News and Musings:
Friday, April 18, 2014
Eugenia Smith: A Remembrance
In the wake of her sudden passing this month, I've been thinking a lot about Harrisburg City Council Member Eugenia Smith. I've been thinking about what she meant the city of Harrisburg as well as what she meant to the homeless families we've served over the years at Brethren Housing Association on Hummel Street in Allison Hill.
I was blessed to know Eugenia on a first name basis. It would be an overstatement to say we were close friends, but I had a number of interactions with her over the years. As I reflected on the times our paths crossed it struck me that they provide a snapshot into the impact she made in Harrisburg, and the void her early passing will leave in our city.
At our Diener House ribbon cutting, September 10, 2013, Eugenia Smith thanks the gathered project donors and volunteers for restoring this building that she called home in the 1970's. (photo: Michael Todaro)
Snapshot #1: The BHA Office
For many years, Eugenia was the social worker for homeless students in the Harrisburg School District. Please understand the immensity of this task. The Harrisburg School District typically sees 300-500 students who face homelessness at some point each school year. It was an overwhelming task. Yet, whenever we had a need, Eugenia was there as an advocate and friend to these students and their families.
A typical scenario was this: a student had changed addresses one or more times during the year. This is typical: a family went from sleeping in a friends living room, to a homeless shelter, to our program. Some conscientious school principal or office worker would look at the student's recently changed address and say "you shouldn't be in our elementary school, you should be in the elementary school across town."
What they didn't know was that the law states that a child in homelessness should be able to stay at the same school for the duration of the year. This is key for some sort of stability in the child's life during significant personal upheaval. When our staff was unable to convince the school, we would call Eugenia. It would be resolved. Many, many times Eugenia came to our office on a task to assist or advocate for a child who was living in our program and attending the city school district. She was an angel and an advocate for these children.
Snapshot #2: Weed and Seed In Allison Hill
There used to be a program in Harrisburg called Weed and Seed, focused on "weeding" out negative elements in the community (crime and blight, for example), and "seeding" healthy new community initiatives. Community leaders like Eugenia and I would attend monthly meetings where we would discuss the efforts underway and learn how we could be involved. I clearly remember the day Eugenia stood up and passionately spoke about growing up at 203 1/2 Hummel Street and what a great neighborhood it was in the 1970's. She challenged us to rehab houses, mentor our youth, and help Allison Hill regain this level of community health.
What struck me was that our organization had purchased 203 1/2 Hummel Street a few years prior. It had fallen into complete disrepair, became a crack house and upon our purchase was merely a shell of its former self. I went up to Eugenia after the meeting and said "How, after all these year, did I not know you lived on our block, in a building we now own?!?"
Snapshot #3: Breakfast at the Club Diner
Based on the above story, when we launched a campaign to expand our programs including a complete rehabilitation of 203 1/2 Hummel Street, I wanted to ask Eugenia to serve on our campaign steering committee. We agreed to meet for breakfast at the Club Diner on 17th Street near Derry Street. You haven't completely experienced the charm of Allison Hill until you've eaten breakfast at the Club Diner.
So I asked her and of course she said yes and was enthusiastic about our plans. But that is not what I remember about breakfast. During breakfast we were interrupted about 4 to 5 times. If I recall correctly, about 2 or 3 times people stopped by our table to say "hey" to Miss Eugenia and check on how her family was doing or so she could check on theirs.
What I remember even more clearly are the two times she said "I'll be right back!" and jumped up to run outside and talk to someone walking down the street. She returned the first time saying "That was one of my students, and I needed to check how he's doing and make sure he's continuing on a good path. I told him to call me if he needs anything." The second time she wanted to check on an ailing family member of the person walking by.
Eugenia had a heart of gold and her actions matched her heart. What an inspiration this breakfast was to me.
Snapshot #4: The Diener House
So we rallied donations and volunteers and completely rehabbed 203 1/2 Hummel Street. We named the building the Diener House in honor of Ray Diener, a friend of BHA who died tragically in 2007 while responding to a call for help.
Eugenia Smith speaks at the groundbreaking for our Diener House rehabilitation project, May 1, 2011. (photo: Barb Myers)
Eugenia came to our groundbreaking evening in May 2011, toured the blighted building, and spoke to our supporters of its former glory. She was thrilled by our goal to completely rehab the building and offered her support in anyway necessary. Then, in September 2013, she returned for our ribbon cutting ceremony. Before we opened the doors to most guests, we walked through the building with Eugenia.
One of the great satisfactions of this project was hearing her "oohs" and "aahs" as she entered each room, and as she reminisced about what this building meant to her and how beautiful it was now. It made a special day even more special, and I'm so thankful I could share this experience with her.
Snapshot #5: City Council
The last time I talked to Eugenia was at a city council meeting in December 2013. In the fall of 2013 we were planning for our next redevelopment project: tearing down 6 blighted buildings and replacing them with 5 brand new townhouses. This project will be transformative for our city block.
After our plans were approved at that city council meeting--no doubt with her endorsement of our organization playing a role--I shook her hand and thanked her for her on-going affirmation of our work as well as her personal encouragement. I also thanked her for all she does for the community.
I wish I could take her out for one last breakfast at the Club Diner to share these memories and how they illustrate to me what she meant to our community. But alas, it would probably be hard to convey all of these sentiments over just one breakfast, especially with all the interruptions and people for her to be checking on.
Love you Eugenia. Miss you Eugenia. Thanks for being an inspiration and role model to so many people, including me.
