She Builds, a Rebuilding Together NYC Initiative
NEW YORK CITY – Rebuilding Together NYC renovates The Sarah Powell Huntington House (SPHH), a Women’s Prison Association (WPA) residence for formerly incarcerated and at-risk women and their children, through the She Builds initiative. Rebuilding Together is a national nonprofit organization specializing in safe and healthy housing. Its New York City affiliate hosts the She Builds initiative to renovate the SPHH and teach the residents of the SPHH the basics on how to maintain a home.
At 6 A.M. on Saturday October 1st about 80 volunteers gathered to the corner of East 10th Street and Avenue B to participate in the She Builds Project. Volunteers spend their day painting, abating the mold in the basement, and making repairs to old household items and appliances in the SPHH.
Built in 1993, the six floor residence is named after the late Sarah Powell Huntington, a member of the Board of the Women’s Prison Association for almost 70 years. The house is currently the home of 37 mothers, 18 of which who are awaiting the return of their children and 19 of which whose children are already living with them. Residents use the House as a temporary home after prison only staying there between 6 and 18 months.
The primary renovation goals of the She Builds initiative were to paint the dilapidated hallways and doorways, repair and re-tile the chipped child care room floor, and abate the basement mold. With a crew of volunteers and funding from its sponsors Rebuilding Together NYC was able to purchase home improvement products and install them to revitalize the WPA residence.
Ru Chen, a volunteer at the SPHH dressed in his uniform - a smock, was painting the front door of a two-bedroom apartment in the House. Chen said that providing a home for formerly incarcerated women is definitely taking a burden off of them. He added, “especially when you have a kid you have to put more time [in] and this will help them…when they are looking for a job” referring to the 19 mothers living there with their children. The House has colorful daycare rooms to accommodate the children while their mothers are at work.
WPA Managing Director of Programs Jennifer Singleton works in the women’s prisons. She stated that “The number one thing that women talk about when they are in the prisons and they are ready to return is housing; it’s their greatest fear.” Neighborhoods usually change over a 15-20 year prison sentence, so the services and accommodations made for the women at the newly renovated House not provide great relief but allow women to focus on employment.
The Women’s Prison Association also helps the women of the SPHH find meaningful jobs. Singleton described the former prisoners as aspirational, “no one wants to sit in prison for 15 years and think about how they can come [out] and flip a hamburger, even though it’s honest work.” Singleton claims that these women are already independent and want to reach their aspirations but, need help because of their situation.
She stated, “in order to really be independent you need to be able to access housing you need to access employment you need to access healthcare to build a better life for your kids.” Initiatives like She Builds relieves formerly incarcerated women the stress of finding and maintaining a new home. These initiatives complemented with the SPHH programs which provide employment opportunities and child care holistically aid the former prisoners’ transition back into society.
Rebuilding Together’s mission is to transform the lives of low-income homeowners by improving the safety and health of their homes and revitalizing their communities. It’s initiative She Builds hopes to reintegrate formerly incarcerated women back into society.
In attendance was Annie Golden, Lolita Foster, and Catherine Curtin actresses from the Netflix series ‘Orange is the New Black’ who each play a character in a women’s prison.
Anyone who wants to volunteer at the Sarah Powell Huntington House or learn more about the programs at the Sarah Powell Huntington House should contact Tiffany Hallett, the operations manager, through phone or email at 646.292.7710 or firstname.lastname@example.org.