When you arrive at the Unaccompanied Students Initiative (USI) home on W. Fox Farm road in Cheyenne, you see it was built by people who care deeply about giving homeless teens a safe, welcoming place to live while they finish high school.
The twin homes, one for male and female students, is a nice addition to the neighborhood. Stepping inside, you find yourself in a warm and inviting place with brand new everything. Words of encouragement adorn the walls in each student suite and there's plenty of space to spread out and get homework done in communal areas. When you think about kids struggling with homelessness finding refuge here, it makes you glad to live in a community that would build such a special place.
Outside, there is beautiful landscaping and plenty of areas for students to relax, play basketball, and socialize. Its sunny and bright, with friendly potted flowers sprinkled throughout the areas. Its the kind of place where the teens who live there can enjoy being with their friends.
There's just one problem. A very loud problem.
Along the north edge of the property line runs I-80, all 90 decibels of it, roaring by night and day. This major transit route is a favorite of long-haul truckers, tourists in RVs, plus thousands of cars traversing East and West.
According to Industrialnoisecontrol.com, 90 decibels is the equivalent of a Boeing 737 or DC-9 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing. This level of sound will "likely cause damage after prolonged exposure".
Tamara Moore, Executive Director of the USI says "the students can't enjoy the outdoor spaces because its too hard to carry on a conversation with the traffic all day." When I first stepped out of my car on our first visit, I could barely hear myself think, let alone attempt a conversation.
I became aware of what the students deal with earlier this summer when we were looking for project for our upcoming Building on Faith Day of Service on September 28th.
Our affiliate was awarded a $5,000 grant from Thrivent Financial to coordinate a day of 100 volunteers from local churches for a day of fellowship and service to improve our community. Because Habitat's roots were established with Christian social gospel principles (helping the poor, not charging interest on loans, etc), Building on Faith gives us an opportunity to strengthen the relationships we enjoy with people of faith who share so many of our values. We knew we needed a project that would have a big impact and inspire the community.
That's when we heard about the need for a sound abatement fence at the USI. Tamara explained the noise was keeps them from obtaining Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding because Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires projects be located on properties with a decibel level below 60. The noise causes a similar issue for Safehouse Services, who are eager to expand their services to include transitional housing units for clients. As a grant writer, I felt the frustration of having an ideal project for funding, held up on a technicality.
But more than anything, the noise just overwhelmed my senses and made me feel anxious. While I was thrilled the homeless students have such a beautiful place to live, the idea of kids stepping outside to the roaring traffic whizzing by was too much. I really wanted Habitat to take this project on.
Initially, we wanted to make both the USI and Safehouse Services eligible for CDBG funding by building a long fence along the property lines of both organizations. Our audacious goal soon met with two sobering realities. First, in order meet eligibility requirements, the fence needs to extend a minimum of one mile to the East. Next, sound abatement fences are tremendously costly and the price of a mile long fence was astronomical . Safehouse has the benefit of mature trees on their property, which reduces the noise some (not enough, but some) so we figured the bigger need was to reduce the noise for the students. It would immediately improve their lives, and it would be a starting point for both agencies to work together to getting the larger part of the fence built in the (hopefully) near future.
Next, we found a locally owned fencing company willing to donate their labor and work with our team of volunteers. We only needed to pay for the materials. The durable Simtek brand fence panels will offer six feet of solid noise reduction, as well as a visual blockage of the never ending traffic. Once installed, students will be able to enjoy the entire facility our community has so lovingly created for them, including the outdoor spaces.
As is usually the case with such projects, the materials needed to be ordered well in advance, which required a big leap of faith for us. We had the $5,000 grant as a healthy start, but the full cost of the materials totaled nearly $15,000. Could we raise the balance in such a short time? While still in the trenches of our 2019 build project? With Habitat Repairs projects in full swing? With the students of our Blueprint for the Future program returning to the build site? With the dozens of other projects we have going on?
But we just kept coming back the idea that we could alleviate the noise these kids live with at their home every day. We could make their lives a little less stressful, make their home a little more peaceful, their sanctuary a little more restful. We want these students to focus their energy starting their adult lives on the best possible foundation, despite difficult odds. And the fact that it came to us through our work on the Building on Faith project seemed, well- divinely guided. So we took the leap (a leap of faith if you'll indulge me), paid for the materials and here we are.
This is where you come in. You see how the fence will immediately impact the lives of kids working to finish school and make good choices, despite having the odds stacked against them. You see how starting the fence for the USI can build community awareness for the next section of the fence, until the fence meets the requirements these organizations need to obtain the funding they need to expand services to more of our neighbors in need.
We're past the halfway point raising the funds we need, and now we're asking for your help. Please consider a donation to support this project by clicking here. No amount is too small, together we can get this project over the finish line for these kids. If you'd rather donate via check, you can mail your contribution to Habitat for Humanity/PO Box 2809/Cheyenne, WY 82003, or in person at our ReStore, 1721 Ames Ave, Cheyenne.
About Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County: For 28 years Habitat for Humanity has been building strength, stability, and self-reliance through home-ownership opportunities in Laramie County. In 2019, the organization will complete its 47th and 48th homes on Messenger Court in Cheyenne.