North Chicago is a community in need. Its under-resourced school system was once the second worst in Illinois and the unemployment rate was nearly 20 percent. Seeing these circumstances, nearby Christ Church Lake Forest joined with other non-profits and government agencies to strengthen the community.
“Our mission is to proclaim the good news and engage in good works,” says David Weil, who directs ministries for the church. “We are an affluent community—we have been blessed—but our nearest neighbor is struggling.”
Weil formed a committee called Renew Lake County to research the needs of the area. Findings revealed that housing needs in North Chicago were critical to encouraging a healthy community. When someone owns their home they take ownership of the neighborhood and schools. A healthy community is typically 70-percent homeownership, but North Chicago had around 30-percent homeownership.
“When you rent, you move a lot,” Weil explains. “That’s disruptive to children—they can’t develop friendships, they are continually being moved from one school to another and they are robbed of a feeling of safety and stability.”
Renew also consulted with Yvette Ewing, executive director of Fuller Center for Housing Hero Project Lake County, and her husband Ronnel, who were interested in coordinating efforts to improve housing conditions in the area. Last year, Christ Church launched Matthew Home, a partnership with Fuller Center, named for Matthew 5:14 in which Christ calls upon his followers to be a light on a hill.
“We are here to learn from the people of North Chicago and care for people in a meaningful way,” Weil says. “Our plan is to work through the Fuller Center to renovate some thirty homes and place them near each other and to create a sense of community and support. We just completed our first Matthew Home. Next year we hope to rehab five houses, the following year 10 and then the following year 14. We want to create some self-generating movement toward achieving that goal so we created a video to educate our congregation about Matthew Homes and the Fuller Center.”
First of Many
This summer, Christ Church participated in their first Fuller Center Matthew Home project, a home for Josh and Shakea Franklin. Christ Church donated money for the home’s purchase and renovation and contributed in other ways as well.
“A builder in our church helped us with the inspection and evaluation before we decided to purchase the home,” Weil says. “About 25 of our church staff and 20 from our youth group helped with the remodel, along with a many Fuller volunteers who biked across country to help out.”
A large part of what Matthew House and Fuller Center are working to achieve goes beyond the walls of a home. Building a God-honoring healthy community is the ultimate goal, where neighbors watch out for one another and families can set down roots.
“Other families from Christ Church relocated to North Chicago and have become friends with Josh and Shakea and their three beautiful children,” Weil says. “Like Aslan in the Narnia series, God is on the move and we are excited to be part of it.”