Posted on July 4th, 2011

As Serve Austin Sunday approaches, we asked one of our partners, Blackland Community Development to write a guest blog. These folks are amazing, and have a mission and heart that we all can learn from. Take the time, to read our blog from the Blackland CEO, Dr. Bo Mcarver
The historic Blackland Neighborhood is east of the University of Texas between Manor Road and MLK Blvd. has been the site of many housing struggles. Prior to the 1928 Austin Master Plan that segregated the city and displaced people of color to the east side, the area was made up of Swedish cotton farms which were subdivided in the early 1900s. By the 1950s, the older Swedish homes were surrounded by many modest bungalows built by young black families. In the Blackland Neighborhood, however, those homes were consistently threatened by annexation by the University of Texas -- the 1928 Austin Master Plan called for eastward expansion by UT.

The sixth UT annexation in 1980 was met by stiff neighborhood resistance and the development of a strong neighborhood association and non-profit. After a 12-year struggle in the press, the university agreed on a permanent line at Leona Street and divested 16 houses and eight vacant lots it had purchased to the Blackland CDC. The houses were rehabilitated with a combination of HUD grants and volunteer labor. Because homeless organizations helped the neighborhood during the struggle, nine of the units were designated for homeless families. The Blackland CDC is the only neighborhood-based nonprofit in Texas for host homeless families. Since the inception of the transitional program in 1994, 161 struggling families have been helped as of June, 2011.
The vacant lots, which constituted scars left from the battle, were finally filled in 2008 with the help of UT departments that donated the School of Architecture’s 2005 Solar Decathlon House while the Office of Campus Land Development donated three conventional houses. Volunteers worked for two years to bring the Harden-Solar Duplex at 1701 in 2008.

The Solar “SNAP” House, so named because it was made up of four, modular compartments, was donated on the premise that surplus energy from the 8.5 kW solar array would be used by other rental units nearby. That concept was threatened, however, when it was discovered that Texas’ energy deregulation laws did not allow transport of energy across lot lines. At the advice of architect, Joel Martinez, the Blackland CDC solved the problem by legally combining the adjacent lots into one tract; then building a 15-foot breezeway between the solar house and the Harden House (named for its former owner, Minnie Harden). The result was a very strange-looking duplex -- but it is legal to share energy from the Solar House to both units. Dedicated in August, 2008, the Harden-Solar Duplex at 1701 East 22nd has since been home to several families. The SNAP House has been occupied by former UT architect students who have helped “debug” some of the technical problems in the design
The same approach is now being used to convert a bungalow at 1902 East 22nd into a “community conservatory” where Blackland residents can quilt, can vegetables, talk gardening and meet. That facility will be the center piece of an eight-unit multifamily development that will feature raised-bed gardens for persons with disabilities and restoration of a 9,000 gallon underground Swedish cistern that will be used to harvest water from nearby roofs. “Fannie Mae Stewart Village” is actually an ongoing part of the Blackland CDC’s work that began in 1984 when it acquired a lot at 1904 East 22nd from an African-American maid, Fannie Mae Stewart. Mrs. Stewart survived in her retirement by renting an adjacent house at 1900 but that house was condemned by the city in 1986. The neighborhood organized volunteers and garnered donations of materials to bring the house up to city codes. Among the volunteers who worked on the house for eight months were John Henneberger and Karen Paup, now co-directors of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Services. John and Karen helped start the Blackland CDC and managed its first project in 1985 that brought 11 housing units online.

Today, the Blackland CDC has 47 units that it rents to households earning less than 60 percent of the average for Austin; the actual rents for the units are far less than that at 34 percent MFI.
Although available land for more development is scarce, it is anticipated that another 15 units can be developed in the near future by infilling existing properties. With almost 25 percent of the single-family housing in the neighborhood, the non-profit offsets some of the gentrification that characterizes neighborhoods near downtown. The effort helps fulfill a motto adopted by the Blackland Neighborhood in 1984, “The dream starts here…” That dream was Martin Luther King’s dream of a community of diverse people living together in peace and harmony.

Bo McCarver, Ph.D., Chair Blackland CDC

Posted on June 12th, 2011

So here we go again, in less than 12 hours we will be on our way back to Haiti with HELP End Local Poverty and a few different organizations. To name a few, we have: Music for the City, Austin New Church, HELP, The River Confrence, the Austin Stone, and a few others.

