Loving Our Neighbors
“We are called to walk with our neighbor in need.”
This year we embrace the call of Pope Francis to Share the Journey with our neighbors. In sharing their journey we bring communities together and strengthen bonds. Sharing resources and empowering communities undoubtedly strengthens bonds, and that is the impetus behind Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), a nonprofit organization established to empower individuals to make choices for themselves and their neighborhoods through community building, home ownership and economic learning.
Sister of Charity Barbara Busch has been sharing the journey with community members in Cincinnati’s low to moderate neighborhoods since 1978. It was 40 years ago that she along with the late S. Judith Martinez and Dave Scharfenberger started Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), an organization dedicated to empowering neighborhood leaders to speak for themselves by organizing and negotiating for positive change at the local, state and national levels. Providing home ownership opportunities for working and minority families has been a major strategy for implementing WIN’s vision.
S. Barbara explains, “We started as a group of volunteers out of a neighborhood effort.” At the time she was working for Catholic Social Services in Northside (Cincinnati) and was approached by multiple neighbors interested in forming a neighborhood-based organization that would expand beyond their community. Working side-by-side with local residents, Sisters Barbara and Judy trained them to become leaders in issues related to utility reform, quality and affordable housing, quality of life issues and decreasing crime. Working in Neighborhoods became a comprehensive Community Development Corporation. Residents wanted to live in decent homes and physically improve their neighborhoods, and so, WIN began developing homes in 1981 as well as offering home ownership classes and counseling. The organization developed partnerships with local banks which has now yielded over $300 million in investments for WIN’s neighborhoods.
WIN and its staff of 18 continues to strengthen bonds and empower others as it strives to meet the ever-changing needs of its neighbors and community members. Its hub is located in South Cumminsville, where a five-building property sits on the site of the former St. Pius Church. WIN’s Economic Learning Center welcomes neighborhood groups, community gatherings and public hearings, as well as offers a community computer lab, financial literacy seminars and counseling programs, youth enrichment programs and after-school tutoring. There is also 18 units of housing for senior citizens.
Barbara Bush Homeowner Viola enjoys a conversation with Andrew Feltner, one of 18 WIN staff members working to empower community members to make choices for themselves and their neighborhoods through community building, home ownership and economic learning.
In its 40 years WIN has prepared over 2,500 families for first-time home ownership and rehabbed or built 165 homes in Cincinnati’s low to moderate neighborhoods. During the banking/foreclosure crisis in 2002 WIN worked with over 9,500 families to prevent foreclosure. This work has always required advocacy for low-income communities with national financial institutions. “We are trying to give longterm wealth,” says S. Barbara. “We don’t just want you to buy a house, we want you to continue to grow. We want you to have a mortgage through a conventional institution. That’s important because if you are going to have long-term financial stability and build wealth for your family, the only way to do that is to get into the regular financial system. Home ownership for most communities of color is the single way to bridge the gap for wealth.”
What S. Barbara finds most inspiring is community members’ hard work and drive to improve life for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. Programs created by WIN are a result of the requests of their neighbors. “Our youth programs came from people saying we have to do something for our kids, we can’t leave them on the corner,” she said.
Director of Operations Hope Wilson, an 18-year WIN staff member, comments on the community’s resiliency. “Even when life is challenging, their willingness to stick to it and find a solution, is admirable. They don’t give up even though there have been lots of challenges where folks may have thought this isn’t worth it. They love this community, they want to see it thrive.”
With the heart of the Sisters of Charity mission at its core, Working in Neighborhoods is meeting needs as they are presented. Through its donors, the Sisters of Charity, staff members and approximately 200-300 volunteers, WIN continues to listen to its neighbors and work to end poverty. “We don’t have a service that didn’t come out of a request from our neighbors,” S. Barbara said. “We are firm believers that our neighbors know best what will help them to grow.”
Two years ago WIN launched its South Cumminsville Out of Poverty initiative – a comprehensive approach to community development, engaging residents and partners to address issues affecting quality of life in the South Cumminsville neighborhood. Its goal is to move 40 percent of residents out of poverty in a generation using a six-fold approach around: housing, walkability and transportation, youth education and engagement, health and fresh food access, job training and access, and beautification and safety. The hope is to create a model that can be replicated in other low-income communities in the region and nationally.
