Settling the Nineteenth Century

by Megan McAllister

The bright yellow house on the corner of Colcord Ave and 23rd street is hard to miss, and that’s good because the house and its occupants are eager for people to join them. The Good Neighbor House, located in Waco, Texas is modeled after settlement homes of the nineteenth century. Settlement homes are houses owned by a group of people with the intent of living there and serving their local community by opening their doors to anyone who may need to use the space. They do this in response to Christ calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Today the Good Neighbor House is host to many events put on by a diverse group of organizations, but what did the original settlers houses do? It’s reasonable to assume that they were used in vastly different ways because the house and settlers serve the community so as the community’s needs change, so do the services the settlement house provide. To truly understand settlement house one must go back to the nineteenth century to see how this all got started.

The Settlement House movement began over a hundred years ago in 1884 in East London. The very first settlement house was Toynbee Hall and it provided social services and education to the poor that resided in the home. This began the settlement house movement. It quickly became popular in the United States and by 1887 there were seventy-four settlement homes in the U.S. Originally settlement houses were used to help immigrants assimilate into the workforce by teaching them middle class American values, such as art, literature, and history, and also helping to reduce the effects of poverty by having daycare centers, homeless shelters, and public kitchens and baths.

Toynbee Hall c. 1900 (Photo provided by http://www.toynbeehall.org.uk)

Originally Settlement houses were nondenominational though many religious organizations were responsible for establishing the settlements. While this isn’t surprising, one exciting piece of information is that women filled most of the important leadership roles even during an era when women were excluded from leadership positions in government and even business. Women started nearly half of the settlement homes in the US predominantly. This is not at all unlike our very own Good Neighbor House here in Waco, started by Dr. Laine Scales a female professor at Baylor University. ​
So while the Good Neighbor House doesn’t serve in exactly the same ways that the original settlement houses did, it is still meeting the needs of their community and serving their neighbors. Everyone at Good Neighbor is excited to carry on this long and proud movement We beleive that Good Neighbor, like the women- led settlement houses of the past, is becoming an an important thread in the fabric of our Waco Community.

Top 5 Reasons to be a Good Neighbor Settler

Luann in front of the Good Neighbor HouseBy Luann Jennings

My husband Chuck and I have now been settlers at the Good Neighbor House for 9 months. We’ve seen a huge change in the house, as it went from mid-renovation to open and functioning, and we’ve seen the vision for the house begin to spring to life. Chuck and I live in the cottage behind the house but participate fully in the operation of the house.

The two settlers who live on the top floor of the house will both be moving out in August, and the board of directors is looking for two new settlers to join our community then. The board asked me to talk a bit about what it means to be a settler, and what someone who might want to join our community could expect. After reading this, if you’re interested in learning more about becoming a settler, contact our board member, Julie Small, at juliesmall012@gmail.com. And please forward the information to anyone you know who might be a good candidate. Settlers must be 21 or older and have the desire and time to serve the house and our neighbors.

So, based on what I’ve experienced here, and can see the beginnings of as we continue to discover what the Good Neighbor House (GNH) is about, here are my:

Top 5 Reasons to be a Good Neighbor Settler

5. Cheap rent. Although this might be the first thing that attracts a potential settler, it really should be the last (which is why it’s #5). But, yes, a portion of our rent is subsidized as a “thank you” for our service to the house. We each serve the house and its operations for 20-30 hours per month, which may be difficult for someone who has a full-time job or otherwise has significant, structured time obligations elsewhere. Settlers in the main house pay $250/month each, which includes rent, utilities, and wifi. Because GNH is a registered non-profit organization, settlers can even raise support or ask for donations from their personal circle to help cover their rent and reduce their need to use student loans or funds earned in outside jobs. Settlers with varying schedules or who sometimes work from home tend to have an easier time with the service commitment than those who are required to be away from home all day Monday-through-Friday.

4. Living in community. Because we live, work, and serve together, settlers get closer than neighbors or even roommates. We meet weekly for prayer, study, fellowship, and to run the business of the house. Once a month we have dinner with neighbors to get to know them better and to hear their perspectives on what a “good neighbor” is in our neighborhood context. Because settlers don’t choose each other, we learn to love one another without the benefit of an existing relationship. We have the opportunity to really be the Church to one another in the ways that Christ asks of us.