Grace and peace to you and your loved ones,
Brethren Housing Association
City Councilwoman Eugenia Smith shares her delight at the rehabbed building at 203 1/2 Hummel Street--her former home--with project sponsors and volunteers.
(photo: Lydia Epp)
Posted by Steve Schwartz (4/18/2014 9:37:04 AM | link)
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Breaking Ground on a New Vision for Hummel Street
We were thrilled to break ground on Thursday, January 23 on a project that will transform a blighted corner into a neighborhood centerpiece! In partnership with PinnacleHealth System and local contractors, BHA will be demolishing 6 blighted buildings at the corner of Hummel and Haehnlen Streets (below left) and replacing them with 5 townhouses (below right).
The townhouse development was designed by Benedict Dubbs, Principal at Murray Associates. PinnacleHealth System is handling site demolition and providing project management expertise. They are also enlisting their network of contractors to help with donated labor and materials to make this "extreme block makeover" a reality. Reynolds Construction and Pyramid Construction Services are sharing subcontractor recruitment and management leading up the construction phase of the project.
About seventy-five friends of BHA, including PinnacleHealth representatives, local government leaders, and contractors, joined us to celebrate our groundbreaking and hear how to get involved over a delicious lunch provided by PinnacleHealth. Watch for updates as the project gets underway.
Michael Young, CEO of PinnacleHealth, opened the groundbreaking ceremonies at 222 Hummel Street, the future home of the Hummel Street Townhouses
Cyndi Tolsma, BHA Board Member and PinnacleHealth Board Member, outlines how the blighted buildings to her left and right will be replaced by 5 beautiful new townhouses
Roy Christ, Director of Building and Housing Development for the City of Harrisburg, shares words of affirmation for the project, both on behalf of the city and personally
Long-time friend of BHA, Patty Kim, shares her enthusiasm for BHA's work helping homeless women out of poverty as well as revitalization of the Allison Hill Neighborhood
Harrisburg City Council President Wanda Williams brings words of encouragement and affirmation on behalf of City Council
From Left: Paul Wessel (BHA Board Treasurer), Cyndi Tolsma (BHA and PinnacleHealth Board Member), Patty Kim (BHA Supporter and PA State Representative), Phil Guarneschelli (COO of PinnacleHealth), Wanda Williams (Harrisburg City Council President), Roy Christ (City of Harrisburg Director of Building and Housing Development), Josh Stroup (BHA Board President), Michael Young (PinnacleHealth CEO), Steve Schwartz (BHA Executive Director) and George Grode (PinnacleHealth Board Chair) break ground on the Hummel Street Townhouses
BHA Executive Director Steve Schwartz leads a lunch program and project overview for about seventy friends of BHA and PinnacleHealth, including many community leaders, following the groundbreaking ceremony
Mackendra, BHA Program Participant shares her story of coming to BHA in a time of great need and finding friendship, support and stability
PinnacleHealth COO Phil Guarneschelli shares why he is so excited about the Hummel Street Townhouses partnership with BHA and how he's challenging others to get involved
Dave Angle, CEO of Reynolds Construction, invites contractors to contribute donations of labor and materials to make the Hummel Street Townhouses a reality
Benedict Dubbs, Principal with Murray Associates and Architect of the Hummel Street Townhouses project, shares his vision for tying in current elements of the community architecture with a forward looking design
Architectural drawing of the finished townhouse community at the corner of Hummel and Haehnlen Streets, designed by Benedict Dubbs, Principal, Murray Associates
PA State Representative Patty Kim does constituent outreach with her new friend Zion
Posted by Steve Schwartz (1/29/2014 4:24:22 PM | link)
Monday, January 27, 2014
MLK Day of Service 2014: A Day On!
Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is always an inspiring day in Allison Hill. This year the community came together to clean streets, rehab buildings, paint rain collecting barrels, remove bulk trash, inspire youth (and be inspired by youth) through a poetry workshop and fellowship together over lunch.
At BHA, we joined with our partners at YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren, Tri-County Community Action, Brethren Community Ministries, Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area and the Harrisburg Rain Barrel Coalition to welcome about 250 volunteers for our fourth and largest ever Allison Hill MLK Day of Service. Thanks everyone for making this a great day!
MLK Day: We are the Dream.
State Senator Rob Teplitz kicked off the day with words of welcome in the morning, just before he made his way to a volunteer site with his family
Our lunch meal and program at First Church of the Brethren was packed as Ron Tilley, Director of Brethren Community Ministries looks on
Local poet, writer and community leader Nathaniel Gadsden challenged us to live out the legacy of Dr. King
This group of youth wrote collective poetry through a workshop facilitated by Nathaniel Gadsden, then presented their poetry over lunch
Hummel Street outside First Church of the Brethren served as a central site for dealing with bulk trash removal and demolition project waste
This group of Messiah College students helped tackle some ambitious demolition work as part of a building rehab on Hummel Street
Eager volunteers helped beautify the neighborhood
Posted by Chris Fitz (1/27/2014 10:00:18 PM | link)
Friday, December 20, 2013
IN 2009, I SAT DOWN to put some thoughts to paper that had been gleaned from my experience and the wisdom
and insights of my fellow staff and board members. That rough 20-page document became the foundation for the 20/20 Vision Campaign. Atop the page where I laid out a projected cost for the plan sat this quote by Joel Barker:
Growing The Family Tree: Final Campaign Report
action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference."
What I have been blessed to be apart of these past three years is...
...continue reading "Growing The Family Tree: Final Campaign Report"...
Posted by Steve Schwartz (12/20/2013 1:17:13 PM | link)
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