Friday, August 13, 2010

The Fixer [Dan, UHW staff]

A few weeks ago Chantal, one of our family residents, was cooking dinner. She had one of her four children in the bathtub and stepped away from the stove to check on her daughter. Seconds later, she came back into the kitchen to find that the pan she was cooking in was engulfed in flames and the fire was quickly getting out of control. Unable to stop it, she grabbed her children and went out the front door. Once safely on the street, she called the fire department who arrived quickly to douse the flames. Much of the kitchen is a total loss. The living room, dining room and hallway are coated with soot from the smoke and fire.

I went to see Chantal and find out how she and her kids were doing. She looked concerned. Her shoulders were heavy with regret. Lightheartedly, I gave her a hug and reassured her that I didn’t care about the apartment. I was only concerned that she and her children were okay and that we happen to have an open apartment to put them into temporarily. She seemed relieved, though I could tell that she wished there were more that she could say or do.

A few days later, I was talking with our other tenants across the street. The fire came up and I asked if they were aware of what had happened. Susan (not her real name) said that her husband saw it while it was happening and said, “You gotta get over there and see what you can do!” Susan went into high gear and helped round up Mattieu, David, Grace and Ruth. The Urban Neighbors upstairs also came to help Chantal move furniture and mattresses that were unaffected by the fire.

Sometime later, I received this note from Chantal. It was addressed to me, but it was intended for many people that have come to her aid throughout her time in housing with us. It reads,

Dear Dan,
I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, once again,for everything. Seeing the kindness and understanding, before and after the fireaccident, of you and everybody from UrbanHomeworks, I was sorry and still sorryfor what happened. I couldn’t thank God enough for all of you and ask Himto bless you and your families. Your actions go deep and teach me m
any thingsand I am blessed to have all of you. My children call you “fixer” because they see you come in sometimes repair whatever need to be fixed. I told them that your name is Dan, but they keep saying that Mr. Fixer was here and he fixed this or that. Thinking about that I say to my self; “He is a fixer, he does fix things and also people’s broken hearts. We all thank you; Me, David, Grace and Matthieu May God bless you.

Sincerely, Chantal

Chantal’s story is rare. We hope that none of our tenants experience a grease fire in their home. What we hope and believe is not rare is the care and concern that Chantal and all of our families feel from our staff, the Urban Neighbors, and other neighbors. Chantal lives in a 3-bedroom that we are able to rent to her for $550 each month because of private support that makes it affordable for her. You, too, can help more families like Chantal’s by participating in 100 Gives 100, a family sponsorship program.

>>Find out more about how to become ONE of the 100 giving 100. Help more families be at home in stable housing:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hockey in the 'Hood [Mike, south Mpls Urban Neighbor]

Hockey is a sport for rich white kids, and poor city kids and minorities just don’t play.

That is that stereotype that I have lived with for my entire life, and I suspect that it is a stereotype that others who come from the suburbs hold. Volunteering with Dinomights in south Minneapolis this year helped me break that stereotype and it is helping to break that stereotype for others as well. Dinomights, affectionately known to many as "Hockey in the 'Hood," brings a diverse group of kids together to discover and share a common love of hockey. And it turns out that kids who you wouldn’t associate with hockey have a great deal of talent.

After growing up in Bloomington, MN and going to Jefferson high school (capitol of high school hockey in MN!), I came to the city with a full set of biases about what city kids are like and about who belongs on an ice rink. But getting to know and love the kids that I worked with at Dinomights helped to break down some of the stereotypes that were bred from ignorance in my upbringing.

You frequently hear the phrase, “don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” This year, I had the chance to skate a mile alongside of the kids of South Minneapolis, who break all of the stereotypes that I carried with me from the suburbs into the city. They were both talented at hockey, and also responsive and respectful to coaches. They will be good ambassadors to the game and positive influences on their communities!

God is moving in the city, and He is using Dinomights to connect himself to the kids of Minneapolis and work to break down the stereotypes and prejudices that people from the suburbs may hold about who plays hockey. I’m grateful for the opportunity to connect with Dinomights this year, and I’m lucky to have gained some exposure (as an Urban Neighbor with Urban Homeworks) to the kinds of organizations that are working for the Lord in Minneapolis to protect, develop, and enrich at-risk communities.

[for more information about the great work done by Dinomights, or to join Mike as a volunteer coach or tutor, check them out at If you are interested in being an Urban Neighbor with Urban Homeworks, go to].

