The History of Habitat Connects

About seven years ago, Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity began dreaming about building a 30-home, environmentally sustainable, cottage-style neighborhood. As the project took shape, it became known as The Woods at Golden Given.

Prior to The Woods, the largest development our affiliate completed was 16 homes. The Woods would be a whole new level: 30 Energy Star homes built on a 7 acre parcel—including a 1 acre wetland—with plans for a common house, soccer field, community garden, sport court and pervious pavement throughout.

With such a significant opportunity for community development and environmental education, Habitat recognized that culturally competent training and relationship building activities for families must complement the standard practice of forming a homeowners association.

We hoped to not only function as the builder, but to act as an intermediary and connector in the process of converging people and place.

To that end, we began designing an approach that would establish common values of respect, dignity, innovation, change powered from within, leadership development that spans all age groups, mutuality, and good stewardship of the communal resources.

This leadership development could be used beyond the 30-home community. We asked “Why shouldn’t Habitat homeowners become significant grassroots leaders within schools, local service organizations and in their broader neighborhoods?” More importantly, we asked existing and emerging homeowners if this was what they wanted. Their resounding answer was “Yes.” Thus began the creation of a leadership development process that we call Habitat Connects.

Leaders at The Russell Family Foundation invited us to submit a formal application. A few months later we got the good news: Our proposal for a three-year grant to launch Habitat Connects was unanimously approved by the TRFF board. With their partnership we were able to hire a new staff person and begin offering Connects at The Woods. We were off and running.

In my next post I’ll describe a bit about the first year of Connects: Early victories as well as lessons learned. I’ll go into more detail on the model and what Connects actually looks like in practice.

But before I close I need to express my gratitude for some people that helped get us to this place:

  • First and foremost, the hardworking and courageous homeowners at The Woods. The 12 families that have moved in so far have already logged over 1,000 hours in their Connects activities!
  • The Connects Advisory Team: Joel Zylsta (PLU), Liesl Santkyl (Stand for Children), Jim Diers (Neighbor Power), Susan Dobbins and Holly Powers (TRFF)
  • Habitat staff in general, but particularly Christina Rupp (Connects Coordinator), Carolyn Benbow, Hanna Hill, past and present AmeriCorps members (Feven Seyoum, Rae Saunders, Kendra Sampson, Mary Brickle, Christina Boggan-Young) and a special shout out to our fearless leader & CEO–Maureen Fife—for all of her boundless encouragement to start Connects in the first place
  • The Russell Family Foundation: For believing in the potential of Connects and for partnering so well to make this opportunity possible
  • The Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity board of directors, regular volunteers and the many donors investing in our mission of affordable housing

We invite you to follow along as we share stories from Connects and watch as Habitat Homeowners become agents of change within the Tacoma/Pierce County community.

By Elliot Stockstad, Director of Family Services at Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity

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