Tag Archives: build

Gesu and Brother Mike

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jesuit brother Mike Wilmot prefers his actions to speak for him more than his words. Lately, those actions have helped put several first-time homebuyers in new houses.

After years of coaching and teaching at Omaha Creighton Prep, then doing humanitarian missionary work in Sudan, he’s made North Omaha his ministry base. He helped build Jesuit Middle School and for more than a decade, he’s directed Gesu Housing, a nonprofit he founded that builds affordable new homes in high-poverty northeast Omaha.

Gesu helps him fulfill a Jesuit credo of finding God in all things. He gravitated to the Society of Jesus as a youth in his native Milwaukee.

“I got to know many Jesuits who were very influential in my life,” he says. “They were friendly, they were happy, I admired them, and then I kind of said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what I should do.’ In anything that any of us do, we want to make the world a better place to live in by spreading the kingdom of God and bringing that to all people, and housing-shelter is one of the ways you can do that.”

“Everybody should have a decent place to live.” – Brother Mike Wilmot

Wilmot’s work in Sudan impressed upon him the difference a suitable dwelling can make in people’s lives. Back in America, he realized many urban residents lack a home of their own.

“Everybody should have a decent place to live,” he says, “but it’s not the case, at least for a lot of people it isn’t. It’s proven that kids that grow up in a house [that] their family owns are much better off.” He says kids and families benefit from the stability home ownership provides.

Enter Gesu (Italian for Jesus) as a provider of quality, affordable houses in a working-poor area beset by distressed homes and vacant lots. Gesu mostly does in-fill on empty lots, thus turning neighborhood eyesores into assets. Wilmot lives with fellow Jesuits in the Clifton Hills neighborhood Gesu builds in.

He’s recruited former Prep students as key team members. Dale Barr, Jr., grew up in Clifton Hills and has gone from volunteer painter to board member to board president to paid general manager. Dan Hall, whose Hallmarq Homes is the general contractor for Gesu, played ball for Wilmot.

“It’s rewarding work,” says Barr, whose duties include promoting Gesu and raising funds. A recent direct-mail brochure he sent out netted new supporters. “It’s nice to find people who buy into Brother’s vision,” he says.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here,” says Hall. “We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.”

Gesu works closely with the city to tap HUD dollars that subsidize half the purchase price of each home and make it possible for low-income buyers to obtain low-interest loans and to assume small mortgage payments. Omaha 100 helps buyers qualify and educates homeowners in maintaining their places.20130114_bs_0907_Web

Both the Peter Kiewit and Sherwood Foundations have supplied major matching grants. Kiewit recently awarded a second $250,000 grant, but that means new funds must be found to match it. A fundraiser is in the works.

Barr says Gesu isn’t as well-known as older nonprofit players in the field, but what it offers is hard to beat. He says Gesu homes represent “a tremendous deal,” adding, “If you’ve got good credit, you’ve got a job, and you qualify for a $70,000 loan, you’re going to get into a brand-new, three-bedroom, energy-efficient house for $600 per month.” It’s why he hopes more people discover Gesu and support it.

“It’s not just people getting houses…It’s improving neighborhoods, it’s diverse people living together,” says Wilmot. “It’s been proven the best neighborhoods are diverse economically, culturally, ethnically. That’s the mission of Gesu Housing—to put people into houses and to make the neighborhoods better neighborhoods. “We’ve got to rebuild the city from the inside out.”

Gesu’s doing its part with 17 homes completed and occupied, five underway, and five new ones scheduled for construction this spring. More support can help build more homes and assist more families to live the ‘American Dream’.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here. We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.” – Dan Hall, contractor with Hallmarq Homes

“We’ve gone from two houses a year to four, and now our cycle’s five,” says Barr. “That’s gotten us in good graces with the city and HUD because we’re doing it…we’re building them and selling them. We don’t have inventory sitting around.

“We’re making our own footprint with these new houses. We try to be a part of the neighborhood. We ask neighbors what we can do better. We give away hams and turkeys to our homeowners and their neighbors at Christmas.”

Hall says the collective neighborhood is protective about Gesu homes because residents appreciate the investment they represent on their block.

“Neighbors that watch houses for me, I give a gift card. It goes a long way, you know, in establishing a relationship. You get some security out of it. Once you get people involved, if somebody isn’t supposed to be here, they’ll run them off or they’ll call me.”

It’s all about building a community, says Wilmot. “We started on Grant Street, then we went to Burdette, and now we’re going over to Erskine. Little by little…”

One house at a time.

