Barbara Nelson considers herself blessed.
Six years ago, Jackson County ended her and her two daughters’ struggle with homelessness, when County Executive Mike Sanders presented them the keys to the first vacant house remodeled through the county’s Constructing Futures program. Nelson has since fulfilled the terms of the innovative home-ownership initiative, including paying minimal monthly “rent” to cover taxes, insurance coverage and a security system, to earn a clear title to the house given her family in April of 2009.
Today, in a special “Completion Ceremony” at the Ivanhoe Community Center, Sanders handed a framed memento to Nelson.
“Barbara, we gave you the key to a house,” County Executive Sanders said. “You and your daughters have made it a home.”
Nelson credits Constructing Futures for making a “big difference” in her and her daughters’ lives. “I thank God and Jackson County every day when I wake up,” she said. “It was my dream to own a house and have a place for my girls and me to live.”
Jackson County launched Constructing Futures in 2008 to address three crucial issues: 1. Rehabilitating vacant houses that have become a blight on their neighborhood because they are not only decrepit but also frequently magnets for criminal activity. 2. Providing on-the-job training to the formerly incarcerated individuals who remodel those houses. 3. Giving homeless families a brighter future by confronting homelessness one house at a time.
Bishop James D. Tindall, director of Jackson County’s Housing Resources Commission, served as a county legislator when Constructing Futures was introduced.
"We believed in Miss Nelson,” he said, “and what it takes to make it in our community is just a little belief. Six years later, we are seeing the success of this program. It works because of the character of the person living in that home. “She can look back and say, ‘I’ve been through the storm and the rain, but I made it.’”
Also recognized at today’s ceremony was one of the men who worked on what would be the Nelsons’ house. Through Connections to Success, one of the program’s partners, Alvin Spotwood, has become a barber and a youth mentor.
The entire Ivanhoe neighborhood, Sanders added, has benefited from the Wayne Street house being remodeled and given to the Nelson family. Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council Executive Director Margaret May called Nelson a “star,” committed to assisting the revitalization of the central Kansas City neighborhood.
“We started Constructing Futures with one very dilapidated house,” Sanders said. “Instead of only seeing all that was wrong with that house, we saw an opportunity. Rather than tear it down, we built it and the neighborhood back up. It took the hard work of our county staff and the forethought of our county legislators to make this happen.”
Five more Constructing Futures homes have been given to other families, since Nelson and her daughters got the keys to their house.
Sanders praised the Nelsons for making the most of the opportunity the program gave them. Nelson’s youngest daughter, Kyessa, graduated this spring in the top 10 of her class at Central Academy and has earned an academic scholarship to attend the University of Missouri in Columbia. Her oldest daughter, DeBorah, has cerebral palsy and asthma and still lives at home.