Volunteers with Prisma Health celebrate one of the completed home projects across the Midlands. (Photos courtesy of Prisma Health)
Eileen Schell, a physicians liaison at Prisma Health Midlands, was excited to reconnect with friends she met on a Habitat for Humanity construction site last year.
“I like the idea of ‘sweat equity’ – you’re not just giving someone something, you’re putting in your own sweat,” the veteran Habitat volunteer said. “I even made friends while working.”
When Schell got the email about this most recent opportunity to rehabilitate homes in the Midlands area, she was excited to see names of friends she had made through volunteering.
Schell said the willingness of everyone to work together built a community within a community for the Prisma volunteers who are in their second year of partnering with Habitat to address the ever-present need for safe, affordable housing in the Columbia area.
The goal is to give Midlands residents a secure place to call home. After the pandemic, it became clear to organizers of the partnership that health begins at home, said Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity South Carolina Nancy Lee. While many people stayed locked up inside their homes, others were suffering financially with inadequate living conditions — affecting their health.
Thursday’s homebuilding blitz involved building and renovating nine homes in varying stages of completion, ranging from framing to ready to paint inside and out.
Habitat for Humanity started talking about the partnership with Prisma Health in February 2021.
“Going through the pandemic, I think people started looking at health a little differently, really evaluating and saying, ‘Hey, this does impact so much of everybody’s lives, and what are those ripple effects down in the economy,’” Habitat’s Lee said.
Lee said safe housing affects everyone’s quality of life. If living conditions aren’t up to health standards, children can get sick and stay home from school. That means their parents have to take care of them, keeping them from work.
“There’s no better time to really talk about how health and housing intersect (than) right now — the impact of safe housing and living conditions — especially on children’s health,” Lee said.
Lee said Prisma Health had 133 volunteers work 850 hours last year, a record for the largest, single-day, multi-site project in S.C. history. This year’s project was even bigger with more than 150 participants, according to Prisma Health.
None of the homes were completed, but some are close. Much of the work was funded by recent grants from Prisma — totaling $80,300.
As a healthcare provider, Prisma Health has seen the layered impacts that affordable housing has on families.
“Being in a safe home and becoming part of a community, … in a place where you’re able to have financial health for your family, … where your kids are able to get to school safely, be able to play and grow up – that contributes to the overall health of a family,” said Prisma Health’s media relations strategist, Rebbecca Munnerlyn.
To decide where houses should be built and rehabilitated, Habitat asked Prisma where its markets, teams and hospitals were. They thought it was important for their volunteers to get involved in communities where they live and work. Habitat made sure existing housing stock, just like the new construction, is still up to the same standard, well-maintained and is a safe place for families to live.
Thirty-five volunteers showed up Thursday at one of Habitat’s West Columbia construction sites.
Volunteers painted and improved the window structures of the homes that were already built to make them safer and warmer for this winter for the senior citizens who live there.
“Last night was an indication of how cold the winter’s going to be,” said Anthony Jackson, CEO of Prisma Health Baptist and Baptist Parkridge hospitals. “A safe, warm place is tremendously important. … You’re not only cold, but (there’s) the sky-rocketing cost of gas to heat homes as well. (The renovations were) important.”
Prisma is working to deliver quality care by providing healthcare access to people throughout the Midlands. But it also wants to understand the importance of connecting with the community.
“I was very proud to participate and to see, not just across the state, but directly in our backyard, in our hometown, the level of passion and compassion that was exercised on that day,” Jackson said.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Sobich is a senior from Charleston at the University of South Carolina, pursuing a bachelor’s in journalism and master’s in strategic communication. She writes about the modern South, such as the farm-to-table movement, travel, music and events. In her free time, she fishes, boats and photographs the Lowcountry. She maintains a social media presence, writing about Charleston, from the restaurant scene to local brands and artisans.
Reagin von Lehe
Von Lehe is a journalism major at the University of South Carolina. As an avid film buff, amateur astrologist and fantasy literature enthusiast, she tends to lean towards Arts and Culture writing. Her portfolio ranges from movie reviews to a story about a mother who diagnosed her own child with a rare, lifelong disability. She’s nosey, but finding other people’s business fascinating makes her a strong interviewer and feature writer.