While it might take many hands to build a village, there also needs to be an organizer and leader to bring those hands together. For dozens of homes built through the efforts of The Martin House, a Catholic charity assisting the poor in the Wilbur section of Trenton, N.J., Kim Coleman has been that man.
Coleman, co-owner and president of Coleman's Hamilton Building Supply in Hamilton Township, N.J., has donated countless hours over the past 11 years assisting The Martin House's Better Community Housing of Trenton (BCHT) program. The initiative's goal is to create safe, quality, affordable housing in a city where more than 21% of its residents live below the poverty line.
Coleman, 53, is a "connector," according to his brother Keith, who co-owns Coleman's Hamilton Building Supply along with another brother, Kip. Keith points to Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference, which describes the intrinsic role that connectors play in bringing people together to accomplish a task, be it organizing a block party, running a global company, or building a house. "There are very few connectors in our society–people who put people together in order to accomplish a task," Keith says. "Kim can organize and put all the people together."
Kim is known as "Killer" among friends, family and yard personnel for reasons similar to the inspiration for Johnny Cash's classic song, "A Boy Named Sue." He smokes Kools, which he stores in his shirt front pocket, and he's not afraid to have a few beers with his employees after work–on his coin, of course. "They work hard for me, and we break bread together," Kim says. He gives the impression of being a cool operator–someone who knows just about everything that might be going on while you might not, and could continue on his course with a smile if the world fell down around him.
Kim became involved with The Martin House after meeting the Rev. Brian McCormick, its president and founder, at a golf outing. McCormick has been assisting Trenton's underprivileged for nearly 40 years.
After hearing McCormick discuss his cause and his efforts to build homes for the disadvantaged, Kim concluded that the priest knew little about the construction trade and had murky notions about how to facilitate the home-building process. "I opened my mouth and said, 'Let me coordinate this for you,' " Kim recalls.
Since that moment, Kim has overseen construction of 34 homes, including three that were in the final stages at press time.
"Kim has been really terrific for us," McCormick says. "What he brought was his own volunteer commitment to oversee our projects. He coordinates contractors, he gets us a fair price for materials. If you don't know construction, you don't know how valuable that is."
Case in point: several years ago, a contractor dug and poured the foundation for a home despite being told that the area sloped and needed to be step-dug. Within hours, The Martin House was watching as the foundation of its latest home was about to sink into the earth.
Once he was alerted to the situation, Kim worked the phones and had a crew on the scene the next day. Footings were put into place that ultimately rescued the house. "That was amazing–he got it all done in half a day," McCormick recalls.
While on the job as president of Hamilton Building Supply, it's not unusual to see Kim set aside his routine tasks, pick up the phone, and coordinate BCHT projects, such as dealings with contractors, utility companies, and city officials.
"Kim has always had a big heart when there are other people in need. He's always stepping up to the plate with his time, advice, or a donation of materials," Keith says. "It's a real uphill fight in a city like Trenton to get some of the revitalization going. For him to set aside a chunk of time to work with local administrators is quite a feat."
And Kim is not even Catholic; he's Presbyterian. For Kim, aside from helping those in need, a big part of his pledge to The Martin House is his belief in McCormick.
"Father Brian is a genuine person who tries to do everything he can for people," Kim says. "I'm glad to help him out, that's really what it comes down to. He doesn't worry about the church, he worries about the people, the people who are getting pushed from one end of Trenton to the other."
McCormick, 66, arrived in Trenton in the late 1960s during a time of social upheaval, including the city's 1968 riots.
He never left.
Since founding The Martin House in 1968, BCHT has renovated 109 abandoned buildings, built 41 townhomes, and will complete 35 homes this year.
Other programs The Martin House oversees include a learning center for at-risk students–more than 50% of students do not graduate from high school, according to the Trenton Public School District–a Hope for the Homeless shelter, and a clothing store that distributed 700 winter coats two years ago.