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I spent today in Glenns Ferry doing community organizing (take that, Barack Obama!). One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which has proposed a large nuclear reactor near Glenns Ferry in Elmore County, about 65 miles southwest of Boise.

I drove to Glenns Ferry eager to meet with residents, particularly local small business owners who are suffering since the loss of a potato processing plant and other local employers. My head was filled with facts and figures and enthusiasm for working to bring the stable, well-paying jobs that come with a power plant. The owner of a local gourmet foods store said if I really wanted to find lots of supportive people, I should go to the local VFW hall, where volunteers were distributing food baskets.

The desperation of many of the town’s residents really started to sink in at the VFW hall. My first action was to hold the door open so an elderly lady could cart out boxes of donated food. Inside, people formed a line and passed by tables of volunteers to receive food. Yes, I got many people to sign a petition in support of the plant, but I felt empty. These were people of all ages, many abilities, with families and skills and great contributions yet to be made. What kinds of skills would be needed at the plant? several asked. As I ran down the list of typical jobs, I never wanted our plant to be up and running as much as I did then. Each one of these people deserves a good job and I kept them foremost in my mind as a continued meeting with other business owners throughout the day.

I also attended a Glenns Ferry City Council meeting today. Local officials in Glenns Ferry, from what I have been able to tell, strongly support our project and they realize the need for economic development. The meeting began with Liz Woodruff, a Snake River Alliance representative, briefly apologizing for her behavior at a meeting two weeks ago (I did not attend that meeting). At that meeting, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie updated the city council on our proposal and, from what a number Glenns Ferry residents have told me, her behavior included rolling her eyes, giggling, smirking and generally acting rude during Don’s presentation to the council. I’ve seen her act that way at other public meetings, so it’s a pattern.

Woodruff’s behavior two weeks ago made an impression on a number of Glenns Ferry residents, so it is understandable she felt the need to apologize today for being “visibly upset” and acting “unprofessionally” (her words today to the council). She said today her “upset came from misinformation being spread” about our proposed reactor (in other words, her behavior was Don Gillispie’s fault). I am pleased to report the audience accorded Woodruff the respect she should have given Don Gillispie. Glenns Ferry people – even those who disagree with our plans to build a plant – have at all times been polite to me.

As I sat through Woodruff’s presentation, though, I kept thinking what she would have told the people picking up food at the VFW – if she would even care to go there – and what she is doing in her own community organizing work to bring more jobs to Elmore County.

It’s easier to obstruct than construct, to tear down rather than build up, to lash out rather than listen respectfully. But that’s not the kind of community organizing that’s going bring people jobs, opportunity and industry.

We own a home on Randolph Drive, on the Boise Bench overlooking Bishop Kelly High School. My family lived in the home from July 2001 until July 2007, when we moved to Hidden Springs. Over the years, we volunteered in various ways in the Borah Neighborhood Association (Barbara is modest but she did start the annual Chili Festival in 2002) and McKinley Elementary.

It’s a large home, 3,300 square feet, and difficult to rent in the current market. At the same time, about a year ago, I started doing public relations work for New Hope Community Health. During that time, I became very familiar with New Hope’s mission and model and came to support them personally. After a while, I came to realize that a house of our size could be put to use helping people. I approached New Hope with the idea of using our home for their transitional housing program and we agreed to a one-year lease.

When we had everything finalized, I sent out this news release announcing our open house; it pretty much sums up everything I have to say at this point. So far, no one has expressed much upset at the development but the day is still young. Needless to say, the Feb. 20 open house will be an interesting meeting for all involved.

New Hope Community Health opens home in Borah Neighborhood
Open house Feb. 20 will allow neighbors to meet new residents of home

For more information
Martin Johncox 658-9100
Dennis Mansfield, 353-3252 & 672-9200

New Hope Community Health, a for-profit business dedicated to providing
housing, treatment and social services to recovering substance abusers, is
opening a staffed recovery home at 6904 Randolph Drive and will hold an open
house there on Friday, Feb. 20, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Martin and Barbara Johncox of Boise own the home and used to live there.
Martin will attend the open house, as well as residents and representatives
from the city of Boise and New Hope .

“We are trusting New Hope with our home and we have faith in their ability
to be a good neighbor,” Johncox said. “I will keep a close watch on the home
and I want neighbors to call me with any thoughts or concerns. We hope they
will attend this open house and get to meet these people.”

New Hope operates 10 homes in the Treasure Valley, assisting over 100 men
and women, and there is a backlog of over 100 potential residents.
Initially, seven men will live at the Randolph home but the number could
rise to the allowable federal limit of 12. Admission to the program is
competitive and ex-addicts can stay in the program for up to a year and a
half.

