This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.”
“What if I could save older, abandoned homes from destruction and help homeless people get their lives back on track at the same time?” The question lingered in my head and a journey began in the spring of 2012. Actually, it began in the fall of 2006, but we’ll come back to that.
Sitting at a stop light on a street in a depressed area of Durham, North Carolina in April 2012, I noticed a number of black men standing around outside a row of abandoned commercial buildings on one side of the street and a row of small, older Craftsman style homes that looked to be abandoned on the other. The light changed. I drove to the next intersection and turned the corner, essentially leaving the scene behind. Only the idea stuck with me.
Driving home, my simmering anger over the recent razing of a beautiful, historic home in Raleigh, North Carolina met with my passionate desire to save older homes and end homelessness.
As my mind wandered, I went over the last 15 months of my life in my head. It had become clear to me that my life needed to change drastically! Since that time, as I’ve gained clarity and worked on healing old wounds, I have come to realize that my purpose is bigger than I am. I have thought about growing my place in the world, going in a new direction and growing my income. However, when I started thinking about what I would do and how I would do it, I got stuck.
One day, sitting in my stuckness, driving down I-40, it hit me. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I nearly got into an accident because I could barely see through my tears to drive. I have never felt that much joy in my life and I knew I was meant to be right in this very place. Right here, right now. I’m going to use my unique story to save hurting homes and hurting, homeless people.
Allow me to relay the short version of a long, very personal story. I worked in real estate and was fired twice in 17 months. First, in November of 2006 and then, again, in March of 2008. The first time I didn’t see it coming and was devastated. Unbeknownst to me, when I lost my job in 2006, my self-esteem went with it. I was scared, timid to the point of silence. The 2nd time, I saw it coming but was helpless and couldn’t find a new job in time. That helpless feeling still rears its head sometimes.
Each time I was fired, I was devastated for different reasons. Unless you have been there, you have no idea what it is to go through it. I can genuinely empathize because, save for loving family, I would have been homeless.
I believe firmly that God has put me on this path for a reason. My experiences have not been for naught! I can empathize with people who have lost people, jobs and homes and are living in a mountain of debt. I get it. I understand. And you really can’t unless you have been there. I know all about what does and doesn’t work.
I have the inspiration and the idea. Now, how do I breathe life into this vision? Well, it’s a dual purpose, three part project. The first part is acquiring old, vacant homes for rehabilitation from municipalities or homeowners in exchange for the tax write off. Cities, towns and preservation groups have lists of homes that are either tax delinquent or just abandoned; a liability either way. You can also, as I have, drive past a home, write down the address and then do a little research to determine ownership and status and then make an inquiry to the appropriate party.
The second part of the project is finding and screening homeless people to determine those who best fit the intent and vision of the project. I want people who are willing to work and earn their home. People who lost their way and cherish the pride of accomplishment that restores self-esteem and spirit?
The third part is partnering with trade contractors and collecting supplies, both of which would need to be donated. I believe businesses and contractors would donate their time, materials and expertise to this amazing cause. It’s an opportunity to improve a neighborhood, create pride in ownership and workmanship and help people heal and regain their self-esteem at the same time.
With the structures, people and materials in place, the construction would begin. Homeless people will rehabilitate a home for themselves using donated supplies, with the help of contractors such as licensed electricians and cabinet makers. It’s akin to Habitat except the goal is to rehabilitate an existing home with the future occupant working on their own home, instead of building a new one. This brings a broken, forgotten home back to life while giving homeless people back their sense of self-worth and self-respect, which in turn renews their life and the life of the community.
As I said earlier, I know I’m headed in a new direction career-wise and it’s richer in every way than where I am now. I envision myself building a non-profit that matches homeless men, women and families with donated homes that need TLC and building a beautiful business around my philanthropic endeavor.
To close things today, I’d like to share a short story with you. I recently had the opportunity to witness real philanthropy up close for the first time. I watched, in amazement and awe, as someone bought a pinwheel for $1500! It inspired my heart! As I work on the philanthropic side of my new venture, I know the rest will follow. I plan to work to heal my community and the country, one small partnership at a time. Pairing people-less homes with homeless people seems like a great start! Thanks so much for allowing me to speak to you.
Jill Jankoski owns a small business offering virtual assistance services to clients both locally and remotely. She is a 2003 graduate of Florida State University. After a series of life changing moments, she is in the process of transforming her life and her business. She lives a very busy, full life in Raleigh, North Carolina with her two fur babies. Her hobbies include gardening and cheering on her teams, particularly the Boston Red Sox.
*This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.*