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Building More Than a Home

How a rural community came together to offer hope to families experiencing housing instability

It all started when a family in McPherson, Kansas, faced eviction from the trailer park where they were living. They had limited resources, no support system, and
no one to help them find stability. And unfortunately, they were just one in a long line of families in similar situations. 

In response, several members of Countryside Covenant Church gathered to discuss the lack of affordable housing in the area. 

That meeting led to conversations with community members, nonprofits, local industry, and local government. In 2008, we established the McPherson Housing Coalition, Inc., to address housing issues. We raised funds and began looking for opportunities to assist families in crisis. We moved and rehabilitated a home that a local church donated. The house would give a family of six a safe, affordable place to live. We assisted seniors with yard cleanup and rehabilitation, and we collaborated with the local high school to build an affordable home for a single mom with four kids. 

Five years later, we attended a meeting on homelessness and poverty sponsored by local churches, nonprofits, and the community that worked with people living in poverty. Through conversations and testimonies, we realized that homelessness and trauma were both much deeper challenges and more prevalent than we realized. We learned that families slept in hotels, lived in crowded conditions, and sometimes in places not safe or appropriate for children. Many had to leave their community to find support because shelters and resources were located as far as 30-60 miles away. In those cases, children had to change schools, leaving behind friends and extended family.  

So we applied for an Emergency Solutions Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that would allow us to provide rental and utility assistance and case management for families for up to 24 months. As soon as the program launched, our phone began to ring. We were providing a resource that had never been available in our area before. 

We soon realized that families were experiencing trauma that affected their decision-making skills. Many victims of domestic violence returned to their abusive settings. But we did not have the funding to provide wraparound services to help individuals and families heal from trauma. 

We continued to ask God for guidance. Jaymie O’Dell, a friend from Countryside Covenant, and I began to meet regularly to brainstorm and pray for wisdom. We met for over a year. We were unsure where we were going, but we knew we needed a place for families to land when they became homeless or needed stability. 

Eventually, we designed a preliminary house plan for a tiny home. It would have all of the necessary components of a home, but it would be small enough that ten homes would fit on a large lot that McPherson Housing Coalition owned in the middle of town. The homes would give families a sense of security and a healthy environment; we would also be able to provide access to wraparound services through the emergency shelter portion of our existing Emergency Solutions Grant. This piece would allow us additional funding for staff who could provide guidance on developing resilience that would lead to stability. Most importantly, these homes could offer hope. 

But as we prayed, we discerned that the timing was not right. The country was divided on many issues and this housing project didn’t feel like it was a priority, so we laid the idea aside. 

In 2018, an opportunity arose for me to pursue a master’s degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. I was excited to begin my studies at Grand Canyon University and work with professors who could help me turn our idea to build tiny homes into reality. Through the coursework and discussions with professors, we analyzed every potential problem, opportunity, viability, and pathway to the long-term success of our vision to build tiny homes. 

In the middle of such division in our country, it was amazing to see God work right before our eyes.

For 18 months, step by step, God revealed his plan for the cottages. We would build an emergency shelter where families could live for 90 days while they received case management, counseling, health assessments, legal assistance, educational opportunities, and one-on-one guidance through a couple who lived onsite to provide support, manage the property, and teach life skills. After graduation, I was excited to start the project, but still, I sensed God saying, “Wait.” People were still divided on many issues and it didn’t feel like the right time for this project. 

Then in 2020, Covid-19 hit, and homelessness became a core issue for the entire nation. At that point, finally, God said, “Go.” We had meetings, prayed, and raised funds. We saw God put the right people in the right positions at the right time. We formed a team to develop the project. Don Bland (Countryside Covenant) became the project manager; Jaymie O’Dell (Countryside Covenant), the interior designer; Mary Driskill (New Gottland Covenant Church), the CFO; Karolyn Moore (Free Methodist Church), and I handled the marketing.

We raised more funds and sought skilled labor and building materials. For 12 months, we witnessed miracle after miracle, with donations coming in all shapes and sizes. And churches came together to work on the cottages. 

Countryside Covenant, First Baptist Church, and First Mennonite Church agreed to adopt the first three of ten planned cottages. These congregations not only committed to the project, but they also began working hand in hand together. It was a beautiful testimony to Christ. 

Many were baffled as to why we were going to such great lengths to help them. One man we were assisting asked, “Why would you help me? I have done terrible things!” I whispered, “God loves you, and he sent his Son to the cross and to rise again for you.” Soon after, he accepted Christ. This project had become the hands and feet of Jesus!

The churches came in different shapes and sizes, but they recognized that each had something to contribute. New Gottland Covenant Church held fundraisers, prepared meals, and supported the project in any way they could. Larger churches with additional resources provided financial assistance and volunteers. Churches from all over the community provided support at varying levels, moving the project forward. I had never witnessed such harmony and fellowship. Everyone was there for one purpose: to share the love of Christ. The Oak Harbor Cottages were bringing not only hope but also unity.

On August 14, 2021, people from five churches built floor joists and subfloors for the first three cottages. Young people worked alongside seasoned veterans. Homes were built, memories made, skills taught, and people from all over the area began to watch as the Church came together to help their neighbors. 

In the middle of such division in our country, it was amazing to see God work right before our eyes. 

When Jaymie O’Dell suddenly passed away on September 1, the members of Countryside Covenant decided it would be fitting to name the first house Jaymie’s Place. The Church came together to assist with the project as we continued without Jaymie, grieving her loss even as we sensed God’s presence in her absence.  

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

About the Author

  • Chris Goodson

    Chris Goodson is the executive director of McPherson Housing Coalition, Inc., and the president of Chris Goodson Appraisal Service. She and her husband, Kip, have been married for 30 years; they have three boys and two grandchildren. They are members of Countryside Covenant Church.

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