They Swing Rainbow Hammers

The LGBTQ community of Kansas City is lending some muscle to the first Pride Build KC Habitat for Humanity home.

Members of the community at Pride Build KC groundbreaking. Photo provided by Ken Strickland of Habitat KC.

Kansas City’s Habitat for Humanity has been building and renovating homes for needy residents for nearly 40 years. On Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, the Kansas City group broke ground for its first Pride Build KC home. Fourteen other cities in the United States have also done Pride Builds.

“As soon as I was aware that there were other cities doing Pride Builds … that was a dream of mine and something I thought that we needed to do,” said Ken Strickland of Habitat KC. “… The thing I love about Habitat is it brings people together of all different races and walks of life and helps somebody in the community.”

Strickland is the ReStore volunteer manager for Habitat KC. Habitat’s ReStores sell donated home improvement items, with the proceeds going to Habitat’s work. Strickland has been a longtime volunteer in the local LGBTQ community, so the position is a perfect fit for his community passions. He’s been with Habitat for seven years, he said.

The way Habitat’s program works, Strickland said, the prospective homeowner also gets to work on the property, accumulating what the organization calls “sweat equity.”

“So [the other volunteers] get to meet the person that they’re impacting, as well,” he said. “That’s one thing I think that’s really unique about Habitat, too, is that you get to see who you’re helping, and it’s not a handout, either. They still have to pay the mortgage.”

The homeowners’ cost is less, he said, because they aren’t charged interest. So that makes it more affordable and more accessible to people.

Many people associate Habitat for Humanity with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, who have been strong champions for the organization and participants in building houses. But they did not start it, as some may think.

Ken Strickland. Photo: J. Long

Strickland has lived in Kansas City since 1990, when he moved from St. Louis. He joined the Heartland Men’s Chorus around the same time and was part of that group for 24 years, both singing and serving on the board.

“That’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had in my life,” he said with a laugh.

He also volunteered for AIDS Walk, he said, and helped start PerformOut KC, a choral group for LGBT youth and allies that is still going strong after about 10 years.

Strickland said that Pride Build houses do not have to go to an LGBTQ person because of fair housing laws. “But one of my hopes is that this raise awareness in my community, the LGBT community,” he said, about the housing opportunities that Habitat offers. To qualify, applicants must have a need and a source of income, such as a current job or income from disability or veteran payments, he said.

The Pride Build house will be a brand-new home for a family in the Manheim Park neighborhood, around 44th Street and Forest Avenue.

Strickland said they have about 15 people working on the house on a given day, which leads to a great camaraderie among the LGBT community members who are helping.

Strickland said that groups or individuals can volunteer to work on the house. For example, he said, the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival, and the Kansas City Center for Inclusion have been very supportive.

“I’ve been approached by a therapist group that want to do a team-builder. Two people from the Heartland Men’s Chorus were talking about doing something where they would come out and … swing a hammer. It’s a great way to meet, but it’s also people coming together to help build the community.”

Strickland said that they are also hoping that corporate sponsors, especially those that have LGBTQ Employee Resource Groups, will want to get involved.

Members of the community at Pride Build KC groundbreaking. Photo provided by Ken Strickland of Habitat KC.

He expects this house to take six to nine months to complete. They’ll be working on it during the winter, which he said is sometimes better than working in 100-degree heat.

Strickland said that the Kansas City Habitat group would celebrate its 40th anniversary next year. They have worked on several houses near Linwood Boulevard and The Paseo, he said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of rehabs lately because of the Land Bank homes that we were able to get to. We’re now serving six counties within the Kansas and Missouri sides,” he said.

Strickland said the homes cost $120,000-$140,000. Habitat is getting support from the city, and other fundraising opportunities include grants and neighborhood programs.

“We’re probably going have to try to raise between $50,000 to $60,000 ourselves, though, for this one house. So we’re going to need help with that,” he said.

Some donations have already come in, he said. “But we’re always looking for more to be able to help pay for that.”

In addition to Pride Build homes, Habitat builds other homes for specific causes, including a Women’s Build and a project called the House of Abraham, where they bring together people of Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths to build a home.

“They raised the money and they even bring out the volunteers to help build it,” Strickland said. “That’s one of my favorite things – just because you’re bringing together all these different faiths that most people wouldn’t assume would get along, but they do.”

To coordinate a group volunteer event, contact Ken Strickland at [email protected].

To volunteer: https://goo.gl/127sUr
To donate: https://goo.gl/YxR3gH