So, why Haiti, if you want to read a few more detailed versions of this, click on any of the three following links: Restore Haiti, pt.1; Restore Haiti, pt. 2; Development. Essentially here's the why: Back in March we made an exploratory trip looking into the human trafficking issue in Haiti.
We found out a few things: (1) While human trafficking/slavery is rampant in Haiti there is very little being done about it. (2) You can't engage the fight against human trafficking without also being committed to the orphan and those trapped in cycles of poverty (3) The win is in long term development, not quick American remedies (4)The Haitian church needs to lead this. At first this seemed like too large of a fight for a few small churches and a brand new non-profit, but then again, those are the types of fights, that no man, church, or organization can get credit, and all glory goes to God, which is what we want. So, all we needed was a starting point that can evolve into more.
We needed to start by simply removing one of the layers of vulnerability for the most vulnerable, so we are starting with what we are calling, "Preventive Safe Homes". Bottom line is, putting a roof over those who are most susceptible to human trafficking will NOT remedy the entire situation, but it will remove one of the layers of vulnerability from them. We are also working with and talking to other NGOs, Haitian leaders and churches about long term-sustainable solutions like job creation; environmental stewardship; restorative and preventative justice; family mentorship programs through the local church; pastor/leader training programs; etc. Again, this is a long term work, and we are starting with the building "Preventive Safe Homes", which, by the way, we will be building one while we are there, but we know it doesn't stop there, and we are pursuing other deeper initiatives for the Haitian people: If you would like to keep up with the trip, you can do it in one of the followings ways:
  • Follow us on Twitter, by clicking HERE
  • Follow HELP on Twitter, by clicking HERE: or their blog by clicking HERE
  • Read Matthew's blog about this trip at, HERE

by Matthew Hansen on May 30th, 2011

Yesterday was another great Serve Austin Sunday and we want to thank Austin New Church, River Point, North Hills Community Church and Hope Mission Church for making this past Serve Austin Sunday happen. I feel like a lot was accomplished, but more importantly I know that deeper community was formed, eyes were opened to both social issues and the reality that remedies are possible, and the frame work for all of those solutions begins in the reality fo messy relationships. Every Serve Austin Sunday I am continually humbled at the amount of work that these different faith communities commit to in order to love our neighbors and serve this great city!

While all we did was absolutely great, one of my favorite things is to wake up to a thank you email, and rather than shooting it out to all of you, I thought I would simply post it below:
A huge thanx to you and your good folks of the Austin New Church who worked so industriously in Blackland today. You're a joy to work with; I greatly appreciate the curious and energetic kids -- and your insight to send your scout, Jeremiah, over to scope out the work and help channel the spirited energy your crews.

We put 101 hours into the work today; finished the exterior stairs on the 1904 B unit; stacking the bush for the city to pick up this week; most of the painting on the recycled sheet-iron for the raised-bed gardens, and almost finished the shading trash on the trellises on the raised-bed gardens.
May summer gracefully unfold and find us all with a fresh zest for what is best in our fragile world -- and that we who seek a sense of community continue to bond in labors of joy and meaning.

Anyway, I'm sure all our partners feel the same way, but it's always great to get an email like this. , so in the words of Bo, "may summer gracefully unfold and find us all with fresh zest" and we'll see you on July 31st for the next Serve Austin Sunday!


Posted on May 3rd, 2011

We have two remaining openings for summer internship with Restore Communities and Austin New Church. Internships start May 28th and housing is provided. Interns will have three primary responsibilities:

  • Serving our non-profit partners "Music For the City" day camps with the under-resourced in East Austin providing mentoring, projects, and events for children in partnership with various Austin artists and mediums
  • Working with us, Restore Communities, in planning the city-wide Serve Austin Sunday for July.
  • Working with Austin New Church on a variety of other projects and summer initiatives.

We will be accepting resumes until May 8th. If you are interested in finding out more, drop us an email at or and let us know of your interests

by Steve Fitch on April 13th, 2011

Big Breakthroughs!

People are looking for various forms of big breakthroughs that will come along and transform our lives, culture and world. The good news is, even though big breakthroughs are fairly rare, they do actually show up from time to time and make life better for all of us. Some world changing breakthroughs, like the furloughed plow, are incredibly simple. The furloughed plow helped to double agricultural production a few centuries ago and we are the fatter for it. Who would have ever thought that dragging a curved chunk of metal behind a cow would make such a huge difference? Well, someone did.

