July 27, 2010

One Woman, One House

Eight years ago, Cris Lindsay, a hairdresser from Virginia, attended a Red Feather home construction project on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She was so moved by the reservation housing situation that she decided she wanted to help. Sitting at her kitchen table, she decided that the idea of raising enough money to build a home didn't seem that unreachable. She gathered her family, friends, and clients around her idea. They in turn encouraged Cris to realize her dream and agreed to support her efforts.

At the time, building a two-bedroom straw bale house would have cost around $45,000.  Cris set this number as her fund raising goal. Undaunted by the immensity of the task, Cris and her husband set about organizing a large party. The event would feature tribal dances and music plus other entertainment. Tickets to buy a table were sold, the top price going for $5000. Cris' story was aired on Oprah. Articles were written in the Washington Post. "Word-of-mouth was the best advertising," says Cris. When the event contributions were totaled, the amount added up to an astounding $35,000.

Still $10,000 short of her goal, Cris decided to hold a raffle. She would give away $10,000 for the price of a ticket, $200. She sold 100 tickets to bring in $20,000. Cris retained $10,000 to reach her goal of $45,000 and the raffle winner walked away with $10,000. Now Cris had the money. The question was where to spend it.

Meanwhile, Red Feather was an evolving organization, changing its approach to building houses. Although the organization began by building homes at no cost to the homeowner, Red Feather realized that a more equal partnership between the organization and the families it built with created greater pride in home ownership and stronger relationships with each party contributing resources to the common effort. Red Feather still brings the cost of homes down for homeowners significantly by providing volunteer labor and corporate donations such as appliances, paint, and tools for the home, while homeowners contribute financially to pay for the remaining materials and physically, through "sweat equity" hours.

Cris had raised enough money to cover a homeowner's material costs. Red Feather staff struggled to find a project that could accept Cris's donation without compromising the values of its housing program.

Back in Virginia, Cris was being pressured by her donors to see the house. "Where is the money? Where is the house?" It took about five years for the money to find a home, literally. The costs of building a home of course, far exceed the purchase of just the building materials - tools and camp supplies must be transported, staff and sub-contractors need to be paid, for instance.

Due to Cris' selfless fund raising efforts and the generous donations of all her supporters, a home was built for Albert McManus and Clara One Feather last month by Red Feather volunteers and members of the local community. The money Cris raised along with the homeowner's investment made the project possible. Cris and her husband, Kris were present, working alongside Albert and Clara painting walls, washing dishes, and sanding trim boards.

When the family walked into the finished home, they quietly walked from room to room. All 80 people at the celebration feast for the family stepped aside as they roamed their new home.

In January of this year, Cris was diagnosed with breast cancer. She attended the home construction project under the watchful eye of her husband because she was undergoing chemo. Her broad smile and easy manner captured the hearts of all. At the time, only a few knew of Cris' role in helping to make someone else's dream come true. Red Feather thanks you, Cris.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story. There is no end to what people can do when they work together.