Most – but not all – of the residents have been released from incarceration.
As a condition of living in the home, residents must attend treatment; work
or be looking for work or be in job training; attend religious instruction;
obey all laws and restrictions; and share in household expenses, chores and
upkeep.

Residents who fail to abide by the rules will be dismissed from the program
and face possible return to prison or they must attempt to make it on their
own. People convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, arson and similar
crimes are not allowed in the program.

“The people we help are being released into the community one way or the
other – they are your friends, neighbors and family,” said New Hope
Executive Director Dennis Mansfield. “We give them guidance, Bible study,
treatment and employment help. With this kind of supervision, our clients
have a better shot at becoming productive members of society again.”

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects recovering addicts from
housing discrimination
(http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/housing_coverage.php). Among other things, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race,
religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability.

Elliot Werk, president of the Borah Neighborhood Association, sent this email to some association members. I agree with the sentiments in Elliot’s letter, although I would point out that there’s more than just federal law protecting the housing rights of recovering addicts.  In some neighborhoods, people  have been “unwelcome” for a variety of reasons, including their race, ethnicity, religious beliefs and disabilities. Housing is a human rights issue, because in a free society, free people must have the opportunity live anywhere.

In any case, I look forward to making this home a good neighbor, and its residents contributing members of the neighborhood.

From: bna@mindspring.com
To: bna@mindspring.com
Subject: New Hope Transitional Home at 6904 Randolph Drive
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 17:07:49 -0700

Hello!

Today in the Idaho Statesman there was an announcement that New Hope Community Health is planning to open a transitional home for former inmates at 6904 Randolph Drive. You can see the announcement at http://www.idahostatesman.com/boise/story/663001.html.

I know that transitional homes have been a hot topic since Dennis Mansfield and company began business last year. The purpose of this message is to let you know that the Borah Neighborhood Association is engaging with New Hope in an effort to help ensure that this home is run with consideration for the neighborhood and with the necessary oversight to ensure peace and safety.

It is important to know that for over a decade our neighborhood had a transitional home called Hayes House located in the area to the west of Cole Road. This home housed wayward youth and teens. When it first opened there were a great many issues in the neighborhood. As a result the neighbors worked with the Idaho Youth Ranch (the owners) to create a committee that actively worked with Hayes management to ensure proper operation. With the help of this committee the Hayes Home operated virtually trouble-free for over a decade. We also had a transitional home on Holiday drive for about five years. This home also operated without incident.

I am meeting with New Hope in the next few days to discuss their plans for the home and to try and develop a positive relationship with them. I am hopeful that with vigilance and engagement we can help New Hope to operate a model transitional home that will blend in with our neighborhood.

It is important to note that we cannot stop New Hope from opening this home – they are protected by federal law. What we can do is help them to make this home into a model of efficient operation so that our neighborhood is not disrupted or negatively impacted.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or wish to serve on an advisory council for this home please contact me. To take a look at New Hope’s website to gain an understanding of what this home will be please go to http://www.newhopecommunityhealth.com/.

Thank you for remaining calm and for helping your neighborhood association to positively engage with New Hope. Everyone deserves the opportunity to a fresh start and I am hopeful that we can work well with New Hope to provide that opportunity for these men.

Thanks
Elliot Werk, President
Borah Neighborhood Association.
PS. Just so you know, I live three houses east of the transitional house location.

Public relations people get so wrapped up in promoting our clients that we sometimes forget we can use your skills to help friends.

Last week, I got an email from David MacNeill, who recorded me last fall for a musical project. Our families have hung out together a few times and become friends.

David said he, his wife and daughter were being evicted from their BSU-area home and they were asking for any work or barter opportunities. A few days later, he sent another email to his social network asking for “micro-loans” from people to help buy a mobile home, an affordable alternative to living in a traditional home (I gave David $50 a few days later).

I forwarded the email to Dave Staats, a Statesman editor, asking if The Statesman could somehow help this family and suggesting there could be a larger story in the issue of people making a run on mobile homes in the current economy. I have asked Staats for coverage of my clients many times in the past and, as always, it all boils down to what extent my story idea serves the public interest.

Later that day, I got a call and some Tweets from reporter Brad Talbutt, saying he had already interviewed David MacNeill and was researching the larger trend.On Sunday, The Statesman published a well-researched story about how “The Valley’s RV parks are being filled up with working-age people who can’t afford to live in a house.”

I like to see my “clients” make the front page of the paper, but the stressful situation of this family just makes me wish the coverage leads to more micro-loans, donations and sales of David’s CDs.  Whatever your profession – law, medicine, sales, construction, development, Web design – consider how you can use your skills to help a friend who needs you.

The story also underscores the importance of newspapers and their ability to judge and define important trends. Without a daily newspaper or other large media, this family’s situation, and the larger trend they represent, would have a much harder time getting notice.