CANTON – Like busy bees, three work crews spent an overcast morning affixing vinyl siding to three new homes being built on 23rd Street NE through Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio.
They are volunteers through Faith Build, Habitat’s interfaith outreach that invites disparate religious groups to come together for the common goal of building a new home. Or, in this case, three.
After a year’s absence due to the pandemic, this year’s Faith Build involves 16 different religious groups in the construction of three homes, according to Courtney Brown, the ministry’s director of Family & Faith Partnership.
“The plan was 2020,” Brown said. “The houses weren’t started because faith groups weren’t gathering. The families have been in the program for two years.”
Participating groups are Advent Lutheran, Christ Presbyterian, Church of the Covenant, Community Christian, Faith Family Church, First Christian, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church, the Islamic Society of North East Ohio, John Knox Presbyterian, Neighborhood Church, Richville United Church of Christ, RiverTree Jackson, St. Anthony/All Saints Catholic, St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran, Temple Israel and Zion Evangelical Lutheran.
Brown said Habitat and faith leaders met virtually through Zoom during the pandemic.
“This is the largest faith-based endeavor,” she said. “We’ve always done Faith Builds because faith is a foundation of Habitat. We’ve always valued Faith Builds and we thought this time, ‘Why separate them?’ We wanted to do this well. Instead of one house every three years, we wanted to do three neighbors at the same time. (This year) 2021 gives us a lot of hope.”
The homes, which should be completed in October, are being built on land purchased from Canton City Schools for $1, Brown said.
Construction costs for each home are about $80,000, Brown said. Habitat families pay for their homes through a combination of sweat equity and interest-free mortgages.
More:Canton’s Habitat for Humanity prepares to get back to home
Faith Build participants raised sponsorships for construction. The balance was underwritten by donations from the Heritage House Legacy Fund through the Stark Community Foundation, said Alison Matas Smith, Habitat’s director of development.
“In the 1960s, several churches in partnership with the Timken Foundation came together to build a high-rise apartment building downtown with a goal of providing affordable housing to middle-income families,” Matas Smith said. “After the building sold in 2019, three of the churches came together with their proceeds from the sale to establish the Heritage House Fund to continue to benefit affordable housing in Canton. That fund generously donated gap funding to help with this year’s Faith Build.”
The churches connected to the fund are Christ Presbyterian and St. Paul’s Episcopal in downtown Canton, and St. Stephen Martyr in Jackson Township.
First Faith Build for RiverTree’s pastor
This Faith Build marks a first for the Rev. Jeremy Redman, RiverTree Jackson’s new lead pastor.
“I love it,” he said. “RiverTree has a long history with Habitat. It’s a way of bringing the good news to the world. It’s also a way to meet leadership and develop relationships with faith leaders. It’s a win-win.”
Redman said 14 RiverTree members are participating while others are working on a Habitat house being built on Sycamore Avenue SE.
“Faith without deeds is non-living,” Redman said. “If we can help, it’s love in action and faith in action.”
Brown and Matas Smith said Faith Build is open to organizations of all sizes.
“The beauty of the Faith Build is it is accessible to smaller groups,” Matas Smith said. “Not every community can sponsor a house. We want to make it accessible for all faith communities who want to be part of the Faith Build.”
Brown said smaller ministries have found other ways, such as supplying lunch, to contribute.
Every day on a Habitat construction site includes a devotional time, which Brown says is an opportunity for volunteers to learn about one another’s faith.
“I think that’s a really important part,” Brown said, adding that families are not proselytized or pressured to join a religious organization.
“When folks come out to help you build a house, that’s faith in itself,” she said. “We all can get behind the idea that home matters.”
What’s it like to build a Habitat house?
The contingent of volunteers from Temple Israel include three clergymen: Rabbi David Komerofsky, and his predecessors, retired Rabbi Jon Adland and Rabbi Emeritus John Spitzer, who have participated in past Faith Builds.
“It’s such a great experience,” said Komerofsky, who joined Temple Israel last year. “I wanted to see what it was all about.”
Like Redman, this marks Komerofsky’s first Faith Build.
“So, if this house falls down…” he said, laughing.
Komerofsky noted that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is known as Har Habayit or “the Mountain of the House of the Lord.”
“They say a person’s home is their castle, but it’s also their temple, too,” Komerofsky said. “It’s not just about your house, it’s also about your neighbor and the community.”
Adland is volunteering on his third local Faith Build, having worked on projects when he lived in Lexington, Kentucky.
“I’ve tried to be a participant everywhere I’ve lived,” he said. “The idea of helping people, there’s nothing better. Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel talked about ‘Praying with your feet.’ This is praying with your hands.”
In 2022, Habitat Faith Build will partner with faith-based communities to build two houses in Massillon and two houses in Canton. No dates have been set. Interested organizations should contact Courtney Brown, director of Family & Faith Partnership at 330-915-5888, extension 112, or by email at [email protected]
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP