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Harmony House opens 1st shared living home for young women

Harmony House key players are pictured here from left, Karla McDay, director of Harmony House,, Lisa Arledge, director of Oasis, Scott Hernandez, CEO and founder of Hernandez Construction Services, and Juliette Bell, director of marketing for Hernandez Construction. (Photo courtesy of Hernandez Construction).

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 24, 2020

A dilapidated East Akron home has been converted into a shared housing facility for Harmony House.
Located at 828 E. Exchange St., the newly renovated structure is the nonprofit organization’s first home for young women.
It’s all due to a unique partnership between Harmony House, OASIS Outreach Opportunity Inc. and Akron-based Hernandez Construction Services Inc.
“This was a very innovative collaboration and we are very happy with it,” said Karla McDay, executive director of Harmony House. “The result is a beautiful facility that will help to reduce homelessness among young women between the ages of 18 and 26.
“We have had homes for young men since 2014, but this is the first one that will be dedicated to young women.”
It all started in October 2018 when the nonprofit faith-based organization OASIS Outreach Opportunity purchased the property, the site of the former Bernie’s Shaver Shop & Collectibles.
In early 2015, the owner, Patrick Feeney, was shot and killed during a break-in at the business, which also served as his residence.
OASIS Executive Director Rev. Lisa Arledge said the building had since become rundown and was attracting drug and other criminal activity to the area.
Making matters worse, said Arledge the home is next to OASIS, which operates a program for at-risk middle school students.
“The building is adjacent to our parking lot, which is used by our employees and the daycare which operates out of our building,” said Arledge. “The structure was abandoned and we were increasingly concerned about the safety of everyone in the vicinity.”
After purchasing the property, Arledge said OASIS discovered the interior of the home was completely destroyed. 
“Everything had been stripped out from the wiring to the appliances,” she said. “We knew it would have to be entirely renovated.”
That’s when she reached out to Scott Hernandez, owner of Hernandez Construction Services.
“I have a 20-year relationship with Lisa and her husband Rev. Byron Arledge,” said Hernandez, who serves as president and chief executive officer. “When Lisa told me about the house and the condition it was in, I was happy to help.
“I am an East High School graduate and I believe in giving back to my community.”
A national general contractor, Hernandez Construction Services was founded in 2005 and specializes in occupied renovations of multifamily and market-rate apartments.
“In the case of the home, we were able to get a lot of donations, which enabled us to complete the project for about one-third of what it would have normally cost,” said Hernandez. “We kept the walls, but everything else is pretty much completely new.
“We put in a new furnace, hot water tank, electrical system, plumbing, air conditioning, appliances, windows, flooring and carpeting.”
When the project was completed in September, OASIS entered into a low-cost lease agreement with Harmony House.
“Our organizations share similar missions of assisting the area’s young people,” said Arledge. “I have worked with Karla in the past and she is very committed to what she does.
“This was an amazing opportunity for our organization to further support their mission,” she said. “It is especially important in the current climate, which presents so many challenges.”
The home is dedicated in memory of the late Dave Hernandez, vice president of Hernandez Construction Services, who passed away in 2019 in the midst of the renovation.
It will house four women and one resident advisor, who will oversee the home and ensure that all the rules are followed.
“We are proud to have the opportunity to create empowerment in the Akron area and to have this house in loving memory of Dave,” said Hernandez. “Dave took the initiative to lay the groundwork and allow us all to get seriously involved.”
With the addition of the new home, Harmony House now has three shared living homes, a transitional housing site and scattered site housing that provide safe living spaces and other essential services to young people in the Akron area, who are either homeless or at-risk of losing their homes.
“We opened our first shared living home on Welton Avenue in Akron (Harmony House East) in 2014,” said McDay. “Every individual who lives in our homes is responsible for paying a per day program fee. The agency has limited donated sponsorship funds available for temporary assistance.
“Everyone who comes into the program gets their own room. They share common areas in the home. The fee we charge covers laundry facilities, WiFi, a landline phone, donated food and clothing, haircuts, all hygiene supplies, etc. Clients also have access to a licensed independent social worker as that is my profession and a team of other professionals who serve on our board.”
McDay said clients are referred to the program from a variety of sources, including 2-1-1, word of mouth, community partners, the court system, school counselors and other homeless providers such as Haven of Rest Ministries.
In addition to providing a place to live and basic essentials, McDay said the goal is to teach clients independent living skills to help them become self-sufficient.
Since 2014, 44 young men have lived in Harmony House share living homes.
“The average length of stay is about six months and 79% of these individuals moved into permanent housing,” said McDay.
Former client Jontavierre Bennett was connected with Harmony House during his junior year at East High School.
“I was living at my aunt’s house and things were not working out,” said Bennett, now 24.
“I was placed in their original home on Welton Avenue,” he said. “Harmony House helped me graduate high school, get a job and find my current apartment, where I am an assistant property manager.
“I also learned to cook, clean and manage my money. I am very grateful to them for what they did. I thank God they were there when I needed them.”
In 2019 Harmony House was awarded $117,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, allowing the organization to take over nine one-bedroom apartments at Alphada Place Apartments.
“In 2020 this program was expanded to provide rapid re-housing services to youth as well,” said McDay. “Housing is a social determinant of health and being able to provide this service to houseless and at-risk youth is why we (Harmony House) exist.”
McDay said the organization plans to continue to expand its assistance to young people in the Akron area.
“As it relates to our future, it is our intention to open a youth-specific emergency shelter that will address the needs of this vulnerable population in our community,” said McDay.
“Our vision is to continue to collaborate with people like the Hernandez family and Karla McDay, who are not afraid to pull up their sleeves and do the hard work of making things happen," said Arledge. “Collaborating together in trusting partnerships is the only way to create hope in our neighborhoods.”