When Joe Harvard announced his retirement in January last year, after more than three decades as pastor of Durham’s downtown First Presbyterian Church, he promised to continue to serve a community in which he already had made tremendous contributions.
“This is my home,” he told The Herald-Sun then. “I love this community. It’s been a real joy to watch it grow and develop. I’m grateful to be a small part of its transformation. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Part of what that work would be emerged from an idea Harvard says came to him as he and his wife celebrated their 50th anniversary last August. He told his wife, Carlisle, that he planned to honor her with a new house.
Not for them. For someone in need of one.
Saturday, in an event that drew together some of Durham’s most endearing threads, the Harvards and friends gathered to bless a house at 2010 Ashe St. that will be a home to Susan Mowery. The Harvards have pledged to raise $50,000 -- half of it their own money -- to finance Durham Habitat for Humanity’s renovation of the home.
One thread, of course, is the Harvards themselves.
Then there is Habitat – whose work to put roofs over the heads of those who otherwise could not own a home has transformed many lives. As a significant plus, the home the Harvards and Habitat are making it possible for Mowery to own will be a renovated historic working-class house in North East Central Durham.
“A lot of the folks who bought these homes worked at Golden Belt [textile mill] back in the day, and this was a very thriving community in the 1930s and ’40s,” Blake Strayhorn, Durham Habitat’s executive director, said Saturday. “Many of these homes have such great bones, and we want to preserve the historic nature of the neighborhood, to honor the past and the future.”
Finally, there is Susan Mowery’s story. She is a recovering drug abuser who is clean today thanks to the work of TROSA, a residential recovery program that for years has helped substance abusers turn their lives around – all the while providing a host of services in the community including a highly regarded moving company and a lawn care service.
Saturday, Joe Harvard tied all those threads together – not surprising from an affable pastor who has spent a career making connections, combating poverty and laboring for positive change.
Noting that finishing the rehab work by their 51st anniversary in August would be “a challenge,” Harvard added:
“But I think there is something special about taking a house that’s already here and rehabbing it. I’ve come to realize there’s a real symbol there. All of us go through reformation and rehabilitation, and often, we’re stronger and better for it.”
As is Durham stronger and better for the work of people like Joe and Carlisle Harvard, by groups like TROSA and Habitat and what they can accomplish working innovatively together.