Reverend Joann Baumann
Reverend Joann Baumann has been doing what she does on a particular block of 41st Street for 18 years now. It starts with a house. A derelict property, one that's abandoned; there's drug activity and other problems, it's the scourge of the neighborhood. She keeps an eye out until eventually it's available for a song and then secures a loan for it. This is how it begins. Any improvements she can do herself, she does, such as painting and laying carpet and tile. Next she decorates the house on the cheap, and, with donated furniture, turns it into a nice home.
But then she fills them with men who are struggling to overcome drug and alcohol problems. Or men who have just been released from prison. They will be good tenants and will make good neighbors, too, she believes. “Since parole officers have had my phone number, we've rarely had an empty room.”
But the fresh start these men are getting isn't just having a nice house to live in. Because that would not be enough. After all, these are individuals who have had something missing in their lives: whether it's someone who cares enough to offer some help, or having something larger to believe in, or even just having a place where they fit in that's safe. Reverend Baumann is offering all these things, and they come on the same foundation which is holding her up: faith, hard work, and a belief in positive thinking.
Struggles in her own life have helped bring her to where she is and what she's doing now. When the greatest challenges have befallen her, including her father dying when she was a young woman, the accidental death of her 19-year old son, and the running off of her fiance of 10 years to marry another woman – she has turned to prayer. And God has provided her direction. “That night I was awakened like I was in the presence of God. The love is so intense, there is nothing in this world that compares to it. And that was a whole consciousness shift for me. I felt compelled to reach out to people nobody loved."
She worked with men in the Milwaukee jail, then began to rehab one house at a time, and now there are four houses. The latest project, an apartment building on Lisbon Avenue, is the biggest project they've taken on to date. After 20 years of doing this, Reverend Baumann continues to be invigorated by each new project she takes on. And they continue to make it through every challenge the same way: with faith and prayer, hard work, and a belief in positive thinking.
Rev. Joann Baumann, interview by Blake Crow, June 2014.
House rules provide a needed structure
Baumann describes her latest project, and her approach of positive, "miracle-minded" thinking
How is success measured?
What do you do with furniture donated for a house you don't have yet?