Nuestra Casa was the venue for an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, February 28, to celebrate key donors and volunteers. Attendees were invited to tour the facility, which underwent renovation beginning in 2011. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, Westcore Neighbors gathered for a potluck to showcase the new venue for neighborhood activities. Book groups, cooking classes, canning classes, mentoring activities, music lessons, crafts for kids, reading activities, and community gardening are interests initially expressed by neighbors when the project kicked off. The center is located at 253 W. 15th Street in Holland.
Nuestra Casa renovation has been a collaborative project among Women’s Service Day, Good Samaritan Ministries, New Community/Fourth Reformed Church, and Westcore Neighbors. Women’s Service Day managed the fundraising and construction, which culminated in an open house to thank donors and key volunteers for their contributions. It was once a dream among neighbors that has been realized with the help of many hands.
“When we began the project,” said Nuestra Casa core team leader Lois Maassen, “there were nearly 250 vacant houses in the City of Holland alone. Nuestra Casa became an opportunity to turn one of them into a neighborhood center to create ‘pride of place’ and a gathering place for residents living among so many abandoned homes.” The project modeled asset-based community development by engaging community members in fundraising and construction. Ideally, Nuestra Casa can help residents foster a healthy, safe community.
More than 50 people came to see the new center on a bright winter’s day. For the ribbon cutting ceremony they assembled outside on the new ramp constructed for wheelchair access, commemorating the transition from renovation to operation.
“We’ve learned a lot along the way,” said Maassen. “We’ve learned about community and what can happen when people pool their skills and their talents and their determination. We’ve learned about the relationship between vision and tenacity. Perhaps we’ve learned the most about gratitude: to each other as Women’s Service Day teammates; to the people who represent our partners; to the members of the project core team; to the donors who believed in and supported the project; to the volunteers who contributed untold hours of labor.”
After cutting the ribbon, symbolizing the transition from Women’s Service Day to Westcore Neighbors, Program Director Raul Garcia said, “This gathering place is a dream becoming reality. It has taken a village to undertake a project like Nuestra Casa, and we wouldn’t be standing here without the support of the larger community and Women’s Service Day. This is only the beginning of even greater things to come.”
Built in 1896, the house was donated to New Community/Fourth Reformed Church in 2009. Several organizations, including the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Women Who Care Holland, and many individuals contributed to the $75,000 budget; local businesses offered gifts in kind and reduced pricing. Hundreds of people in the community contributed to numerous fundraising events coordinated by Women’s Service Day, which also won the national online Marigold Ideas for Good contest and a financial contribution.
Meanwhile, the construction team recruited volunteers from all over Holland, through a variety of organizations, to reinforce structures, install drywall and windows, replace siding, and even raise the roof. Several members of Hope Church have dedicated their time to lead construction crews for the past two years. Women’s Service Day has assigned volunteers to the Nuestra Casa projects during their annual event four years in a row. And Hope College students have contributed their efforts during their Time to Serve event. Finishing touches—from paint to cabinets and appliances to carpet and curtains—were completed in January and February this year.
To learn more about Nuestra Casa, visit the center’s blog: http://nuestracasathegatheringplace.wordpress.com/.