- Associated Press - Monday, October 6, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Tears trickled from Rashida Ali-Campbell’s eyes Friday morning as she watched volunteers turn old tires and empty beer cans into a haven for the have-nots in her west Philadelphia neighborhood.

“Have you ever wanted something so much?” she asked. “So many people are helping make this dream come true. This is what I have prayed for.”

Tires stuffed with hundreds of pounds of dirt will form walls. Old oven doors will serve as roof shingles. When she is done with what used to be a warehouse, it will be a studio with a garden adorned with fruit trees and vegetables.

More to the point, it will be a haven for the neighborhood.

“I want this for people who can’t afford it and are living in survival mode,” said Ali-Campbell, the founder of Love Loving Love, a nonprofit that encourages healthy habits through eating and exercise, especially for troubled children.

Ali-Campbell spent periods of her childhood homeless, and lived for three years in foster care. She sees a reflection of her youth in the kids living in west Philadelphia, where the mean household income is less than $40,000 a year.

To build the community garden, Love Loving Love teamed with a New Mexico company, Earthship Biotecture, which builds similar structures around the world.

Their ecofriendly design extends beyond construction materials. Solar panels generate power. Cisterns collect and purify rainwater. The runoff from showers and sinks is recycled to water the planters. The buildings are entirely off the grid. They are cheap to build and there are no utility bills.

“The idea is we should live in buildings that are in harmony with our environment,” said Earthship’s Jonah Reynolds.

Danelle Nelson, one of about 20 volunteers working Friday, changed her work schedule so she could spend her days at the construction site. She’s been working at her tech support job early in the morning and late at night, allowing her to spend days with her hands deep in dirt, dust, and cement.

“I can’t wait to do more,” the Lansdowne woman said. “I don’t mind switching up my hours because it’s such a fantastic project.”

Making the garden studio a reality continues to be a challenge.

Ali-Campbell had trouble convincing city government the home wouldn’t look like something out of The Flintstones, she said. She has worked hard to reach out to her neighbors, one of whom complained to the police because he thought the piles of tires at the site were the result of illegal dumping.

The greatest obstacles have been financial.

Love Loving Love received the property on 41st and Warren as a donation, only to learn later that there was a $21,000 lien on the property, the result of unpaid taxes and demolition costs from the warehouse that once occupied the space. Finally, L&I; engineers need to ensure that the land, some of it filled with rubble from the demolished warehouse, is stable enough to build on. The tests will cost more than $4,000.

Ali-Campbell has dedicated space on her organization’s website, lovelovinglove.org, to the Earthship project, and is holding to the hope the structure can be finished in time for Thanksgiving. She wants to help feed the neighborhood for the holidays and dreams of a safe place for a disadvantaged community.

“Every time I see a tire, this is all I can think of,” she said.





Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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