the goodness on your own!