For details about how to support Gesu, visit gesuhousing.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

The Budge Porter Story Comes Home

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Budge Porter lost many physical capabilities when he broke his neck tackling a teammate in a 1976 Husker football practice. The catastrophic injury left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.

What he’s never lost is determination and, remarkably, a positive outlook. It’s what helped him build a successful stockbroker career, woo and marry his college sweetheart, and start a family when many doubted he could do those things. He and his wife, Diane, are parents to three children.

His will has continued carrying him through recent setbacks.

“Every step of our lives we’ve been told this can’t be done,” says Budge. “We have the character between the two of us, working together with great friends and family, to beat all those odds…”

“Disappointments are not foreign to us,” Diane says. “There were many hopeless feelings and times of despair through all this, but I think so often what’s saved us is that you get to the point where you’re either going to laugh or cry, and we’ve chosen always to laugh. You kind of know in your heart of hearts it’s always going to work out, and it always does. It’s like you’ve got to throw it up to God or whatever and just say, ‘Whatever happens, it’s going to work out, and we will survive.’”

Budge Porter Project

That indefatigable spirit is what’s motivated friends and well-wishers to build a completely barrier-free home for this never-say-die warrior and his family. The nonprofit Budge Porter Project is a volunteer, donation-fueled effort led by Omaha home designer-builder Brad Brown, whose company Archistructure has supervised construction of the rustic ranch-style home at 13522 Corby Street. The home is expected to be completed by year’s end.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him,” says Brown. “You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity. I don’t think it started off that way, but it’s led him to a sense of inner peace.

“He’s a very open and caring person. When you’re around him, you feel like a breath of fresh air.”

The 1,900-plus square-foot home includes an elevator, a therapy pool, a tracking-lift system, ramps, and various features built at wheelchair level and wherever possible, subtle and aesthetically pleasing. Those are big-ticket items the Porters could never afford themselves, but donations in excess of $120,000 have purchased them.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him. You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity.” – Brad Brown of Archistructure

Subcontractors and suppliers have given time and materials. Consolidated Kitchens and Fireplaces owner Sam Marchese donated all the cabinets and countertops. He also co-signed Porter’s home loan and hosted an August 15 fundraiser. Steve Reeder gifted the lot.

Accepting help doesn’t come easily for Porter, who hails from a long line of orchard and farm owners. They’re a tough, independent lot. His father and grandfather both played at Nebraska. When Budge and brother Scott carried on the football legacy there, the school had its first and only three-generation athletic family.

“He feels somewhat embarrassed and undeserving,” says Brown, “because he’s always made it on his own. I told him, ‘This is a hand-up, not a hand-out, and it’s something these guys are tickled to give back.’ It makes us all feel so good.”

To customize the home to Budge’s specific needs, Brown had to ask personal questions and view Budge in intimate situations. Diane says Kent Pavelka’s public relations company made a video documenting what Budge contends with daily.

“I looked at Kent and Sam and Brad, and they were all crying,” says Diane. “They didn’t realize what the simple act of getting in and out of bed is for Budge. He’s so good about downplaying all the stuff that goes with his injury, and he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him. But I’ve often said if people really knew what it takes to be him every day, it’d be very hard to keep positive because it’s exhausting. A lesser man would not handle it as well as he has.”

Budge Porter Project

The experience gave Brown a deeper appreciation for Budge’s “courage” and bonded the two men even more. “We were really good friends, but we’re definitely brothers now,” says Budge.

The Porters have always managed dealing with the challenges of paralysis, but then Budge lost big in the 2000 stock market crash, which also cost him many clients similarly hard-hit. Osteoporosis forced him to retire in his mid-50s and go on disability.

A stretch of the Papio Creek behind the family’s previous home eroded, causing such severe damage to the property the home’s value plummeted. Health scares resulted in long, expensive hospitalizations. Finally, Budge swallowed his pride and filed for bankruptcy. The family gave up their home. Getting a loan and finding a new place to live proved daunting.

It seemed like more than one family could bear. “I don’t like to make excuses,” Budge says.

He’s heartened by how others have responded to their plight. “We’ll never be able to repay all these people other than just to tell them we’re forever grateful. We’re rich beyond compare with friends. We intend to be good stewards of these benefits.”

Budge views the home as “a legacy” for Diane and the kids when he’s gone. He hopes to inspire and assist others through the Budge Porter Project.

“I would love to see us form a foundation to raise future monies to help others in need along these same lines. There’s a lot of people far worse off than us, and we feel for them and pray for them and we just hope they’re as fortunate someday to have the type of friends we’re blessed with to give them a hand.”

Donations are still being accepted and may be made at budgeporter.bbnow.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.