S. Barbara said the request came from community members after a study in the neighborhood concluded
residents will die 17 years earlier than people living on the other side of town. “They needed our help to live longer and to get themselves out of poverty so that their children and grandchildren could have the opportunity to make this change,” she said.
“My experience is that we all have the same hopes and dreams,” continued S. Barbara. “We all want our kids to do well, we want them to get a good education, we all want our families to get along, and we all want to have good opportunities for jobs and for our grandkids to have great lives. What I know about these communities is that they work hard for it.”
S. Barbara and Hope relay story upon story of sharing the journey with their neighbors. One particular woman sticks out in Hope’s mind. “One young woman came to us through housing development; she saw one of our houses and wanted to buy it but wasn’t ready at all. She went away for a few years and worked on things, came back and asked how she was doing. I thought she had given up. By that time we had started a homebuyers club and she got involved. One of the components of that is to get people to save and work on a budget. This young woman works in Cincinnati Public Schools and had been saving a little, showing up and doing what she needed to do to improve her credit score, and pay off all her collections and car.
“It was a year and a half ago, her kids were going back to school, and her car broke down. She had to use some of her savings to fi x the car. She came in and appeared upset. I asked if she had to miss work. ‘No.’ Did the kids not get to school? ‘No, they got to school on time.’ Did you miss paying bills? ‘No.’ I told her that’s what that fund is for. Before she didn’t have it and would not have paid something else. This setback didn’t affect her long term. Her mindset changed. Seeing that excitement and the progress she had made was awesome for me; it’s why we do this.”
S. Barbara adds her own story, “We had a woman who kept coming to our homebuyer classes, and wanted to buy a house but couldn’t buy any of the new homes we were building at the time. S. Judy and I were trying to figure out how we could help her. She was raising five children in a two-bedroom subsidized apartment and she wanted them out of there before they were teens. We decided that there was a house across the street from the houses we were building that we wanted to do something with but it didn’t have a back wall by the kitchen. Judy took her in and said if you want this, we can make it work but it’s going to take us a few years and we are going to have to use a lot of volunteers to get it so you can afford it. She said yes, and so we got the house done; it was a five-bedroom, beautiful home. I talked to her about a year ago and she told me all her kids had either gone on to college or were working. She’s happy and still living in her home. Her dad lives close by, and she can help him. She said it made such a difference in all their lives.”
Creating hope and dignity for families living in poverty is one of S. Barbara’s biggest inspirations for founding WIN. She once said, “Every day we stand with families who have little hope and lack the knowledge to respond to the situation around them. It is our role to be with them, to provide them with the knowledge they need, and to teach them to speak for themselves so they can teach their children to do the same. Every day I have the opportunity to stand up with the poor and I know that we are on God’s side in the fight for justice and hope.”
She and the staff at Working In Neighborhoods are sharing the journey, loving their neighbors every step of the way. “Presence is key,” she says, “being there for them, and encouraging them to speak their own truth.”
Walk with your neighbor; share the journey.
The mission of Working In Neighborhoods is to empower people to make informed choices for themselves and their neighborhoods through Community Building, Home Ownership, and Economic Learning.
Community Building: WIN trains neighborhood leaders to improve the entire community. Through WIN’s leadership development, local leaders are working to create healthy and sustainable communities. WIN harnesses the power of neighborhood leadership to build strong communities across Greater Cincinnati. In collaboration with the South Cumminsville Community Council, WIN provides After School and Tutoring programs as well as Summer Enrichment programs for local children grades K-12.
Home Ownership: WIN helps families grasp the dream of owning a home by developing homes and eliminating barriers to homeownership. WIN rehabs and builds homes for first-time homebuyers while revitalizing communities. WIN has built or renovated over 160 homes and sold them to first-time homebuyers. WIN utilizes the most effective energy-conservation techniques available when building or renovating homes.
Economic Learning: WIN prepares families to purchase their first home by offering homebuyer training classes and individual counseling. Annually, WIN teaches over 300 families how to purchase their first home. WIN offers financial literacy training to 200 families annually including Ohio Benefit Bank Services. In addition WIN effectively saves homes from foreclosures, protecting families’ investments and maintaining neighborhood stability. WIN has partnerships with national and local lenders with the goal of providing quality financial opportunities.