Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders had a surprise for Wayne and Jacqueline Scott and their 12-year-old daughter Symone: a key. The key to their new home.
The Scotts knew they were being considered possible recipients for a formerly vacant house being remodeled through the Jackson County Constructing Futures program. They would frequently go past the two-story house on Myrtle Avenue in Kansas City, hoping -- and praying -- it might one day be their home.
The Scotts were asked to join Sanders at the Vineyard Neighborhood Association headquarters Monday (August 16) to undergo a final interview and then make some comments during a news conference. They didn't know the final decision had already been made.
When Sanders announced they would be getting the house, the Scotts' jaws dropped. Then their joyful tears began to flow.
"It's not every day you can say you're changing a very deserving family's life," said Sanders. "Today, we are changing this family's life."
A startled Jacqueline Scott came to the podium, her voice trembling as she noted, "I came prepared to say we are grateful for being under consideration and that we are eager to hear the final decision in a couple of weeks. The house -- it's perfect for us."
Jackson County has developed Constructing Futures to change many lives through addressing three key issues: 1) rehabbing vacant homes that have become dilapidated and can potentially be used for criminal activities; 2) giving on-the-job training for individuals who have previously been incarcerated; and 3) providing housing for families who have recently struggled with homelessness.
"Vacant homes are something this community has struggled with for decades, if not generations," said Sanders. "With this one program, though, we are striking at three problems."
County Legislator James D. Tindall, Sr. (2nd District) called Jackson County Constructing Futures a "tangible" program that "seeks to end homelessness one house at a time." He chairs the County's Housing Resources Commission.
The Scotts were forced to leave their previous home after Wayne lost his job as a computer technician in 2008. They found shelter at the City Union Mission and got assistance from Community LINC, a transitional housing program. The staff at Community LINC describes the Scotts as "model clients."
Wayne and Jacqueline, who've been married 23 years, have each found new jobs, paid off their debt and started saving about half their current income. According to Community LINC Program Director Teresa McClain, the Scotts represent a shining example of a family raising themselves up after a dramatic economic setback.
"We have clients tell us, 'I thought I'd never be stable again," said McClain. "We tell them, 'Where you are now is not where you are going.'"
Vineyard Neighborhood Association President Delores R. Johnson called the Scotts a welcomed addition to the Kansas City neighborhood. The family is extremely active in their church, and Wayne donates his time working with inner-city kids in addition to teaching senior citizens how to use the Internet.
Jackson County Constructing Futures represents a successful public-private partnership, with Jackson County joining with several non-profit agencies and businesses to make the program work. More than a dozen Jackson County businesses made donations that went toward rehabbing the house on Myrtle Avenue. The County Housing Resources Commission partnered with Connections To Success by issuing a grant to the non-profit organization whose clients did the remodeling work.
Connections To Success aids community members, including ex-prison inmates, seeking to acquire marketable job skills.
A former inmate's ability to acquire stable employment is a crucial to preventing recidivism. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, among those individuals successfully completing probation or parole between 1996 and 2005, 73 percent were employed.
More than 100 other people donated their time to help complete the Myrtle Avenue house.
"This project attracts people who want to be a part of this success," said Connections To Success Co-Founder and Director Brad Lambert. "A lot of people just wanted make an impact."
Workers with Habitat for Humanity Kansas City, which donated the Myrtle Avenue property to Jackson County Constructing Futures, did the demolition work necessary prior to the remodeling. Jackson County Parks and Recreation staff, meanwhile, did the landscaping work around the house.
The Scotts are the second family to receive a home through Jackson County Constructing Futures. The County presented the first home to Barbara Nelson and her two daughters April 6, 2009. Tindall stressed these first two houses are just the beginning, with the program looking to remodel vacant homes throughout Jackson County.
After taking the Scotts on a walking tour of their new home, Sanders described giving house keys to Barbara Nelson and Jacqueline Scott as "two of the happiest days I've had in public service." He added, "I look forward to more days like this as we move forward with Constructing Futures."