Monday, June 21, 2010

Good-bye Maggie [Dan Hunt, UHW staff]

Maggie has been a north Minneapolis resident for many years. She moved into Urban Homeworks housing as part of a program that assists people on the challenging road of chemical dependency and mental illness. Together with two roommates, these three dedicated women received support to stay sober and experience a greater level of self sufficiency. Urban Homeworks’ housing is the last step in the program before they can apply for their own housing.

One day, I saw Maggie sitting behind one of our other buildings, up the street from her apartment. Surprisingly, she had been friends with one of our other tenants for 15 years, and they regularly got together to play cards. These friends supported Maggie, encouraging her sobriety and giving her a place to fit in as a friend—not as part of a program.
A few months ago, Maggie asked me about getting her own apartment after she had recovered from knee surgery. She felt like she was ready to get her own place and even brought me a sweet potato pie to “sweeten the deal.” I began to make arrangements for her to get into her own place. She was ecstatic! After so many years of bouncing around from one program to the next, she was making plans to be on her own. That evening, she went to play cards with her friends and told them all about her bright future.

They all celebrated with her. That same night, Maggie fell asleep on her couch and tragically did not wake up. Her heart had stopped. Maggie was kind, quick to smile and make others laugh. She had an infectious joy about her. Others who were with her before she died talked about how much it meant to her to be given a chance—to have a place to call her own. While Maggie’s journey in this life ended suddenly, the support from our 100 Gives 100 Campaign provided an opportunity for her that brought great joy. 100 Gives 100—it’s simple. 100 people each giving $100 a month will make ALL of Urban Homeworks rental homes available to families making as little as $10.00 per hour without the need of a government subsidy. 100 Gives 100 is opening the door a little wider so more people like Maggie have affordable and dignified homes.
[There are currently 67 donors who have committed more than $80,000 so far in 2010, allowing UHW to offer a growing number of dignified housing opportunities]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Need You [Chad, UHW staffer]

I Need You...

I put Sam on the bus for his first day of school;
I peeked in the door and kinda felt like a fool;
As I blindly entrusted the driver which I never knew;
And realized deeply… Mr. Driver, I need you…

Sam arrived at school that day ready to roll;
I saw the teacher at the door taking toll;
Each one welcomed, and then right through;
I realized deeply, Ms. Door Person, I need you…

He strutted his way to his locker at the 1st grade;
A new friend in the hall on his way to class he made;
Where did this kid come from… his parents are WHO?
And I realized deeply, Kid’s parents… I need you…

Then off to class ready to learn and get some knowledge,
Sammy sat at his desk and his attention did pledge;
All day long, to a man I barely even knew;
And I became keenly aware… Mr. F… I need you…

Then we gathered again at the great Loring School;
As parents to connect and our knowledge pool;
In a thing called CPEO, to teach and encourage parents too;
Where together I realized, fellow parents, I need you…

All our kids ready for college is the Promise we make;
No child will we allow those damn prisons to take;
Whatever it Takes, is what we must do;
And then it dawned on me, which may stink for you…
but, you need me too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Race Matters [UHW staffer]

[From our discussion last week at our monthly Urban Neighbor gathering. Topic: "Race Matters," with Marque Jensen from Sanctuary CDC]...

What we learn about race as kids impacts how we think about ourselves, and our own self-esteem. Our concepts and values we assign to "race" does not just affect who we view other people, but the development of our own sense of self-worth/self-esteem.

Check out how this simple experiments done with young kids, and how they answered the question "Which doll is the 'nice' doll? Which doll is the 'mean' doll?" when given the choice between a black doll and a white doll...

Black doll/white doll experiment re-done:

If you desire to read a full artice about it from ABC news:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just so you know...Ro's house burnt down [Cody, UHW staff]

"Just so you know, the three of us are standing outside because 'Ro's' house burnt down. We're fine, their house is bad news. All alive but kids got 2nd-degree burns. On face and chest I think."

That's the text message I got at 3:10 AM from one of our Urban Neighbors who lives in the Urban Homework's duplex on Elliot Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood. At first the cause of the fire was unknown, but it is now being investigated as an arson. The fire was started outside the building, potentially with gas, while the family/kids were asleep inside.

Before you continue, please take a moment to read the compelling, and heartbreaking, story of the event and the newest details (note: there are graphic and heartbreaking photos of the little girls’ burns):

Here is an update on UHW-community response:

>Urban Neighbors: Daniel, Matt, and Pat have gotten to know the family somewhat in the past year, and have located them since the fire. Red Cross stepped in with emergency assistance I think. As of yesterday the family does not seem to have a plan for what’s next. The little girls are still in the hospital. Daniel was telling the story to a Augsburg College staffer, who donated $100 to go for a gift card for the families needs.

