Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Fidelia Hall (Winter/Spring 2017 Update)

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Photo by Nadine Byers

When we decided to buy a 144 year old church building and a house that’s most likely also over 100 years old, we knew that we would be looking at nonstop home repairs, upgrades, and more. We knew that once we completed a project that it would be onto the next one, and that each project would help us “discover” what the next project would be. All of that has been true up to this point. Fixing the back roof led to us discovering just how much water damage had occurred to a certain area of the community room. Fixing the boiler led us to discover just how many of our radiators were damaged beyond repair. These things happen. Even though it’s not usually the best news to hear that you’re gonna have to find more money and time to fix something else, we’ve decided to take another approach: everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. It is a slow process for sure, but we feel that a positive outlook on things makes the process go a whole lot smoother.

And now….onto the updates:

PART ONE: Downstairs at Fidelia Hall 

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This winter we made a big choice: that our family would be moving into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall. Why? As with so many parts of our story, it starts with water. We found that there is most likely some kind of a leak behind a few of the walls in our house. Small water leaks are never great, as they are hard to pinpoint and then there’s always the possibility of mold (especially in a house that’s over 100 years old). With all of this in mind, we evaluated where we were at and what we wanted to do and….we’re moving into the downstairs of the old church building.

But there was (and still is) work to be done, and some of that is in the photos above. What you’re seeing is the downstairs space, now free of carpet and a drop ceiling! Underneath the carpet and drop ceiling were two great unpolished gems: a hardwood floor and the original tin ceiling. Both the floor and the tin ceiling are in need of some love, but we’re getting there. Over the last few months, we (Haley and I) have been using an air compressor to blast away any of the chipped and flaking paint on the ceiling. We’ve got one room left and after that we’re onto painting the tin ceiling. That should happen soon! All of the carpet has been pulled up and soon we will head to the local True Value to rent a floor sander and get that hardwood floor back to looking beautiful.

There’s a lot more to do with the downstairs and I’ll just post that here: my parents have been extremely kind and helpful to us with this project and a month ago they purchased a new furnace for the downstairs space. This week we will begin installing that furnace, and after painting the ceiling we will move onto the duct work that will heat the downstairs. A few other projects involve building a downstairs bathroom, fixing up the electrical wires and switches, and then moving onto fixing the kitchen ceiling. Like I said above, everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. We will get there.

Once we move into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall, we will then move onto the next project: gutting the house. Why gut the house? A lot of what exists in the house today was something that was built on top of something that was built on top of something, and so on. You have to remember the history of the space: it was always the home of the pastor of the church and their family. With that in mind, we like to think that all of the repairs done to the house were part of a deal we call the “parishioner’s special”, where the pastor asked members of the church to volunteer their time to help fix up the pastor’s house. A lot of the repairs we’ve seen in the house are totally DIY work, and while these are fine over the years they haven’t held up so well. We want to fix that. With that said, if we dig deep in the house during this process and find that the damage to the bones of the place have been compromised, we may end up tearing down the house. I don’t think it’ll come to this, but who knows. On the plus side, we’ll have more space for gardens and chickens and all of the things we love.

PART TWO: All the other little things

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While the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall has been our major focus at the moment, we’re also thinking about everything else. In February, my father, my brother, and I got to visit an old convent in Pittsburgh, PA that was in the process of being torn down. From that convent, we got 10 radiators, 3 fire safe doors, 2 fire safe door frames, a water heater, and a few other odds and ends. It was a day full of a lot of work, but we got what we needed at a really cheap price (only $125!) and we are sure that all of this great recycled stuff will eventually find its way into Fidelia Hall. The radiators will be installed in the upstairs space we’re calling The Great Hall and with a few tweaks they’ll be heating that space up next winter. Finding this stuff second hand was quite an amazing moment for us: while all of this stuff isn’t brand new, it works and it gets us one step closer to our goals.

We hope to complete these repairs by the winter of 2017-2018. Moving into this new space and having heat in the upstairs of Fidelia Hall will allow us to focus on cutting down our utilities (electric/heat for two buildings can get expensive).

