With everything seeming so scary and uncertain right now, I will admit I’ve not been the best about seeing past my own anxiety for myself and my loved ones, and haven’t necessarily taken the time to recognize the sacrifices others are making.
So far (knock wood) all my people are safe and sound. Even with a few family members considered “essential” (myself included), none of us are in any high-risk situations and our exposure to the corona virus is no greater than someone who is going to the grocery store.
Obviously that’s not true for anyone working on the front lines: doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, EMTs — anyone coming into close human contact with others who may or may not be infected with this dread contagion. Their willingness to put their own health and lives at risk to keep the rest of us safe is a phenomenal act of courage and selflessness. So until it’s safe to say it in person, or to give out hugs and cookies, let me just take a moment to extend my sincere gratitude to all who serve in this capacity: thank you, each and every one, from the bottom of my heart!
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!
For 24 years JB Goodwin REALTORS has been a big part of the volunteer crew serving Thanksgiving lunch at the Salvation Army. I was so happy to have been involved again this year after having missed last year.
The Salvation Army’s Downtown Austin shelter feeds and houses hundreds of folks in need every day, including women and young children. Additionally, at Thanksgiving they offer a sit-down holiday meal to their residents and to the homeless community at large, serving up some delicious homestyle cooking and turning no one away.
For Thanksgiving, guests are greeted at the door to the dining room and escorted to an open spot at any of the round tables. There is a place for them to put down their bedrolls and backpacks if the wish to, and then they are served by a host of volunteers rather than queuing a the counter to grab a tray for themselves as would be the case on other days of the year. The S.A. staff and volunteers try to make the experience as warm and “normal” (if you will) as possible, shaking hands, chatting with the guests, and refilling glasses. The tables are dressed up with fall centerpieces and place mats hand drawn by some of the children. That’s not a huge thing, but it’s a lovely little touch. I overheard one woman asking if she could take her place mat with her so she could show it to her son.
Meeting and serving the guests was a real honor for me, and I don’t mean to come across as overly pious by saying that. It’s just that I imagine that for people who are experiencing homelessness, their day to day life is probably not overfilled with opportunities to sit down, relax, and enjoy a little conversation while being properly waited on. In addition to the obvious benefit of a nice hot meal, I have to believe that even a short respite from the indignities of being a street person — either ignored or looked upon with suspicion or disdain — and instead being shown respect and treated with decency and caring has got to be affecting for them. And I’m truly honored to be a part of that.
As I’ve mentioned previously, if you’re looking for a place where your charitable donations will have the greatest impact — during the holiday season or at any other time of year — I’d like to make a plea for the Salvation Army. You can donate your time, money or supply stuff from their list of items they are in need of. Approximately 83% of the money they take in goes directly to benefit the individuals and families they serve in Travis and Williamson counties, plus 100% of every dollar donated for disaster relief goes to help survivors and first responders.