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Through the summer and fall three towers of residential decks each three stories high have been constructed at 805 Sherman Ave. The new structures replace decades-old porch and stair structures and improve upon them, adding shorter and deeper stairs, larger outdoor living areas, enclosed stairwells to protect from harsh winter weather, enclosed private seating areas and a hydraulic lift from ground level for those who cannot climb stairs.
The property is part of the Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, which owns 21 properties and describes itself as “an intentional Christian community … freely sharing life and resources with one another and with our neighbors in order to demonstrate God’s peace and justice in the world.” The renovations are part of ongoing efforts across all the Reba Place properties to maintain and improve properties for increased efficiency and safety.
Longtime resident and former pastor in the community Julius Belser said he had spent a good part of the past months enjoying the construction, sitting outside and watching the work progress. “This is a major project for us and I wanted the rest of Evanston to know about it,” said Mr. Belser, who described the gardens in the courtyard where the decks are going up. “Vicki [Caleb, another resident] tends beautiful gardens there and was concerned about her rose bushes and the construction, but some of the plants have been moved temporarily so they’ll be protected.”
Peggy Belser, Mr. Belser’s wife said, “The new porches will take up more space than the old ones, but it’s all going to be very beautiful when its finished.”
Ms. Caleb, whose gardens Mr. Belser referred to, is one of the longtime residents who came to live in the Reba Place Fellowship after she separated from her husband. She said she was invited to attend services via a note pinned to her son by a member of the Fellowship and has become fully invested in the community, which means contributing all personal assets and income to the Fellowship. “We have a common purse and believe that God will provide, but many people are a part of our community that are not part of the Fellowship.”
Those who join the Fellowship are guaranteed housing and sustenance through sharing of community resources and Nevin Belser, Julius Belser’s son who grew up in the Fellowship, said many younger people are looking into Reba Place. “It’s not a utopian community, but more like a kibbutz – with a common treasury and an understood agreement and commitment to those that are a part of it.” He said there are nonconventional elements of the Fellowship, citing as an example the fact that most of the buildings are not insured, that the Fellowship takes a faith stance, “trusting in god, not in insurance.”
The younger Mr. Belser agrees with Ms. Caleb that the backyard and porches are a center for the Fellowship community, “a real focus of life for us.” They also agree that having a group of Mexican immigrants as the builders has been one of the gifts of having the new construction over the preceding months. “They are our immigrant brothers along with others that work here that are from Jamaica, Laos, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nepal,” said Mr. Belser.
Ms. Caleb said that music, craftsmanship and good spirit they bring cheers everyone up. The Sanchez brothers, who both have the first name Sénen, and their co-worker Juan, said they like the people at 805 Sherman Ave. “They gave us this great opportunity and also bring us soda and snacks. It’s easy to work here, because they like what we do and they like us,” said the younger Sanchez brother. “I feel peace when I’m working for people like these.”