PART 3: Spring and Summer and Gardens and Chickens

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We love spring and summer and we know you do too. At Fidelia Hall, we really love building gardens, feeding all of the birds around the property, and building flower gardens for the bees and butterflies who live all around us. This year, Haley has come up with some great ideas for the gardens. Expect to see us dabbling in growing some kiwi, apples, and other fruits as well as our standard vegetables. Last year’s straw bale gardens were a success, but this year Haley is interested in hugelkultur for the gardens. What’s hugelkultur? It’s basically the process of taking rotting wood, twigs, branches, and other things and using that to build your gardens. It basically will look like this (image from http://permaculturenews.org/2012/01/04/hugelkultur-composting-whole-trees-with-ease)

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And for now, that’s all we got. Thank you to everyone for keeping up with our family, Fidelia Hall, and more. We’re getting there!

 

Family, Fidelia Hall

The ChurchHouse HouseChurch Project

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Google Photos applied a filter to this photo which makes it snazzy and artistic and totally share-worthy on a blog and/or other social media websites on the WORLD WIDE WEB.

People have asked me why I left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library. WHY JUSTIN? Were you so very unhappy there? Was it not what it seemed? Why would you leave such a rad place to live in the middle of nowhere Western Pennsylvania? I hate to burst your bubble and dampen all the gossip but here are the four reasons why we left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library.

  1. I got a great job offer at a very cool library in Titusville PA and they wanted me to give this whole being Executive Director thing a shot and I was totally ready to give it a shot after learning from some of the best library leaders in my career. (run on sentence yes)
  2. I was born and raised in Western PA and had the chance to live relatively close to all of my family members for the first time since 2005.
  3. Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles/Cousins are great people to have around, especially when you have two awesome kids yourself. Family is one of the most important things in the world.
  4. Haley and I had the chance to buy an awesome house THAT CAME WITH AN OLD CHURCH.

For the sake of this blog post, we are gonna focus on REASON #4…THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.

I’m not gonna bore you with the history of the building and the property, but you can knock yourself out by clicking any of these images below for bigger versions:

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Simply stated, there was a church and a parsonage for sale because it was no longer being used for a church and a parsonage and Haley and I, looking for a place to live in our new community said, “HEY! We should probably just go for it and buy this thing.” So we did, and thus began THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.

Let’s knock out some FAQ’S first:

YOU BOUGHT TWO BUILDINGS? WTF?!?!?
Yes. When presented with the opportunity to go all out and try something radical, the Hoenke Family goes for it.

YOU MUST BE SUPER RICH TO BUY ALL THAT
Nope. We are two adults between the ages of 29-35 with two kids and massive student loan debt. I am a librarian and Haley is a stay at home homeschooling mom teacher artist wife superlady. Plus, the whole property was only $60,000.

ONLY $60,000?!?!?!
We may not have all the fancy things like a big city like NYC may have, but we have a great cost of living that makes it totally possible to raise a family, enjoy life, and try something neat-o like buying a house and church. I am happy to trade the fancy things for the easier cost of living.

WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH THAT THING?
Time to resume the blog post.

We live in the parsonage. It’s a great house that needs some work but you know what? Everything need some work? The house needs some work, so we do that work and we live with it. In the meantime, we have a roof over our heads, running water, heat, and all is well in the world.

The old church came to us in pretty good condition. There was a bit of a soggy basement, some spotty electricity, and a heating system that may or may not work at 100% Slowly but surely things are getting fixed. The electricity is back (thanks to Penelec with the speedy customer service), we know what’s up with the heater (turn it on, let the heat rise, and wish for the best), and the water is mostly gone thanks to some leftover gutters and duct tape.

The plan? It isn’t easy to describe in one or two words, but think of the space as a community center where weddings, birthday parties, meetings, lectures, music, movies, and more can happen. Imagine a yoga instructor or massage therapist looking for some space to rent for a bit while they get their clientele built up. We have that space and if you are a cool human being who is all about making the world a better place, well we would like to chat with you.

