Building houses together

Jeff vonKaenel

We need your signature. We need your signature, along with thousands of other Sacramento signatures, on a large piece of drywall. This drywall will be going into the interfaith Habitat for Humanities homes that we will be building this year in North Sacramento. One of the homes is being sponsored by members of Sacramento’s Muslim community and one of the homes is being sponsored by a coalition of interfaith religious organizations. The two homes will be built together, next door to one another.

They will be built by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, nonbelievers, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, working people, business owners, old, young, white, African-American, Mexican-American and all other Americans, whether they be documented, undocumented, Sacramento Kings fans, Oakland Raiders fans, San Francisco Giants fans and many others. These homes will be built by anyone and everyone who can put aside their differences to build houses and build unity.

We will be building energy-efficient, beautiful three-bedroom, two-bath houses for two Sacramento families who are currently living in substandard housing and who will contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity” to building their home. The new homes will have 30-year, no-interest mortgages that will cost less than one-third of the families’ income. The kids will have bedrooms instead of a couch in the living room. The monthly mortgage checks will go to a fund to help another family receive a home. These will be life-changing homes, with your signature inside the walls.

But we are not only building houses. We are building a better America, where our common humanity matters more than our differences.

In Sacramento, we have done this before. On the anniversary of September 11, we had an interfaith music event, Call for Unity, at the Memorial Auditorium. Thousands of people, of all different religions, including our Muslim brothers and sisters, came together to find comfort and inspiration in each other’s music and spoken word. That event was a benefit for Habitat for Humanity.

Since then, Habitat has built many interfaith homes. The Sikhs and the Latter Day Saints built a house together, Spiritual Life Center and Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims built a house together, and Trinity Cathedral and Center of Praise Ministries built a house together.

The houses were great. But so was the process of building them. “I was new to Sacramento and the Habitat partnership between Center of Praise Ministries and Trinity Cathedral was a lovely introduction to the diversity of our region,” Brian Baker, the dean at Trinity, told me at the time. “It created friendships between members of two very different congregations.”

We need more of this. That is why the board of the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento has endorsed this project. “We aren’t a big metropolis, but we are an important city. We need to lead so that other cities can see that it can be done—and done well,” said president of the council, Jon Fish. “The children of God everywhere need shelter and safety from the storms of life. Unselfishness and goodness will be the headlines in all of this.”

And there will be headlines. Americans throughout the country are looking for a way to leave the warring camps behind and come together. We are starting with two houses in Sacramento. But we can build more—and we can build more unity. Not just here in Sacramento, but around the country. In nearly every city there is a Habitat for Humanity chapter, and there are Muslims, Christians and others who are willing to put their support behind this type of project.

Come to our free kickoff event, Unity Build, this Tuesday, January 19, at 6 p.m. at the Capitol Plaza Temple Ballroom (1025 Ninth Street, Suite 205).

You can put your signature on the first of what we hope will be 100 pieces of drywall. Pieces of drywall which will change the lives of 100 American families.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.