WELCOME - This blog was created to address and discuss the common questions and topics concerning the start-up and ongoing operations of A Brush with Kindness.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Helping More Families with Online Tools

We work with many partner agencies that refer homeowners to our program. Several of these agencies help families fill out applications in their office or at a clients home. We have developed an online application to help agencies assist homeowners expedite filling out and sending in their applications.
It can take 3-6 months to process an application from the time we receive an application to completion of a project. Many of our homeowners are in dire need so we work hard at narrowing the process time as much as possible.

One of the ways we have helped to speed up the application process was to change our data base. We now use Salesforce which is a free (for non-profits) online data base. Our online data base automatically imports data from our online homeowner application which helps to expedite the application process.

We also have an online home assessment tool which also syncs its data with our Salesforce data base, again significantly speeds up our project turnaround time.
More and more of our homeowner families are using online banking, bill pay and filling out various applications for service online, we felt it was a natural progression to move our application to a digital online format. Even though we are expecting only 25% of families will use this option, we believe that most agencies who assist homeowners with filling out their application will use our online tool.

Our online application and home assessment tool helps us serve more families in a timely manner. Click the link to view our online application.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Serving Families Deeper

We build and rehab homes through our homebuilding program. We also do home maintenance and restoration through A Brush with Kindness.

When I created A Brush with Kindness it was because the local paint programs (one that I lead) were inadequate to stem the tide of home and neighborhood deterioration.

These beautification programs focused on the exterior of the home without addressing common health and safety issue's such as roofing, window failure, interior wall, ceiling and flooring issue's as well as electrical, heating/cooling and plumbing issue's.

Paint is a beautiful finishing touch and home preserver. However, without replacing parts of the rotted exterior envelop, failing interior parts, we are just putting on a temporary facade that is not very helpful to the homeowner or their long-term viability.
We do a lot of painting through ABWK, which is why we first focus on fixing both exterior and interior health and safety issue's that will assist families remain living in their home.

Did we begin our program replacing roofs or changing out electrical systems? No, we grew into helping homeowners in deeper ways. However, early on we made homeowners aware of their situation and assisted in troubleshooting solutions, sometimes serving them in multiple years to get the necessary work completed.

Exterior paint and minor restoration can help preserve a home and spruce up a neighborhood. Yet, to have a major impact on families and communities it is necessary to expand your program to a deeper scope of work.

Also, I know affiliates are promoting multiple "housing solutions" to their communities. However, what we have found is that marketing multiple maintenance programs only confuses your constituents. Also, things like weatherization may be helpful to homeowners, but it is better to use your precious budget dollars for more significant health and safety issue's.

Even if your affiliate prefers promoting several housing solutions you may want to consider having them people focused like homebuyer and homeowner services rather than housing products or solutions. Just a thought.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Resources to Stabilize Families

If you've done more than a couple dozen homeowner visits for your ABWK program you know that our partner families tend to have multiple needs.

What we have found is that most of a families additional needs outside of home maintenance also impact their housing stability.

These families may need support in the area of financial counseling, mental health, basic needs (food, clothing etc.), health care

Today, we have several partner agencies that we can refer folks to so they can get additional support to remain living in their home.

We are updating our referral handout we give homeowners (and working on putting it on our website) so families have list of trusted "go to" resources available to them.

To get an idea of what we're attempting to put together see preserveourhome.com

We provide a variety of services related to housing such as interior/exterior maintenance and restoration, financial counseling and diy homeowner support.

However, we also want to be a referral resource through partner organizations to more broadly help struggling families stabilize their situations.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Stabilizing Families Through Collaborative Efforts

For the last year and a half, I have been involved with a suburban group called the Community Support Center. We are working together to stabilize families housing situations through a unique partnership of school districts, churches, county/municipalities, business and agency representatives.

We began because many of us were dealing with the same families and duplicating our efforts with very limited resources and results. We wanted to make a bigger impact and felt that pooling our resources and coordinating services would create a bigger impact for those we serve.

The Community Support Center began providing services through a foundation grant and support from Ramsey County and several local churches. We started out coordinating finacial crises support for rental assistance, utilities, moving etc.
However, our desire was to focus more on partnering with families, building long-term relationships and providing an environment to help families move into stable living situations.

Over the last couple months we have been working to find a partner agency that will coordinate the crises support so that the Community Support Center can focus on building relationships and long-term family stability.

So moving forward will be training volunteers to walk alongside families and together figure out permanent solutions out of poverty. Having neighbors partnering with neighbors will be our main focus moving forward. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Careers End, Legacies Live On

A Brush with Kindness is reflecting on it's past as two of our most influential people retire professionally but their but their legacy and impact will live on in the program they helped start and grow. 

It all started in 1998, when Pat Lund was working for a non-profit in Minneapolis and both Gwen and Dick were mid-way through their careers at Valspar, a global leader in paint headquartered in Minneapolis."Valspar met with Stephen Seidel (Executive Director of TCHFH in 1998) and you kind of saw this light bulb go off," says Gwen. Gwen had been involved with Habitat through paint donations and was key in getting the partnership with Valspar launched.

Valspar and TCHFH started a pilot program to test the idea of doing home restoration work and offering paint and repair to help struggling low-income families. They hired Pat to create the program structure and business plan. "At the time, Habitat for Humanity was only building homes," says Pat. "But we saw a community need that wasn't being met."

Dick and Gwen were instrumental in making the program a success. "They set the standards for how we run a site right from the very beginning," says Pat. They were so organized that ABWK was able to paint and fix 64 homes that first year. After that, there was no turning back.

Good ideas are hard to keep secret and it wasn't long before the leaders at Habitat for Humanity International were closely watching the success of ABWK in the Twin Cities. In 2007, Pat, Gwen and Dick began helping other Habitat affiliates start their own programs and to date have helped over 200 affiliates keep families in a safe, healthy home.

Today over half of Habitat affiliates in the country perform repair work for existing low-income homeowners along with their traditional homebuilding programs. "In my wildest dreams I never would have imagined that it would have grown this large," says Gwen.

Dick and Gwen have personally volunteered on dozens of ABWK projects over the years. "I like to paint," says Dick. I liked using our product to help families and encourage the beautification of entire neighborhoods. Little things like this go a long way." Now both Gwen and Dick are easing their way into retirement from Valspar. Yet both will continue their involvement with Habitat and their legacy through A Brush with Kindness.