On September 21st, 2023, Community Homeworks held its inaugural Founders’ Day Celebration, commemorating the organization’s history while also illuminating its future vision. The event took place at Honor Credit Unions Stadium Drive branch’s Community Room, kicking off promptly at 8 AM. Attendees gathered around, engaging in coffee and pastries, in the company of Community Homeworks staff and board members.
Chris Praedel, the Executive Director of Community Homeworks, led the opening remarks, followed by a video presentation and a reflection on the organization’s founding by co-founder Emily Greenman Wright. The focus of the discussion was the collective effort required to establish the nonprofit in 2009.
“This is not something we built; this is a partnership. We saw a simple problem and provided a simple solution, and the solution was in Kalamazoo,” Greenman Wright said. “I’m humbled to be part of such an amazing community.”
During the event, Deputy Director Kaylen Humes delivered a speech highlighting the organization’s past year’s accomplishments. Of particular note were the innovative programs introduced, including the twice-awarded Historic Preservation Program. Additionally, Humes gave recognition to the Input Advisory Group, which provides a platform for community members to share their viewpoints, fostering a more equitable balance of power between participants and providers.
The event also featured two awards presented to outstanding community members who have worked with Community Homeworks in the past year. The first award was the 2023 Advocate of the Year, which was jointly awarded to the Honorable Jeanne Hess and Ann Kilkuskie. Both Hess and Kilkuskie were recognized for their tireless efforts in promoting the organization to 100 Women Who Care, a local philanthropic group in Kalamazoo.
“They both presented 3 times for 100 Women Who Care…” Said Jamauri Bogan, the head of the 2023 Campaign Cabinet, while presenting the award. “…3rd time was the charm, resulting in $18,000 for the Safe Start Program at Community Homeworks.”
Stephanie Vallar was bestowed with the prestigious title of Housing Champion of the Year 2023, the most prestigious award from Community Homeworks. Stephanie’s efforts in linking participants to Community Homeworks and her unwavering support for them, particularly in the Northside of Kalamazoo, earned her this esteemed recognition.
“When we were naming this award, one person rose to the top of the list,” Praedel said while honoring Vallar. “It is truly impressive. It truly takes a village to do this work.”
Community Homeworks redirected its focus towards the individuals it serves by narrating stories of their impact. During the event, Deputy Director Humes read a letter from a past recipient who had benefited from the Critical Repair Program. The audience was attentive as they listened to the emotional words of parents who found themselves in a predicament with a broken furnace and defective electrical system upon returning home after spending over 200 days in the NICU with their newborn. Their expressions of appreciation for the program’s ability to provide a solution and maintain the safety of their home resonated with all those present.
The latter segment of the event centered on what’s to come in the future. The organization’s management revealed upcoming plans and objectives, highlighting the fresh developments underway. Among these, Executive Director Praedel mentioned expanding services county-wide, expanding the Education Program, and the imminent launch of the Lending Tool Program under the banner of “Community Homeworks 3.0.”
The room of guests was reminded that the things done by Community Homeworks and the goals for the future can not be achieved by one person. As was repeatedly said during the event, it takes support from multiple organizations and people to continue to make homes safe through repair and education. Campaign Cabinet Head Bogan and Executive Director Praedel both reflected on the rising costs and demands of Community Homeworks programs and encouraged support.
“It’s all about preserving wealth in low-income households,” Bogan said. “It changes the story… due to your donation.”
The successful event culminated with Praedel expressing gratitude to all attendees for allowing Community Homeworks to utilize their Thursday morning. The guests interacted with the staff and gathered informational flyers and brochures on the nonprofit’s programs. As the event came to a close, the room gradually emptied, with a few pastries remaining behind.
The occasion marked a significant milestone in the organization’s journey, reflecting on its past accomplishments while looking forward to future pursuits. A central theme emerged: the realization that progress cannot be achieved alone. It’s the unwavering support of the community that has propelled Community Homeworks to its current status. That same support is essential to meet the ever-increasing demand of aging homes and to realize the vision of a transformed community with thriving families in sustainable homes.
“We need you now more than ever,” Praedel said. “The difference between a great and not great day is having to turn people away because there aren’t enough resources to keep a family safe in their home.”
You can support Community Homeworks through spreading awareness, volunteering, or donations. Click here to learn more.