The Rev. Barry Washington (right) and Solomon Gore in front of Gore’s home, which was made possible by the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation Priority Markets Program.

Breathing life — and hope — into distressed communities

From the homeless in North Carolina to the unemployed in Alaska, individuals and families are better off thanks to a Priority Markets effort aimed at neighborhood revitalization.

March 25, 2016

Once in disrepair, the houses now stand strong in a neighborhood that has been transformed — much like the lives of those who live there.

And Solomon Gore can see it all from his front door: the freshly painted porches, landscaped lawns, and neighboring roof lines of his small community.

The once homeless veteran was the first to move into this renovated neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He still can’t believe his good fortune, he says.

“I really never dreamed this would happen,” says Solomon, 70, who fell on hard times after he returned home decades ago from the Vietnam War. “There are so many people to thank, so many who pitched in. I’m just glad they had the heart to think of the little people.”

It also fulfilled a dream for Pastor Barry Washington, the driving force behind the project, which currently consists of two duplexes and two single-family homes, with more in the works. He started the effort, dubbed “Homes for Our Heroes,” several years ago as part of Whole Man Ministries Inc., his community service nonprofit. (That’s the Rev. Washington, right, with Solomon in the photo above.)

“When we went out to give food and clothing to the homeless, I met so many veterans who were in need,” says Washington, who is paralyzed from the waist down from a 2008 attack by a carjacker. “I felt there had to be a way to make a difference for them.”

$40 million to nonprofits

The pastor’s agency has received a major boost from volunteer work by Wells Fargo team members, he says, who were “on the front lines from the start, invested all the way. In the past year, it’s like we were coming to the finish line, and you were our anchor in the race.”

The Homes for Our Heroes neighborhood is among hundreds of communities that have been revitalized across the U.S. aided by the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation Priority Markets Program. As part of the latest round of grants last fall, the foundation awarded $6 million to nearly 70 U.S. nonprofits — including Whole Man Ministries, which received $50,000 coupled with $15,000 from the local Wells Fargo charitable arm.

The Priority Markets Program has awarded more than 300 grants, totaling $40 million, to U.S. nonprofits.

Since its start in 2009, the program has provided nearly $40 million in nonprofit assistance for tens of thousands of people through housing, education, neighborhood improvement work, and other community services, says Christine Niska, Priority Markets program manager for the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation.

“It is without a doubt an incredibly effective and efficient philanthropic program,” she says. “The impact of each dollar invested is magnified by enabling nonprofits to combine funding with other community grants as the catalyst for their neighborhood revitalization work.”

The program also demonstrates how Wells Fargo meets the needs of local markets through a nationwide program — with the help of local leaders working in the community “to exemplify our vision and values,” Christine added.

Reaching diverse communities

The program reaches the full spectrum of diverse populations, including the homeless in North Carolina, unemployed native Alaskans, and first-time minority homebuyers in Tucson, Arizona.

“The impact of each dollar invested is magnified . . . ”

In Anchorage, the Rural Alaskan Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP, received a $100,000 grant to boost its work on an affordable housing complex for low- and average-income families. Safe Harbor Muldoon will include nearly two dozen permanent units with advanced energy efficiency and other environmentally-friendly construction. It is being built next to the agency’s transitional housing for homeless families — an old motel that was converted into 50 units for temporary housing.

“That is just phenomenal money for us,” says Janet Hall, director of communications for the agency. “It will be critical in helping us move forward with the families who are now in transitional housing and providing them with permanent housing.”

Wesley and Jessica Vent, with children Breidyn (left) and Lillyauna.
Wesley and Jessica Vent, with children Breidyn (left) and Lillyauna.

Jessica and Wesley Vent say they hope to be one of the lucky families to move in when it opens. The Vents, son Breidyn, 2, and daughter Lillyauna, 6 months, have lived in RurAL CAP’s transitional housing since December 2015. The Vents credit the agency for saving them from homelessness after Wesley lost his job as an iron worker, their son became seriously ill, and the family went broke from medical bills.

“They’ve been so helpful to us, I can’t even describe how much,” Jessica says. “It would be just so amazing if we get a place of our own when the new building opens.”

‘Green’ neighborhood

Affordable housing is also a major emphasis for the Primavera Foundation of Tucson, Arizona, which also received $100,000 in last fall’s grant awards. It will help the nonprofit acquire and develop property for 10 new affordable, manufactured/modular homes based on environmentally “green” construction methods.

Eligible first-time homebuyers will also receive homeownership classes, health services through the Healthy South Tucson collaboration, and access to the community gardens of Primavera and the South Tucson Cooperative Extension Service, says Peggy Hutchison, Primavera’s CEO.

Primavera’s neighborhood revitalization work is part of a 10-year comprehensive plan for every aspect of the South Tucson community, Peggy says.

“It is a high-poverty area. However, there are many community assets, including multi-generational families, diverse racial and ethnic cultures, strong youth leadership, and a great sense of community,” she adds. “There are also many older distressed houses, and we’re trying to significantly decrease that number. Wells Fargo has had a presence for years in helping us do that.”

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