Thank you someone!

Other breakthroughs are so complex that they hardly seem possible, even in comic books. Take safe and clean fusion energy as an example. We know it works great on the sun and on stars. However, when it comes to putting fusion energy into practice on earth, even comic book characters can’t get it to work right. Think about it. Not even Dr. Octavious in Spiderman II (the movie) could get his mechanical hands and arms around the fusion problem. So, as a radioactive breakthrough in his own right Spiderman had to go to work and save the world along with Mary Jane Watson from the destructive chain reaction caused by that mad genius Dr. O and his mini sun.

Thank you Peter Parker!

And now back to reality. There are quite a few problems the world is grappling with these days that appear to operate beyond the reach of a modern breakthrough. Some of the seemingly unsolvable problems we are facing in the world include extreme poverty, modern slavery, and widespread environmental destruction.

Believe it or not, the three issues mentioned above are frequently interconnected.
For the past six years, Eden Reforestation Projects has been working on resolving the problems by applying one creative and simple solution. Eden’s mission statement is “Poverty and Oppression Reduction Through Environmental Stewardship.” First, let’s take a look at the problem and then at the breakthrough solution.
The Interconnectivity Cause: All over the world, massive sections of tropical forest have been cut down. In the last fifty to sixty years, more than half of the world’s forests have disappeared. Most people think that mega lumber companies are the culprits behind the destruction of the world’s forests, and in some cases this view is accurate. However, in most of Africa and Asia the forests are being cut down one tree at a time by tens of millions of desperately poor women. These women are trying to make the equivalent of a few dollars per week by turning the trees into charcoal. The charcoal is then sold to nearby villages and towns where it is used for cooking food and warming homes. The problem is, after the forests are gone the soil begins to erode and/or lose its nutrients. In addition, the water tables begin to drop, causing wells to dry up because the forest, which acts like a sponge, is no longer around to absorb heavy rainfall and gradually channel all the tropical rain into the underground aquifers, streams and rivers. Tragically, this slow but sure deforestation process has become one of the major causes behind the demise of small plot farms in impoverished third world nations. And that is just the start of the crisis.

  • Millions of failed African farmers and their families are now moving to cities to look for jobs.
  • Moving to the cities is not a good solution because there is already 50% unemployment and 25% underemployment in most African cities.
  • When they can’t find a job in the city, many of these former farmers are turning to acts of desperation and selling themselves or their children into labor or sex slavery.

In summary, environmental destruction leads to failed farms, and failed farms are increasingly leading to acts of desperation.
The Interconnectivity Solution:

Question #1: What if the desperately poor were hired to replant trees instead of cutting the forest down?

Answer: Eden currently employs over 3,500 eco-workers in Ethiopia and Madagascar who are actively healing their own natural environment.

Question #2: What if these national eco-workers were empowered to continue to be farmers and fishermen even as they receive a life changing fair wage that took them and their families out of the at risk category?

Answer: Hundreds of Eden workers are now eating healthy meals, discarding their clothing rags for decent apparel, sending their children to school, going to the doctor when they are sick, and some of them are even adopting abandoned children. All of the above is possible because they have a job.

Question #3: What if the healing of local environments also contributed to the healing of the local farms?

Answer: In Madagascar the planting of millions of new mangrove trees has already reduced coastal erosion and improved local fishing. (Mangroves are a type of tree that grows in coastal estuary systems. They provide coastal erosion control and act as a nursery for baby fish.) After planting over seven million trees in Ethiopia the flooding at the Udo Escarpment has stopped, the farming in the has improved, the wild animal life is returning, and even the springs that dried up years ago are in the early stages of bubbling up again.

Question #4: What if all of this work was cost effective:

Answer: Eden guarantees that for every twenty dollars donated we will plant a minimum of 200 trees, and we will hire a worker for a minimum of three days of life changing labor, and we will continue to support projects that bring freedom to oppressed people. Our hope and prayers is that a growing number of people will see that they can be part of a true breakthrough in our generation. We can heal the environment, we can reduce extreme poverty, and we can break the bonds of oppression.

If you want to watch how environmental issues are connected click HERE.

If you would like to join the Eden League, click HERE

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