A Brief History of A Brush with Kindness.
In 1997, I became director of a metro program called the Paint-A-Thon. It is a program that serves primarily seniors in the 7 county Twin Cities area. It is an event that paints the exterior of homes with volunteers during the 1st weekend in August. During my year with the program we served 315 senior homeowners with close to 10,000 volunteers. It was a fun event that brought the community together for a worthy cause.
However, even though it was a very successful program it could not address significant issues that these homeowners faced and left out other low-income populations that needed service. There were many low-income homeowners (including seniors) that needed more home maintenance work that just exterior painting. So, I began searching for a way to either expand our program work or partner with another organization that could serve the needs we could not. At the time neither option was available.
In 1998, I was contacted by the national leadership of Rebuilding Together to see if I was interested in helping them get started in our community. I was excited to help because they offered both exterior and interior renovation that was beyond the scope of the Paint-A-Thon. I volunteered to be a founding board member of Rebuilding Together - Twin Cities and helped get them off the ground.
However, Rebuilding Together served the same population and broad geographic area as Paint-A-Thon. The biggest home maintenance needs were in the inner core of Minneapolis and St. Paul where there were many non-senior (and senior) homeowners that needed home maintenance help.
During this time the Valspar Corporation had an interest in starting a targeted, inner city paint program for struggling low-income homeowners. A committee was formed from interested corporate and non-profit groups to research the viability of starting such a program. I was asked to write a business plan and create the basic parameters of such a program. I called the new program A Brush with Kindness and put together a program that took the best elements from several housing programs.
In the fall of 1998, Twin Cities Habitat agreed to run a one year pilot program and contracted with Pat Lund to run it. The first year (1999) was a huge success, serving 64 families leading Twin Cities Habitat to make it a permanent part of their organization. Since then ABWK has been a huge success, serving over 1200 families through 2010. However, much of our success has come from our relationship with the Valspar Corporation. They took the lead and were a driving force in bringing together community resources to start A Brush with Kindness.
A Brush with Kindness (ABWK) is a program that assists under-resourced families in repairing and renovating their homes so they can continue to live in a safe, decent home. The program was created to fill a desperate need among families trying hopelessly to fix up their deteriorating homes. In many Twin Cities neighborhoods, the need to preserve homeownership is as crucial to vibrant neighborhoods as creating new homeownership opportunities for families. Therefore, A Brush with Kindness not only preserve homes and but we concentrate much of our work to revitalize entire neighborhoods.
Also, much of our growth has come from our focus on families. We have been committed to walking alongside struggling families and trying to understand where they’ve been, where they’re at and give them hope for a brighter future. Connecting our community with the stories of our ABWK families has helped us bring together the necessary resources to grow the depth and breadth of A Brush with Kindness to meet the ever growing home renovation needs in the Twin Cities.
Many of the stories of our ABWK homeowners resonate with our community because they are so much like the neighbor who lives down our own street. Like the elderly grandmother who has failing health but each day must try to navigate the loose railing and rickety old porch as she struggles to remain living independently in her home. Or the returning veteran who has come home with a disability and needs help making his home accessible. Or the single parent trying to juggle the many bills and responsibilities she has each month only to be blindsided by the leak from a faulty roof.
Homeowners often must choose between paying for food, medication, taxes, and basic utilities. When basic family expenses exceed income month after month, home maintenance is the usual casualty. However, years of deferred maintenance can cause a downward spiral of home deterioration and unsafe living conditions. This is where A Brush with Kindness is able to partner with families, giving them a hand up to stabilize their housing circumstances and bring hope to their lives.
A Brush with Kindness has been a tremendous complement to our homebuilding at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. It has allowed our affiliate to provide a comprehensive package of housing solutions that has substantially increased the impact we are having on families and neighborhoods across the Twin Cities Metro Area.
In 2004, other affiliates became interested in starting their own programs and using our model. Valspar became interested in supporting the expansion of ABWK to other communities. From 2005 - 2008, I was contracted with Habitat for Humanity International to help other affiliates start their own programs. I have trained and consulted with over 100 affiliates. Today, I continue to work for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity as well as consult with affiliates. I have standardized much of the training so that affiliates can get started quickly and have a significant impact on their community.
We have learned many things over the last 17 years and have made many improvements to better serve Twin City homeowners. As we approach serving 2000 homeowners in 2016, the program continues to evolve to meet the current challenges facing our community. As we look to the future, we see the populations we serve expanding at rapid pace. Inner-ring suburbs are increasingly becoming target service area's. We are looking at creative ways (Neighborhood blitz's, Aging in Place initiative, Serving homeowners more deeply and broadly) to elevate the programs impact and visibility.
I would love to hear about your plans and progress to serve families with A Brush with Kindness. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can make an a huge impact across the country to help families stabilize their home and strengthen and improve their lives.