Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City President/CEO Pat Turner addressed eager early risers Wednesday Sept. 20th and Saturday Sept. 30th. To inspire nearly 500 volunteers at these two events, Turner quoted a favorite saying of Habitat for Humanity Founder Millard Fuller. Fuller frequently claimed that volunteers, homeowners, and sponsors working side-by-side in their city inevitably come down with a case of Habititis: “Habititis is a condition that causes your faith in the goodness of mankind to be restored.” The happenings during Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City’s 8th Rock the Block catalyzed this condition, signaling hope for two blocks in Vineyard and Oak Park neighborhoods and for Kansas City.
Spreading 300 gallons of paint with 350 paintbrushes and rollers, while climbing up 120 ladders, KCRAR and KCP&L volunteers engaged in home repairs and preservation projects for 34 houses on 4300 Bellefontaine and E 43rd Terrace. KCRAR volunteers provided a uniform paint-job for Jeffrey Morgan’s house and surprised him by rebuilding his rotting porch. “I’m overjoyed…it’s making my house feel like a home,” exclaims Jeffrey. Volunteers shared in Jeffrey’s joy, dancing the cha-cha slide alongside him in his front yard; the neighborly atmosphere on Bellefontaine was infectious.
The sense of neighborliness nurtured by Rock the Block was not new to this Oak Park neighborhood. “We’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard,” says Jeffrey. “There are three vacant houses on the street and you would never know.” Residents on Bellefontaine hold each other accountable to mow their lawns and shovel their snow in a timely manner—and assist the elderly on the street who struggle with this type of upkeep. “It’s like clockwork,” explains Jeffrey.
4300 Bellefontaine has a unique history of comradery. Like many current homeowners on the street, Jeffrey Morgan grew up on Bellefontaine with his three brothers, two of whom still live in houses next door to his. Jeffrey’s brother Billy remembers moving onto the street when he was a boy in 1965. Billy claims the street was racially mixed when his family moved on the block. He fondly remembers his German neighbors, the Rumbelfingers. “Mrs. Rumbelfinger used to give me cookies,” says Billy with a smile.
Billy Morgan recalls the riots in Kansas City in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Amidst the racial violence in the city and across the country, Bellefontaine was a beacon of hope. Billy’s father tacked a sign on the Rumbelfinger residence that read “this is a black man’s house” to deter rioters who were setting white homeowners’ houses ablaze.
The Morgan family is not the only example of good Samaritans on the street. The Morgan boys attended school with Lee and Gloria Smith’s children, an elderly couple who also moved onto the street in 1965 and still proudly live on Bellefontaine in their blue house with white trim. Gloria reminisces about Mrs. Rose, her white neighbor, who was a surrogate mother to her three children. Gloria also remembers Lee saving their white neighbor whose cigarette caught his house on fire; Lee pulled his neighbor out of the ashes before the fire department arrived.
The purpose of Rock the Block is to restore houses in order to restore communities like the ones the Smith’s and the Morgan’s remember—caring communities based on trust. “When we fix up these homes, families are invested in staying here,” says Turner. Restoring the beauty of these blocks encourages families of different races with different socioeconomic backgrounds to purchase homes in the area. Living alongside diverse neighbors who are also invested in the maintenance and security of their homes helps foster trust and provides unity in an era plagued by division.
Ike Graham, a homeowner on E. 43rd Terrace and President of the Vineyard Neighborhood Association, has the same goal as Habitat KC. “I want the neighborhood to be one of neighbors helping neighbors.” Mr. Graham wants people to purchase homes in Vineyard, not just rent. He has lived on the street for 50 years and remembers when E. 43rd Terrace was pristine, enclosed by a well-kept tunnel of trees. He is thankful for the time and energy of the KCP&L volunteers who diligently worked toward making his and Habitat’s vision for the Vineyard neighborhood possible.
Both KCRAR and KCP&L are committed to making the Rock the Block event bigger and better next year. “We hope to grow by 15%-20% next year, as far as number of houses and volunteers,” says Shawna Pyfrom, home warranty representative and official conferrer of the Rock the Block Spirit Award. Pyfrom is not the only individual with her eyes fixed on the future. “If you guys [stop by] next year, this yard will be looking good,” homeowner Patricia Johnson adamantly says. Volunteers worked on landscaping projects around her home. The sight of thriving mums in her own yard has encouraged her to tackle her gutter and other landscape and preservation projects seem less daunting. “It’s a start for me. All I needed was that boost.”
Homeowner Patricia Johnson is not just grateful for her now-blooming yard; she is also grateful for the opportunity to boogie with KC Wolf in her very own yard during Rock the Block.
Volunteers on both blocks were grateful for the meaningful interactions with homeowners. Gale, an official member of the KCP&L grill team, loved talking to Harvey Jones, a 95-year-old homeowner who lived steps away from her hot dog table on Saturday. “I love the beautification projects,”
Gale explains. “The homeowners help as well. And I enjoy helping those who help themselves.” Volunteers at Jeffrey Morgan’s house were grateful to break bread at the coffee stand Jeffrey set up in his driveway before the work-day started.
In light of the intentional moments and renewed commitments to improve communities and empower families across Kansas City, it is safe to assume homeowners and volunteers alike caught Habititis during the 2017 HFHKC Rock the Block.