Christmas was still 10 days away, but Santa already had paid a visit to the Rollins family’s living room Tuesday morning.
Bikes for 5-year-old twins Arielle and Ariah flanked the tree along the east wall. Presents were piled high under another tree by the south wall when Artis Rollins unlocked the front door and walked his girls inside.
“Our new home!” he exclaimed. “Oh my!”
The house is the seventh given away since 2009 by Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program.
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Each December, a family is selected from a group of applicants hoping to move into a house of their own. Most had been homeless at some point.
As recently as last August, Artis, Arielle and Ariah were spending some nights in their car and other nights with relatives after losing their home to foreclosure.
Even with Dad working two jobs, as a janitor and in the greenhouse at Swope Park for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, a house of their own was out of reach.
No more. When Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders surprised the family with the keys at a ceremony in the Marlborough Community Center, Rollins thanked God and made a pledge.
“I know that I can pay it forward,” he said. “I want to help with the next house.”
Besides providing housing for the homeless, Constructing Futures has two other aims: improving neighborhoods and, through a partnership with the Connections to Success program, providing employment skills to people who are unemployed, underemployed or ex-offenders trying to get on their feet after serving time in jail or prison.
The house where the Rollinses now live was vacant and in disrepair, a bank foreclosure in a neighborhood where boarded-up houses lost to foreclosure are not uncommon.
Neighborhood Housing Services brokered the deal with the bank to acquire it and donated the house to the program.
A crew of three men and one woman fixed it up under the guidance of a foreman from Morgan Jacobs General Contracting. None was skilled in construction at first, but they now can take what they learned to find jobs, Connections to Success co-founder Brad Lambert said.
They installed a new electrical panel, hung new siding and did a lot of other work to make the house inside and outside look almost new. Volunteers also helped. Materials and new appliances were donated or discounted by Home Depot.
“This is an awesome program,” Marlborough Community Coalition president Brenda Thomas said, then turned to Rollins with a smile. “We’ll do everything we can to make you feel welcome.”
Dad and the girls expect to be there a while. If Rollins pays the taxes and keeps the insurance payments up for seven years, he will get clear title, as the first participant in the program did this past summer.
“This was shocking,” Rollins said. “I surely appreciate all the hard work and effort that everyone did as far as this project goes. I am so grateful.”