Self Help Enterprises

Samuel R. Tyson

To discuss thirty odd years in a couple of pages as Bob Marshall has done is the height of brevity. My role is to look a little more closely with particular emphasis on Stanislaus County’s Self Help Enterprises(SHE) which has gone through several phases including Bard McAllister’s work with farm labor under the American Friends Service Committee( AFSC), San Francisco Office.

As the idea of a house building program evolved there was need for a builder. Howard Washburn, a contractor from Oakhurst was approached. He asked me about it and I encouraged him to take it on. When Howard did become the SHE director he asked me to head the Stanislaus County Committee to help out and SHE became an active part of my life.

Howard and Pat Washburn were part of the rural Life Conference which existed in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Thus did our paths cross. Howard was one of the very few people with whom there was immediate rapport. If he wanted to picket the federal building in Fresno as a tax protest, I joined him. Other poured their blood on the steps. When I was ready to walk into the Radiation Lab in Livermore, Howard was on the leaflet line. Originally with SHE each county had an advisory committee. For years Stanislaus County’s Committee included John Downing, Frank Muench, Howard Tenbrink with Joe Dell as County Director. Ann O’Brien later was part of the effort. Also, there were always participant builders on the Committee. The SHE state board in Visalia also met monthly, so for years a weekend a month went to Visalia activity and thence on to Santa Barbara to check in with my mother there. There were some hairy trips during those nights over the Grapevine on Highway 99.

Stanislaus was the farthest away from the main SHE office so there was some distance friction. An attempt to add San Joaquin County to the program failed. Perhaps because the Stanislaus committee was heavily loaded with WWII conscientious Objectors(COs) our outlook differed from other areas. With Howard TenBrink we also had a live builder on hand. My approach pushed the SHE participants interests, over the central office of necessary. When Joe Dell left for New Zealand, a new director was needed. Our choice was a woman but lost out to Visilia's choice of a male, hispanic. It did not work out so a year later Marnie Rice became the first woman county director of SHE, probably the only woman. About 1973 the Office of Economic Opportunity decided people could not serve indefinitely so no more Visalia trips for me. Subsequently the county committees were dissolved, too much raw democracy.

To my horror I was part of the creation of a new bureaucracy. How Howard Washburn would have reached is an open question. Despite my personal bias some institutionalization was necessary for continuity and coping with federal agencies and financial institutions. Nor is this bureaucracy one of the federal-state creations where folks create their own entitlements.

Stanislaus County was different from the beginning. Most counties had lots which could be purchased and in-filling occur. In Stanislaus subdivisions were the rule by necessity. Politically this was a tougher way to locate low income housing. Originally houses could go only in rural areas to get Farmers Home Administration money. A big issue was two car garages which were verboten. These were mid-west rule moved to California where public transportation was limited.

Even the small towns fought SHE subdivisions except Keyes where several anglo project were completed. Waterford’s first SHE houses ended up in Hickman - two sets of four houses on different streets. They were the only sidewalks, curbs and gutters in Hickman for years. Tillie Lewis Cannery objected, claiming the houses would be too close to its Patterson facility. A meeting with corporate staff in Stockton was held without conclusion. Later the cannery closed anyway. Riverbank objected. Waterford tried more shenanigans later but backed off after pressure.

Originally SHE builders were more mixed. Keyes(Anglo), Merced County(Blacks) and everwhere Hispanics. Empire’s groups were a mix.The present program is largely Hispanic due to participants in Turlock and Modesto. Unknowingly and certainly unplanned SHE became a conduit for social concern. In a sense it picked up where the Rural Life Conference left off, at least in part. In Merced County the continuum includes the Kiriharas, Magnesons and Mitchells. In Stanislaus County, SHE provided the framework of people acting together so the Peace/Life Center had real substance at its start in 1970. SHE was creating an underpinning for many low income people at the same time.

"Sweat Equity" really does work to provide decent housing,(1000 hours work per family).

bar.gif (3918 bytes)

from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

forward.gif (1527 bytes) back to Connections' home page         forward.gif (1527 bytes) to Roots and Fruits Table of Contents