I think that’s what it really boils down to: good people coming together with a positive energy to do great things for their community and surrounding areas. It sounds like a library, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that. Blame it on my career as a librarian and my wife Haley’s mom being a librarian. Having libraries all around you in your life kind of rubs off on you. But it’s a good thing. Libraries are all about helping people with their needs. Want a book? Sure we have that. Need a computer? We have that too? Just want to chat with someone? We are awesome at that.

At the same time, there are some things that nag me about public libraries. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We’re still not the best at communicating who we are and what we do. The ChurchHouse HouseChurch Project is an attempt to, in my own little world, work around those things that nag me so that I can accomplish (along with my wife) some amazing things for the community. Public Library World, don’t fret…I ain’t going anywhere. These two things (Public Library plus ChurchHouse HouseChurch) go hand in hand. They are both things in a community that are all about giving back and being as awesome as possible in general.

That’s everything. Will this work? I have no idea. In our eyes, the worst thing that can happen is that nothing works out and in the end we move into the church building, live there, and rent out the house. That’s not a bad scenario either. It will look kind of like this.

In the end, I’m pretty sure we all get to live one life. Why not have fun, take some risk, and try something new? ChurchHouse HouseChurch is our attempt at that in a physical form. Here we go.

Libraries, Portland, ME, Teens

The Whole World Waiting

Eight months ago I told you all about THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING, which is a film by David Meikeljohn, Sonya Tomlinson, and The Telling Room featuring fifteen teenagers from the Portland, ME area.  Today, I’m here to share the finished film with you…and isn’t it great!  It’s so wonderful to see so many of the teens that come through the library every day sharing their story.

Thanks to everyone who supported the filmakers, the teens, and The Telling Room via their Kickstarter page

Information about the project:

Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) is a free, afterschool literary arts program for teenaged refugee and immigrant English Language Learners. The program runs for nine months each year, engaging each student in weekly afterschool sessions that provide unparalleled opportunities to work directly with some of Maine’s best writers and artists, creative writing and arts programming and job skills and leadership training.

YWL is offered in partnership with Portland, Deering, and Casco Bay High Schools, and has served teens from Haiti, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Sudan and Kenya, improving their writing skills, academic performance, social and emotional wellbeing, and their chances of future success.

Teaching artist Sonya Tomlinson and filmmaker David Meiklejohn created The Whole World Waiting to showcase all fifteen students from The Telling Room’s Young Writers & Leaders program (2011-2012) in three-minute segments. Each story tackles the myths of America told from the perspective of immigrant and refugee youth.

Libraries, Music, Portland, ME

Young Writers & Leaders Film

I know you probably see/hear about 10 different Kickstarter pages every day (I do too).  However, every once in awhile a great project comes along that’s TOTALLY worthy of support.  To me, this is that project.

The Young Writers and Leaders film is part of a Telling Room program (who I’ve worked with at the library here), Sonya Tomlinson (who I’ve worked with at the library here), David Meiklejohn, and 15 Portland, Maine area teens (all of which who use the library almost every day!).  Simply stated, the film tells the stories of the teens and their involvement in the program and their lives in Portland, ME.  

This is the real deal, folks.
Please consider supporting this project by visiting their Kickstarter page here.

The Young Writer’s and Leaders is a program of the Telling Room, a non-profit writing center in Portland Maine. The program is home to 15 high school students from Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti, Uganda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Kenya. In addition to one-­on-­one literacy tutoring, college prep assistance, creative writing, job skills and leadership training, the students also participate in arts programming. This year’s concentration is the film project featured in the above video led by teaching artists, David Meiklejohn (filmmaker and director ofMy Heart is An Idiot) and hip-hop recording artist, Sontiago (Endemik Music).

On May 24th, the students will premiere their short films in their hometown of Portland, Maine at Space GalleryOver half of the students in the program have not spent time in another city outside of Portland. Over half of the students have not spent time in Boston, though it is a mere two hours away. Over half of the students have not traveled by train.

If funded, our plan is to travel to Boston via the Downeaster train and spend the day in the city visiting a sister writing center and pairing up with Boston-area young writers. In the evening we will rent a film house that holds 250 people and screen the 15 original short films featuring each YWL student performing their individual stories based on myths about America and life as new Americans. The screening will also offer a Q&A with the Young Writers and Leaders students.