Congressman Etheridge — Volunteerism for All

Circa 2006

Dear ABILITY Readers,

Each time I travel around my North Carolina district, a community where I’ve lived nearly all my life, I enjoy a welcome opportunity to connect with my constituents and chat with my neighbors about the issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis. In today’s housing climate, I often find that one of the most vital concerns raised is the need for decent housing for everyone. Homeownership is a cornerstone of the American dream, and I support extending this opportunity to as many people as possible. From opposing cuts in Section 8 vouchers to supporting efforts to end homelessness, throughout my congressional career I have advocated that North Carolina’s families—and families across the nation—deserve safe, affordable housing. I applaud the public, private and nonprofit efforts that help them obtain this dream.

This month I am pleased to give my time as the honorary project chairman for just such an effort. The nonprofits ABILITY Awareness and Habitat for Humanity of Johnston County are joining forces to build an accessible home for Selma Smith, a vivacious and talented woman with quadriplegia who for six years has lived in a trailer too narrow to accommodate her wheelchair.

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Recently I had the opportunity to visit Ms. Smith in her trailer, a residence that currently requires the strength of at least two people to carry her wheelchair up the steps to her front door. The doorways linking the trailer’s small rooms are too narrow to allow her wheelchair to pass, so she spends her whole day sitting in a small living room. This vibrant woman ought to live in a residence that she can enter and exit independently. She ought to have the full use of her home, not just one room of it. She ought to be able to go across the way to visit her neighbors and be able to participate in her community.

I am pleased that this month we are building Ms. Smith an ABILITY House—an accessible home built entirely by volunteers, many of whom also have disabilities. This has been a wonderful opportunity for all of us to consider how some small adjustments in building style—like having a no-step entrance to a home and making the hallways and doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair—would be easy and inexpensive to consider for all homes, so that every one of us can have a home that will serve us well throughout our lifetimes, however our needs might change.

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I am proud to welcome constituents who have disabilities to join us in building this house. So much good can be accomplished when our communities come together in volunteer service, and we don’t have a person to waste. I am glad to see the town of Benson, Habitat for Humanity and ABILITY Awareness out there affirming that everyone has a valuable contribution to make. I am grateful for the generosity of the corporate sponsors Genworth Financial, Inc. and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage for not only bringing their financial assistance, but also facilitating a meaningful volunteer opportunity for their employees. And I applaud ABILITY Magazine for its ongoing support of the ABILITY House project.

I’d like to challenge communities across the nation to follow Benson’s example in assuring that everyone has the opportunity to be both independent and included.


U.S. Congressman Bob Etheridge

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