Art Ellwanger with daughters of a three-generational Ethiopian refugee family in front of their duplex unit/Contributed photo

For profit ministry works to house refugees coming to Spokane

By Taylor Fe Mamaril

Art Ellwanger and Don Comi, co-founders of Ten Talents Ministry (TTM) LLC, love to lend a helping hand, especially when it comes to helping refugees.

TTM is a for-profit organization that invests in housing units for refugee families or people in need of affordable housing. Usually incoming refugees move to Spokane because of a family member located nearby, but the change may be difficult.

The three goals of this organization are to provide affordable housing in safe neighborhoods, invest in housing responsibly, and express the love of Christ. This is done through investments from the community, daily interactions with the tenants and providing services for a welcoming atmosphere.

So far, they have two duplexes housing one refugee family and two low-income families. They throw baby showers, celebrations, and host dinners to make sure these families are comfortable in their new spaces and experience God’s love, they said.

“The baby shower was pretty key,” Ellwanger said about a recent celebration for a refugee family. “She (the daughter of a Somolian family) came in her burka to church and they probably had 50 gifts of baby stuff that they opened up …  it was really cool to see.”

The ministry began a few years ago when Ellwanger and Comi attended the same church. Comi was asked to mentor an incoming refugee, named Omar, from Iraq. Comi, who is a professor at Whitworth and has some time in the summer, decided to take on this project and from there this charitable spark grew.

Comi and Omar shared coffee, filed forms, filled out applications, and grew to be brothers.

Comi said, “We had to cross a hurdle, that of the fact that Omar was a taxi driver in Iraq at the same time that I was flying combat missions over Iraq.”

Six months into their relationship Omar decided to be baptized. Comi was shocked, he said, and didn’t expect this transition from Omar when he had volunteered to help.

The question these men tend to get from their tenants is why do they do this or how can they repay them for their service.

“I think that’s really what we’re called to be is we do Gods hands and feet work, we’re called to love in that way. It’s kind of like, you might think of it as fishing without a hook kind of a thing. It’s offering a service with no expectations other than it helps [them],” Comi said.

The for-profit side of this organization helps to reach their goal of accessing affordable housing for these families.

“Affordable being key. Also, some of the neighborhoods that we find that you may consider to be affordable housing aren’t necessarily places where you want to raise kids,” says Ellwanger.

The balance of affordable housing in a comfortable area is where the investors come in and invest in units. Each investor buys a percentage of the units and contribute more than $1,000  to become members, allowing them to vote on policies and have a voice in the company’s decisions.

All of the money that gets invested is accrued into more housing. The tenants pay rent to accrue additional money for properties while the business attempts to sell their first property in order to get investments back with market value. Since the market changes, the members vote annually on where to put further investments.

Members not only invest but also have the opportunity of providing service. Their goal of showing unconditional love of Christ comes through friendship, they explained. Members are required to spend a minimum of 20 hours of service to TTM per year.

Their upcoming Giving Thanks dinner in November is centered on the families’ presence and friendships in the community. Ellwanger and Comi’s goal is to make Spokane feel like a loving community where these families can grow and raise their children, they said.

To learn more or to get involved visit the Holy Cross Lutheran Church website or call their office to get in contact with the investor group at (509) 483-4218.

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