Building on foundation of hope

Sandtown: Habitat for Humanity, local church making strides in West Baltimore neighborhood.

March 08, 2001

PRESIDENT BUSH did not invent faith-based initiatives.

West Baltimore's Sandtown Habitat for Humanity volunteers have built 150 houses since 1992. Representing a wide variety of religious faiths, they have worked in cooperation with businesses, nonprofit groups, city government and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We'd like to do 100 houses a year. We aren't quite there yet," says Allan Tibbels, an official of the group that is raising $2.5 million to expand its activities.

High hopes were expressed for Sandtown when the Schmoke administration targeted the gritty 72-square-block neighborhood for comprehensive redevelopment. After more than a decade, though, there has been no turnaround.

Abandonment and vandalism continue unchecked, except for Habitat's effort and the rows of new houses built under the auspices of the Enterprise Foundation.

One reason why the Habitat experiment seems to work is that its housing initiative is closely tied to New Song Community Church. The church runs a bevy of programs -- ranging from a job search and placement service to arts projects and a K-8 school.

Several community residents who became Habitat homeowners now have key roles in those activities.

All this has so impressed outsiders that each year some 10,000 volunteers pitch in to work on Habitat's home-construction program in Sandtown. In doing so, they follow Gandhi's admonishment: "You must live the change you make."

Sandtown Habitat has made a difference in its concentrated redevelopment area. It is building on hope.

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