I have met a lot of people who don’t fully understand the impact and effectiveness that non-profits have on their communities. A lot of people assume that all non-profits are charities and give away goods and services to a very small capacity. While these narrow views of non-profits may not have a direct negative impact, allowing people to stay in this mindset prevents people from having a wider understanding of an effective resource. If more people were to understand the capability of non-profits and the impact that they can have on a community, there would be wider acceptance and support.
People’s Self Help Housing (PSHH) is a long-standing Fahe member based out of Vanceburg, KY. During a recent visit I discovered I had allowed myself to take a very narrow view of what they did as an organization. This perception came about because Fahe has made great strides in energy efficiency across Appalachia. We have hosted training seminars for the members to share their techniques and success in energy efficient construction. We also provide resources and train appraisers so that they value energy efficient homes for their full worth which helps both the homebuilders and the families who buy the homes. Through their participation in these types of programs I learned about PSHH’s accomplishments in energy efficiency. I was aware that they offered other services but because my first exposure to PSHH was through Fahe’s publication, A Brighter Path Forward, I allowed myself to become fixated on their great work in energy efficiency. Because of this I thought of them as only being a housing provider with impressive HERS ratings and I overlooked the fact that they offered other great services to Vanceburg and Appalachia.
When I met up with Dave Kreher, PSHH’s Executive Director, I was given a tour of their offices and work facilities and I was able to meet the staff. Nearly everyone was involved in a variety of tasks across a variety of programs. No one simply had one area they worked in. These programs included energy efficiency but also incorporated many other aspects of housing and community development that I wasn’t thinking about before. Realizing that I had been working from a narrow focus, I told Dave that about my experiences with peoples’ preconceived notions about nonprofits. I asked him what he would want people who are looking in from the outside to know about People’s Self Help Housing.
“We do a bit of everything,” he said. “We build homes, we renovate homes, and we build and manage transitional housing.” Lewis and Carter Counties are small counties with several remote areas which make it difficult for families to receive the same level of goods and services found in more urban regions.
According to the 2010 Census, Lewis County had a population of 14,092 persons and 5,422 households residing in the county. The median income for a household was $22,208. Carter County was slightly larger with 26,889 people and 10,342 households and the median household income was $26,427. Both fall below the national median income of $51,939. In 2014, PSHH provided rehab assistance for 58 households and built 6 new homes for a total of 794 households assisted and 329 new homes built in the last 33 years.
“We have a homelessness program to help get people and families into safe shelter. We have a tax program, we do rental, and we offer rent and utility assistance.” In 2014 they provided tenant-based rental assistance to approximately 40 households, homeless prevention assistance to approximately 20 households, prepared 194 federal and state tax returns free of charge for low income Lewis County residents. They also managed and maintained 5 emergency shelter apartments and 17 transitional housing apartments for the homeless, plus 110 multifamily and single-family affordable rental units in Lewis and Carter County. All 132 rental properties have been developed and constructed by PSHH building crews over the past 23 years.
What is really important to understand about these numbers is that People’s Self Help Housing is not a large organization. They have four homeownership staff, four rental staff, and ten construction staff. With a relatively small team they are able to administer essential services that probably aren’t being provided by many other organizations in their service area.
“It was a faith-based decision for me to help others, to help the poor,” said Dave. “I made a decision to live simply so that I can focus on helping others. I have never had a day that I didn’t want to come to work.” Dave’s attitude of living simply is mirrored across the organization. Their workspace is functional, not flashy. The staff covers many different tasks. Once you visit and meet the staff, you can tell that People’s Self Help Housing believes in being a good steward of the funds they receive and generate.
Dave took me out for a short tour of Vanceburg. It was founded as a port along the Ohio River with salt as one of its main exports. The town once boasted a large shoe factory which was a major supplier of good paying jobs. It also contains the only memorial to a Union soldier in the south. What it doesn’t contain is a hospital, the closest being in Portsmouth, Ohio. There are also few skilled plumbers, electricians, and contractors outside of those that work for PSHH. These are essential skills required for the building and upkeep of a home.
As Dave showed me around I noted that we couldn’t drive over a mile without seeing a structure that had been built or improved upon by People’s Self Help Housing. I saw the transitional housing complex, the four-plex townhomes, the new library, and the once defunct hardware store turned into affordable apartments to name a few. That made me reflect again on the fact that many people don’t realize the scope and impact that local nonprofits have on the community.
During our trip, we passed one beautiful home that was built by PSHH. It was a large house with a long ramp and a decorated outbuilding in the front yard. The home belonged to Virgil, a longtime client of PSHH and, Dave assured me, one of the friendliest people in Vanceburg. As promised, we were invited in and Dave was greeted as an old friend. “The place I was living in before was too expensive,” said Virgil. “The highest bill I’ve had in this home was $200 during the really hard winter we just had. But it was worth it because in this house, I don’t have to worry about the cold.” Along with his yard, Virgil expressed his love for the porch and ramp because of the ease of access it allows to the home, a step taken by PSHH to help Virgil because of his back surgery. “I am so blessed to have this home. PSHH is wonderful. “
Many people have preconceived notions about what a non-profit is or does. Often I hear that people believe non-profits are not as effective as for profit companies. However, nonprofits such as People’s Self Help Housing dispel those myths by being an all-encompassing and vital resource for their community. Though they have a small staff, their dedication to improving the lives of their neighbors and their desire to improve their community allows them to accomplish monumental tasks that are effective, life changing, and sustainable.
Your support of Fahe helps to provide essential funding and services for non-profits across Appalachia such as People’s Self Help Housing. That support allows them to continue to be an important provider of housing, jobs, and essential services for their communities. Dave Kreher said it best: “All through the years, Fahe has managed to get organizations to work as a family. Groups cooperate towards the same goal, share resources, and share successes. It’s all about helping the greater good by working together.” You can continue to help in the success of Appalachian families by sharing Fahe with friends, family and coworkers through our newsletter, Facebook, or Twitter.