Rebuilding Homes for the Needy: The Christian Thing to Do
Scores of people lost their Florida dwellings last year due to Hurricane Irma — and one faithful group stepped up to help
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the middle of last year, most southern Floridians counted their blessings: They still had a home with only minor damages — while others in nearby neighborhoods lost everything.
Stephen Auth, an executive vice president and chief investment officer at Federated in New York City, looked across his winter home in Naples at the devastation in his neighboring town, Immokalee — and decided to take action.
Partnering with Habitat for Humanity and the Mother Teresa project at Ave Maria University in Naples, he formed an ad hoc project team to address the need, called Immokalee Rebuilds. After reaching out to his investment friends, together the group raised over $155,000 in a short period of time.
By Christmas of 2017, the first Irma-displaced family was able to move into its new home.
With three houses completed (at $50K per house), Auth is confident the money still coming in will cover the fourth house that they recently started building. (Auth is often a guest on Bloomberg speaking about economic trends and market movements.)
He is also an active member of Regnum Christi, a Catholic movement of evangelization, and the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders in both New York City and Washington, D.C. He truly has the heart of an apostle and a passionate desire to give back and help those who are both spiritually and materially in need.
Simply raising the money was not enough for him; he and his wife, Evelyn, have dedicated many of their weekends to personally rebuilding these homes, getting many of their friends involved as well. With packed workdays Monday through Friday, coupled with intense national and international travel, Auth gives up his limited free time on weekends — and that's impressive.
The Auths hosted a reception recently in Naples to honor the many supporters of this project, and he shared the words he spoke at the event: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
He was quoting Saint Mother Teresa there — and that quote has been the working motto of this rebuilding project, along with these three points Steve Auth shared recently:
1.) Answer the phone. "You can't do even a small thing without answering the call. All of you did ... Each of you answered the call to dig deep and provide the resources to make our plan, bold at the time, a reality. We all have reasons to not pick up that phone. Too busy. Already giving to too many causes. Homework. No carpentry skills. Not holy enough, etc. You didn't let these obstacles get in your way. God does not call the equipped. He equips the called."
2.) Make lemonade out of lemons. "At the dedication of our first three homes, we heard the story of Patricia, a young single mother of three, whose family moved into our first house the week before Christmas. Less than three months earlier, she had been facing disaster. Her mobile home was condemned after Irma, and she was forced to squeeze her family into a single room at her sister's house. Her sister is a 'lax disciplinarian,' and soon all of her rules for her kids' upbringing had broken down. Her family was sliding. Then a miracle happened. She qualified for a Habitat home in Faith Landing, the one we built. Now, a month later, order is restored, her kids are happy and respectful, and a neat little flower garden has been planted in the front yard."
He added, "There is order in her family again. We all were in tears with Patricia as she told her story. We need to remember that when things are bad, we have a God who loves us, a family who loves us, and friends and neighbors who love us. All is never lost. He seems to always have a way of making lemonade out of lemons."
3.) We are one community. "This project has been a wonderful example of how we can all work together, arm in arm, across political, racial, religious, and socio-economic barriers to make the world a better place. It is easy to complain that the world is a mess, Washington is a mess, the environment is a mess, etc. It's another thing to pick up a hammer and help someone — in some cases, literally. That's what you all did on this project. Thank you."
In the words of Saint Mother Teresa, "We all need to find our Calcuttas." Look around your neighborhood and town, ask what qualities and gifts God has given you, and don't be afraid to give back.
Jesus wants to love so many, in so many different ways ... but He counts on our generosity, on your generosity to make this happen.
Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in New York and an adviser to the Lumen Institute.