President’s Column: A Habitat Habit.
by Scott M. McElhaney
One of the more entertaining things about serving as president of the Dallas Bar Association is seeing otherwise relatively buttoned-up lawyers and judges break out of their serious, professional roles and show true musical and comedic ability. At the end of June, a few dozen bar members with real talent put on the twenty-ninth annual Bar None production to benefit the Dallas Bar Foundation’s support of the Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarships. Led by long-time director Martha Hardwick Hofmeister, the Bar None Production Company put on Kinky Suits (a take-off on the Broadway hit Kinky Boots) and entertained four almost full houses at SMU’s Greer Garson Theatre with skits and musical numbers parodying songs ranging from Jimmy Kennedy’s 1953 standard “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” to Macklemore & Ryan’s hit “Thrift Shop” from 2012. The production raised more than $80,000 to support the Hughes Scholarships. I had great fun making an inconsequential cameo appearance, but I can say that the most amusing part of my involvement was getting to see other lawyers pursuing their passion and using their great talents separate from the practice of law.
The Dallas Bar offers many other opportunities to get out of the office and do good work in the community. One of our proudest traditions is our ongoing work with the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity. This June we completed our 23rd Habitat house, and Home Build Committee Co-Chairs K.C. Ashmore and Greg McAllister did yeoman’s work in leading the DBA’s effort. It seems we have something of a “Habitat habit.” The Dallas Bar is the longest continually running whole house sponsor for Habitat for Humanity in the area. Each year we raise about $60,000 to fund the sponsor’s portion of a house build. The homes go to hardworking families who have often been spending unsustainable levels (as much as 50 percent) of their income on (often substandard) housing. But Habitat for Humanity is not a give-away program. Habitat homeowners go through a rigorous qualification process, and instead of a down payment, the owners must contribute 250 hours of “sweat” equity to the build. Then they assume a mortgage on the house, but the mortgage is held by Habitat for Humanity, and payments made by Habitat homeowners are put into a fund used to build more Habitat homes.
This year dozens of lawyers, judges, paralegals, and court reporters volunteered their Saturday mornings for the house build. Without their hard work, we could not maintain our tradition of Habitat sponsorship. And who knew that Judge Eric Moyé and Judge Ken Tapscott are pretty skilled at putting up siding on a house, or that DBA President-Elect Brad Weber and Director Robert Tobey are good with an electric power shear?
You do not have to have building experience or special skills to contribute to the effort in a Habitat build. If you are interested, I would encourage you to volunteer at the DBA’s 24th annual home build next year. If working for the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program is like earning “billable hours for your soul,” then volunteering for a Habitat build may be like manual labor for your soul.
Luckily, though, you do not have to wait until next year to contribute to the Habitat for Humanity mission. For 30 years, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn have targeted a select community and contributed a week of their time to promote Habitat for Humanity’s mission to improve or build homes, revitalize neighborhoods and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing. This fall, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the site of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. From Sunday October 5 through Saturday, October 11, the Carters and the volunteers who accompany them will construct about 20 homes and repair more than 20 more in the Oak Cliff Gardens area behind the Dallas Veteran’s Administration Hospital, and they will build about 15 and repair 15 more homes in Fort Worth.
Hundreds of volunteers will come to Dallas, but hundreds more are needed to provide logistical and transportation support for the workers. Past DBA President Al Ellis is coordinating the volunteer efforts of the Dallas Bar and other local bar associations for the project. Al’s infectious energy and occasional Elvis impersonations are helping to raise over $100,000 in order to make the lawyers of Dallas an official corporate sponsor of the Carter Work Program. There is still a need for contributions, so if you can pitch in, you can visit www.dallasareahabitat.org/web/guest/lawyers. With this level of sponsorship, we have the opportunity to construct a new home during the work project. Our home will be at 2627 Custer in the Oak Cliff Gardens area. To complete the build, we will also have to recruit 25 construction volunteers per day. So far, Haynes and Boone LLP, a $5,000 sponsor, has committed to bringing about 15 volunteers one day, and DAYL has also committed to bringing a slate of volunteers for a build day. Volunteers from TYLA, SMU’s Dedman School of Law and the new University of North Texas School of Law at Dallas are also expected, and thanks are due to all of them. If you want to be a construction volunteer, you can visit vhub.at/DallasLawyersJCWP. If you want to provide other support, you can register at vhub.at/MacGyverTeamJCWP. Volunteers can be lawyers, paralegals, and staff members of any sort, so if you are interested in volunteering, jump in.