>UHW housing: we have communicated via the Urban Neighbors that the family could apply for housing for our next vacancy (earliest May 1), but we have a waiting list of other families in tough situations themselves. This just reminds us of the dire need for dignified housing for so many lower income and working families who are already on-the-edge.

>Ways to respond/support the family: if you feel so compelled, here is a way to get money into a fund for the family via Wells Fargo:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Homeless Hosannas [Urban Homeworks staff]

I love how God gets my attention, those wake-up-call moments that I do not expect, but once I get I know my soul needed so badly. Yesterday's Palm Sunday service was good, but probably would have blended into the memories with the others of years past, except that God used a homeless guy in our church choir to get my attention.

Mac has been coming to our church for the past few months. Our church is located within shuffling distance from several local shelters, so we are honored to have a constant stream of men join us for Sunday services and even become part of the fabric of our worshipping community. Some of the guys have become psudeo-staff during their unpredictable tenure with us, working around the century old building on the incessant list of things that need repair or TLC. But Mac has joined our choir, bringing with him a passion to praise the Lord. It is a "joyful noise", to be brutally honest, flavored with a twinge of Garth Brooks and southern gospel. And Mac brings his heart and lungs faithfully each week.

It was downright inspiring, and incredibly humbling, to see Mac this Sunday with his head thrown back and eyes closed in full release of genuine "Hosannas," gently waving his palm branch. He had on one of his good Nascar shirts, a well worn button down shirt adorned with the name and number of a decade old racing has-been. He had obviously taken time to comb his thick greasy hair carefully, to present his best to the Lord that Sunday. Mac awoke before church in the back seat of his pride and joy, his late '80's Trans Am; it's his bedroom right now. He probably has seen the inside of a tub or shower as much in the last 3 months as my toddler and infact have in the past week. The pastor reminded us that on the first Palm Sunday, the King of Kings rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, in stark contrast to the war-horse riding early kings before and after him. Another example of the"upside-down kingdom" Jesus talked about. In this upside-down kingdom God takes special note of widow's mites and the pure Hosanna's of homeless men. I know God was so blessed by what Mac brought to Him. I know I was too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I almost punched my neighbor in the face - [south Mpls Urban Neighbor]

The verb form of 'love' has taken on a whole new meaning for myself. about a week ago, i almost punched my neighbor, Carl in the face. Seriously. Almost struck him with my fist in the facial region. With an open hand, he hit me across the face, trying to kid around while we were discussing why he can't wrestle with the neighbor kids.

Just a bit of background: Carl is a fifty-year old man with significant mental and emotional issues, the product of a traumatic childhood filled with abuse and neglect. So, in general, dealing with Carl is like dealing with a 10-12 year old mentally and emotionally. I have to keep this in mind, but it is tough sometimes. Back to the story...

The day before he had jumped in on the kids wrestling on our front porch, and obviously, that just can't happen. he doesn't realize his strength, nor his age, both of which will put him in jail should someone decide his actions are inappropriate.

So there we were, in his doorway, when he slapped me, and i raised my hand to strike him in the chin. I altered the hand into a very intense pointed finger, sternly told him never to hit my face again, and slowly walked away; furious, but also shocked by my response. I emailed my mentor and said we needed to chat. i didn't know how to tackle the situation. i couldn't figure out how to make sure it didn't happen again (my reaction.) I was totally clueless, and so i figured he might have some advice for me. I learned that there might be a piece of me, in loving Carl, hoping to see change. change in his temper, change in how he deals with situations, a change towards more responsible actions. But as Mr. X informed me, that form of love is 'close, but not quite.' What i have for Carl may not be love with strings, as i'm not looking for anything in return, but it's probably love with expectations. And perhaps, that lack of fulfillment of my expected results over a drawn out period of time, is what led me to momentarily believe punching earl in the face was alright. When a mother or father bathes their little one, it's not with the expectation that they'll never poop their pants or play in the dirt again. the parent washes the kid because the kid needs washing. we love our neighbor because our neighbor needs loving. i now realize that i have to find which part of me is expecting my words and actions to bring change, kill it, and replace it with a moment by moment mindset of pouring out love which forgets the past and doesn't look into the future.

i think this mindset, this way of loving, will keep me from knocking Carl out cold.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not living for "what if's"...

Dan Hunt, the Director of Housing for Urban Homeworks, donated his kidney to one of our family tenants today. Read the whole story on the KARE 11 website and keep Dan, Sherry and their families in your prayers.