How CHIP Began

Ruth Ives

Ruth Ives (1947-2006)

The beginning of CHIP, Inc.

Ruth Ives shared this account of how CHIP began at CHIP’s annual meeting in October 2004.

Because I’ve never kept a journal, the dates of what has happened during the past 20 years are a bit foggy, although I’m fairly confident about the order in which these events occurred.

As I’ve expressed at a previous meeting, I’m clear in remembering the start of the CHIP idea and need when, in the summer of 1984, I was made aware of my neighbors on my very road needing a motel room to take or a house to rent. But since they were very low-income, they had no means to provide such a need for themselves, and the need was apparent when I went to see them and found all 9 people living under the cap in the back of a pick-up truck. When one wanted to reposition himself or one of the children wished to move in order to lie down, all 9 had to step out of the truck to give everyone another position, none of which were ever comfortable. Because I appealed to generous people such as Marianne Williamson, and to the New Harbor Methodist Church, we were able to rent them a short-term respite at The Sea View Motel here in New Harbor.

By coincidence, that same summer I was also called by a family to help them become warmer, drier and more comfortable in the shack in which they were living in Round Pond, and that dwelling of one room had no floor. The family, with little children, was sleeping, cooking and living in the dirt, and this was in 1984.

Providentially enough, Marianne and I heard that the Presbyterian Minister, Carl Gorres from Mission at the Eastward in Turner, Maine, would be preaching in August at the Harrington Meetinghouse here in Pemaquid and his topic was, “How our Program Improves the Housing Needs of Others.” So we were in the front row! We were inspired and energized to begin a similar program here in the Damariscotta-Bristol area, and we were most optimistic because of the generous churches and individuals that live in these nearby towns. Because of that August worship service, we called all the churches in this area and asked them to send a representative to address the great housing needs of Central Lincoln County. Every church was represented when the October meeting was held, at which time these creative, compassionate individuals chose the name “CHIP,” for Community Housing Improvement Project, and chose the theme of helping to keep people safe, warm and dry.

Appeals were made to all churches and the family in the truck was given their first month’s rent in a real apartment and the Round Pond family was thrilled to have something as modern and comfortable as a floor provided for them. And as we know from the work we provide today, these family’s spirits were raised and their self-esteem encouraged, so the work provided by CHIP has always improved their spiritual as well as physical needs.

An early CHIP effort was initiated by a remarkable New Harbor resident who was a Quaker. Tom Quimby, who had begun the Peace Corps in the 60’s with his Harvard room-mate Sargent Schriver, had purchased a house here in New Harbor, on Route 32 just after Shaw’s Wharf. He offered the small, but excellent home to be moved by CHIP so he could build a larger house on his property. And we were grateful for such an opportunity to provide a house for sale that would significantly increase our treasury. With the reasonable purchase of property further down Route 32 in Bremen, we were able to employ a carpenter and surround him with Board members and volunteers for several weeks to stabilize that home and sell it for top dollar (albeit the price was less than it would be today!) through The Wall Street Journal. That New York money was a real boost to the CHIP treasury!

Highlights of these early years was good attendance at each monthly meeting, increased commitment and generosity from individuals as well as churches, and the joining of the board by Holly Lockhart from South Bristol. Holly was an amazing fund-raiser, having successfully worked on behalf of low-income people and their housing needs in New Jersey. At one point, she was a finalist for the national president of the Presbyterian Church, and it was she who helped us begin CHIP’s sub-committee of Linc-Fund. The Linc-Fund program began in 1987 when the Maine State Government required that during any real-estate transaction in this state, the tax paid during this transaction would go directly to help low-income housing. Appointed by Governor Joe Brennan, Libby Mitchell was the Director of Maine State Housing supporting this policy and she met with Linc-Fund both in Augusta and here in Bristol where she saw the results of our mutual efforts. We were thrilled to use that state sales-tax money to provide 4 new mobile homes just 2 miles down the road across the street. And the very needful CHIP clients were able to rent those homes for $300 month, and this was a lease-purchase agreement. There are still 4 families enjoying their sense of stability there on the Bristol Mews.

Linc-Fund continued, under the direction of Peter Knauss, and thereupon received a most generous gift from CHIP board member Daphne Williams, who represented St. Patrick’s Church. Although Daphne was not ill in any way, she had arranged through her will to provide extensively for her children and to the CHIP program, in which she had been a board member for fewer than 10 years. She gave us many acres of property on Crab-Apple Creek in Bremen on which we could build up to 8 lovely low-income houses for those in need. Crab-Apple Creek may be a familiar name for those who watched the TV show “Mash,” since it was Hawkeye Pierce himself who was our next door neighbor. It was much to our distress that Daphne died unexpectedly while the houses were still being built, and she had said how much she would enjoy seeing neighborly lights so close to her own home. That home was also left to the CHIP program, and the selling of that Route 32 house, opposite the Bremen Church with the soldier statue in front, resulted in more cash for all the CHIP work we were providing for needful people in the towns we are still serving.

As you know, the Basking Ridge Presbyterian youth group of 65 young people had been a part of CHIP from our first summer of existence until our 18th year concluded in 2002. They stayed at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop for a week in each July and accomplished 8-10 home improvement projects during that week, while 3 or 4 houses were also painted. It was through Holly Lockhart’s connection with the Basking Ridge Church in which she was a member that this opportunity originally developed.

Wonderful people have long been supporters and participants in the CHIP program. And from our first year through this past winter of 2004, there have been 829 contributors. Those who have contributed for the entire last 20 years have been Dick Armstrong, Lottie DelPapa, Hal Lockhart, Second Congregational Church in Newcastle, First Congregational Church in Wiscasset and St. Andrews Church in Newcastle. The first carpenter who worked for many years and many Basking Ridge weeks was Teddy Girard, who has since died. Also deceased and greatly missed are fundamental participants on the Board: Frank Ortloff, representing Quakers; Daphne Williams from St. Patrick’s; Bill Stevens and Bob Nichols, St. Andrews Church and Rev. John Nickerson, Bristol Congregational Church.

But our history is continuing, since productivity, success and wonderful memories are created every month of every year. Dozens of families are receiving home repair, especially during Community Cares Day which is an incredibly valuable initiative, chaired by Mariellen Whelan and Tom Ward. They are creating history for the hundreds of CHIP volunteers who have come forward for the past two special September Saturdays. Janice Mellyn and Jo Cragin have received the baton in the race for quality living. All of you who are on the Board of CHIP, your partners and friends and former board members are valuable participants in continuing our 20 year goal of offering low-income people homes that are safe, warm and dry. Thank you for carrying on this project.