A vote of confidence

March 17, 1995

When you are successful, they ask you to double your efforts. That's the good news from Sandtown Habitat for Humanity, the Baltimore project that has been rehabbing houses with volunteer help.

Since 1989, Habitat volunteers have completed 40 homes and sold them to residents in Sandtown-Winchester, a down-at-the-heels west-side neighborhood that has been targeted by the city for ambitious upgrading. Five more units are now under reconstruction and work on 55 additional houses will be kicked off in the summer.

From among its 1,100 U.S. affiliates, the national Habitat for Humanity movement has now selected Sandtown as one of its four target areas -- the others being Cleveland, North Philadelphia and Newark. This will bring more technical assistance and the infusion of $3 million in funding aid over the next three years.

The increased funding from the national organization also means that Sandtown Habitat will more than double its production capacity from 20 houses a year to a minimum of 50 houses a year. Sandtown will also be cited as a model by the national organization.

"We were really honored," commented a local Habitat representative. "To us, it's a big deal."

At a time when Baltimore City's federally financed public housing program is the subject of much adverse publicity because of irregularities and mismanagement, the private Habitat program has been an unqualified success.

This has been recognized by dozens of big and small local donors. Although Sandtown Habitat revolves around New Song Community Church, a Presbyterian congregation at 1358 North Gilmor Street, individuals and organizations with religious backgrounds ranging from agnostic to Jewish and Catholic have recognized the worth of the rehabilitation work and contributed to its growth.

Unlike many other non-profit rehab programs, Habitat expects every family buying a home to invest more than 300 hours of sweat equity, working side by side with volunteers. When a new family settles on its house, the occasion is not simply a dry legal ceremony marked by the signing of legal papers. It becomes a celebration, with singing and the presentation of flowers, a Bible and the keys.

Sandtown Habitat has scheduled two work weeks this year: June 26-30 and July 17-21. These occasions bring armies of volunteers and professionals together to work on several houses simultaneously. Baltimoreans wishing to donate their labor or make other contributions should call 669-3309.

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