We were blessed in Holy Trinity to have many persons committed to social justice. Not everyone was rich in Westfield but by and large it was an upscale community. However, some of our brothers and sisters were marginalized and lived in poverty. One such blaring example of this was Cacciola Place.The housing was scandalous and literally people whose families had spent decades in this community were being fleeced by unscrupulous rents. I brought this to the attention of my informal kitchen cabinet and they immediately responded. One was General counsel for a major corporation, another the managing editor of the Herald Tribune, one a chief financial VP for a multinational and a host of other professional women and men. Together we decided to change the culture of poverty on one street by providing decent and affordable housing. The Federal government had an outstanding program which was home ownership with a forty year mortgage at one per cent. The requirements were community involvement of those who were to benefit from the program and private personal or foundation money as a down payment.
The group generously ponied up the seed money and we were fortunate to solicit the aid of Mary Withers a resident of Cacciola Place. She was dynamic, fearless and a natural born leader and with her assistance the project seemed headed for success.
The first challenge was to build the homes one at a time so that none of the current residents would be forced out of the community. The second was the necessity of the town’s administrators permission and buy in. Public hearings were arranged and at one of the meetings a gentlemen stood up and said he thought it was a foolish program and should be denied permission to build. In the middle of his plea for rejection he said”Let’s face it the properties will not be cared for and will become dirty eyesores. Mary Withers stood faced the gentleman and with no venom in her voice said’We have been doing a pretty good job of keeping your houses clean. I am sure we can keep ours clean too.”
The administration voted unanimously for the program thanks to Mary’s words.