Program rebuilds both homes and community

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, March 12, 2017

Habitat for Humanity in Freeborn and Mower counties has been approved for a new program aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods.

Brigitte Fisher, the organization’s executive director, said the local chapter is one of only two affiliates in the state to be approved for the program. In collaboration with other partners, it will target specific neighborhoods in need, while looking at information such as housing stock, poverty level and other factors.

The program started in Austin in the fall after receiving designation from Habitat International and is expected to begin in Albert Lea in the spring.

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The process begins with what Fisher described as a windshield survey. She and others will drive around and survey and photograph each home in the targeted neighborhood — looking at aspects such as roofs, yards, sidewalks and driveways, to name a few.

“We take that information and work with the city to determine what the large needs are,” she said.  “Are there properties that would be easily brought up to speed with some volunteer labor, or is it more extensive?

The second part of the process is a residential survey that will go out to every resident in the neighborhood who is able to be reached. This will be done by going door-to-door.

“We’re talking to the residents about their neighborhood,” Fisher said. “What do they think about the neighborhood? What do they see as strengths? Who do they see as leaders? Do they feel safe? Do they feel transportation is adequate? Do they have access to the things they need?

“Instead of saying here’s what you need, it’s working from the inside out.”

For example, if someone doesn’t feel safe in their neighborhood, she and others could reach out to local law enforcement or form a neighborhood watch group.

If someone thinks there needs to be more access to fresh foods, they could put in neighborhood gardens.

She said the program will form a neighborhood coalition.

“The point is to get them engaged as much as possible,” she said.

Fisher, who has been with the organization for four years, said she thinks the program, which goes back to Habitat for Humanity’s roots to build up communities, will be successful in Albert Lea because people here are excited for collaboration and to work together to bring change. She said she is excited for the opportunity to impact more peoples’ lives.

Habitat for Humanity is part of a global, nonprofit housing organization operated on Christian principles that seeks to put God’s love into action by building homes, communities and hope. It is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide through constructing, rehabilitating and preserving homes; by advocating for fair and just housing policies; and by providing training and access to resources to help families improve their shelter conditions.

The organization is probably most known for its home-building projects.

“Building a home is wonderful, but it is very difficult to find enough volunteers to pull off a six month-plus grueling project,” Fisher said.

Having said that, however, she said if the organization had the resources to build a home in Albert Lea, it would love to do so. It will take further financial support and many dedicated volunteers.

In the meantime, the organization will continue to participate with the Rock the Block initiative during the summer.

Fisher is in Albert Lea in the Vitality Center two days a week on Mondays and Thursdays.