3. Experience. This is a great place to get experience in ministry, social service, non-profit management, fundraising, and just about anything else that someone might want to get experience in. GNH is a blank slate for what we can do here. For instance, my husband Chuck is a jazz musician and he’s working on a concert series at the house. I’m really interested in vegetable and flower gardening, and environmentally sustainable practices, so I’ve created a community garden here and am working on a rainwater collection program. Anything you do here can go on your resume.

2. Investing in the neighborhood and the city. “Place” is important. We are not disembodied “minds” or “spirits” floating around in the ether – we are physical beings connected to a specific, tangible place. Waco is thinking about who we are as a city, and what kind of place we want to be for ourselves, our children, and those who will live here one day. Sanger Heights is one of Waco’s oldest and most diverse neighborhoods, and it has a strong neighborhood association (with which GNH is very involved) that is working hard to make Sanger Heights representative of the best that Waco can be. By planting roots at Good Neighbor House and investing your life here (even for just a year), you will be helping to make Waco a better place to live for everyone.

1. Serving Christ. Scripture contains plenty of references to hospitality as a way we can “love our neighbors as ourselves” (the second Great Commandment), including the famous example of the Good Samaritan who Christ uses as an example of what it really means to be a neighbor – selfless sacrifice and care crossing religious, cultural, and economic lines. GNH opens our home to all of our neighbors and serves them through providing opportunities to gather and other kinds of hospitality and care, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s not always easy to invite strangers in – to clean up after them, to reach out to them, to live among them – but Christ says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

[photo of Luann by Rod Aydelotte for an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald.]

Good Neighbor House is open!

Newspaper Clipping

From Waco Tribune-Herald, 2012.

We can hardly believe we’ve made it to this point, but we’re so excited that we have. Our excitement got us thinking: what better way to celebrate new achievements than by looking back on where we’ve come from? To do this, we sat down with Laine Scales, our fearless founder, to see what she had to say about how Good Neighbor House came to be.

For starters, it’s good to know a little bit of background on the house. The house itself was bought by Laine in 2011, and planning for the house began in 2012. By 2013, Good Neighbor House had been officially established as a nonprofit organization. The Good Neighbor Board of Directors and the first group of residents (called “settlers”) began the daunting project with the goal of providing outreach to the community around the house. In 2014 the first settlers moved in and began fundraising and participating in community events, such as Halloween on Colcord.

Laine says of the goals for the house:

“The vision of the historic settlement house has always been to break down barriers between people. If our neighbors can get to know each other, work together on learning something, doing a project, or worshipping together, we have facilitated a chance for people to care more about each other and their community.  That can be a slow process, but showing up and being available is a great beginning point.”

We asked Laine a few questions about how the experience of working on the house has gone so far.

“Refurbishing an older building was much harder and more expensive than we thought.  As soon as one thing would be repaired (for example the roof), something else would fall apart or a tree would fall in the yard and damage the building.  But we had such a supportive group of friends and board members who would not give up.   We really benefitted from groups like Mannaworks and Russell Feight’s Alpha Property Maintenance Group who did whatever they could to make the building come together.”

But while sometimes the work was tough, it was nothing if not rewarding. “I have been amazed at how positively people respond to the idea of Good Neighbor House,” Laine says fondly.

“Everyone from neighbors, to students and teachers, to community leaders and other non-profits hoping to use the building were excited.  Everyone thinks it’s a great idea to bring people together. Rewards often come at the end of a long journey, so sitting out in the yard last week, eating BBQ with neighbors, listening to music, meeting neighbors I had not yet met… what a pleasure to realize that, indeed, if we create a space, people will show up.”

We here at Good Neighbor are happy to see years of work come to fruition, and now we hope to be able to provide for our community through the newly opened house. But as much as we’d like to take credit for this project, we wouldn’t be where we are today, nor would we be able to get where we’re going without the community. Laine told us that the most important thing she’d like for the Good Neighbor community to know is “That what we have done is create an open space, but it is really going to be up to the community to decide how to use the space and to help support keeping the doors open by making donations.  If we build a useful and welcoming space but if the community does not use it or does not support it financially, it cannot reach its potential.”

Laine told us that the most important thing she’d like for the Good Neighbor community to know is :

“What we have done is create an open space, but it is really going to be up to the community to decide how to use the space and to help support keeping the doors open by making donations.  If we build a useful and welcoming space but if the community does not use it or does not support it financially, it cannot reach its potential.”

We’re glad to open our doors to you, Sanger-Heights – and to the rest of Waco as well!

Stay tuned for more blog posts, articles, and interviews with Good Neighbor organizers!