Merlene Davis: Event focuses on Delaware Avenue's community, diversity

With a lot of donations and volunteer help, the two houses that Esther Hurlburt bought more than a year ago are now one, connected by a sunroom breezeway and a new roof. And the place is closer than ever to becoming the home for low-income senior women that she has dreamed it would be.

Called the Legacy Home Ministry, the combined house will have five bedrooms; three bathrooms; one large kitchen and one small one; and common areas, including a sun room and a laundry room. Each renter would have her own bedroom.

The innovative non-profit project is only one aspect of the diverse culture of businesses, non-profits and houses that make up Delaware Avenue near downtown Lexington.

That diversity and peaceful coexistence attracted Debra Hensley, an insurance agent and former three-term Lexington council member, who has taken it upon herself to introduce various parts of Lexington through "Debra's Social $timulus" events.

"The focus is on the community," Hensley said. "One of the things that got me excited about it was that it is industrial and residential, old non-profit and new non-profit."

Debra's Social $timulus featuring Delaware Avenue will be from 5:30-9:30 p.m., Jan. 21. The free gathering will be at Barnhill Chimney Co., 1123 Delaware Avenue. Dupree Catering, a longtime business on Delaware, will provide the food, and the owners of House, a floral and interior-design company on Delaware, will show off their talents.

Legacy Home Ministry is the featured non-profit during the Social $timulus event, and guests will be able to bid on and purchase items for the project.

Guests will walk to the home, see the progress of the renovation and contribute to it. "They can buy a toilet or squares of carpet or paint," Hurlburt said.

I like that idea better than buying an item during a silent auction. At least the buyer knows exactly how the money will be used.

Hensley said it was an easy choice to highlight the businesses and residents on Delaware this go-round.

"I would like to think it was some big inspiration, but really it was Esther," she said.

I wrote about Hurlburt's dream in May, about six months after she bought the two houses. A member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Community Ministries, Hurlburt also owns Parent Care KY, a service that assesses and manages the medical and social needs of the elderly and disabled.

She envisions providing safe and affordable housing in a communal setting for retired low-income or widowed women who are living on Social Security. They would be at least 65 years old and would be able to tend to their own personal needs.

"My heart has always been with women," she told me in May. "If this is successful, we can do one for men."

Dupree Catering has provided food to volunteers working at the house, and the owners of House have offered to decorate the finished product. That's community.

There's more. Paul Davis Restoration is managing the project as a community service, and Clay Ingles Co., which is located behind the house, donated replacement windows and doors.

The University of Kentucky Department of Community Engagement will be a resource for the occupants, Hurlburt said. Landscape architecture students have submitted designs for the deck and garden space. UK doctoral students in gerontology will study how cooperative living in community affects the aging process.

"On days when I begin to doubt it can be possible, I can actually see and be a part of what I have always believed is true: Good things, actually very good things, happen when we share resources," Hurlburt said.

Ted Vimont's Exit 99 band will perform acoustic music, and wine will be provided by Lover's Leap.