Empowering the local neighborhood
Published: July 5, 2023 / Author: Amanda Pilarski
On the corner of West Washington Street and Charles Martin Senior Drive in South Bend sits the imposing, castle-like Kizer House. Built around 1888, the Romanesque Revival house is located across the street from the historic Oliver Mansion. However, unlike the Oliver Mansion, which has been converted into a museum and remains open to the public, the Kizer House has sat empty for years.
Stephen Ziegler ’20 MNA plans to change that.
Ziegler purchased the house from Indiana Landmarks in 2022 and moved to South Bend shortly after to oversee its renovation. He plans to convert parts of the house into an office, café, and residential space, but is especially excited about making the house a community project, preserving space where people can host events and meetings. He remains grateful to Todd Zeiger, director of Indiana Landmarks and adjunct professor at Notre Dame, who has provided guidance and support on the project.
Even though the house is still under construction — there’s electricity and floors, but limited drywall, and no plumbing — Ziegler has already begun to make good on his promise. Last summer, he welcomed Notre Dame graduate architecture students into the home to study how it was built. In June, he allowed SouthBend Tradeworks to host a free summer camp program on-site where high schoolers learned about historic preservation trades work.
“I am humbled to make these things happen and give back,” Ziegler says. “I think as you stay with a community like Notre Dame, it’s easy to be inspired and pick up on the techniques that have helped others.”
Ziegler’s relationship with Notre Dame began with his father, Edward Ziegler ’71 Ph.D. Ziegler the younger recalls his grandmother referring to the call she received offering Edward admittance to Notre Dame as “the most memorable phone call of her life.” Though Ziegler was always in the orbit of the Notre Dame family, he experienced firsthand what the school had to offer in 2006 when he enrolled in executive education programs culminating with Notre Dame’s Executive Integral Leadership (EIL) Program. After completing the executive programs over the course of a decade, Ziegler decided to pursue a master’s of nonprofit administration degree at the Mendoza College of Business, thanks to encouragement from Notre Dame graduates.
A formative moment in the MNA program came when Ziegler took a trip to Nicaragua with P4H Global, a nonprofit focused on sustainable development.
“P4H Global learned that there is a time when it makes sense to give donations at a time of need or after a crisis, but that doesn’t work after a period of time,” Ziegler says. “The community might need some tools and some resources and some guidance, but the idea is not to stay there and provide handouts because they tend to fail over time. And it was just so intriguing to me because it makes business sense. Everybody wins, everybody’s empowered to be successful.”
Today, P4H Global’s work remains concentrated primarily in Haiti, but Ziegler and his cohort traveled to the small town of Teustepe, Nicaragua, on a mission to explore how P4H could expand its footprint.
“We met with not only the nonprofit leaders, but we met with the community. And we literally would go door to door and just talk to people. They talked about how they’ve been transforming getting water to their crops and being more successful on their own. We saw that the ideas that P4H Global was promoting were true in their own community.”
Ziegler took the lessons he learned in Nicaragua and in the MNA program to his work as a technology consultant, wanting to empower others to succeed in the field.
In 2020, Ziegler helped colleagues who had lost their jobs during the pandemic, not through charity, but by leveraging his relationship with Dell Computers to connect them to new opportunities. Some of those colleagues now work full-time at Dell. Inspired by these results, Ziegler wanted to continue empowering others through his Kizer House project.
“I wanted to focus my energy here in South Bend with the restoration of this house by making it more of a community project instead of just me coming here and fixing up an old place. I’d rather the local folks feel a sense of ownership.”
Ziegler has found that the community is eager to help in this endeavor. He’s had a number of people simply walk up to the house and ask if they can work for him. And in some cases, Ziegler has hired them.
One community connection that has proven fruitful is Ziegler’s partnership with Michael Haywood ’86, a former Notre Dame football player and coach who owns a demolition company and helps individuals who have previously been incarcerated find jobs. Ziegler hired a number of Haywood’s connections to help with the demolition process when he had to gut the inside of the house. Ziegler says hiring from this pool was “a very easy step” and has continued to yield results. “They live in the neighborhood anyway. They started telling their friends. It wasn’t like I did anything miraculous.”
Ziegler’s approach to working with the community on these projects remains in line with the sustainable development principles he learned about during his MNA.
“It’s a little less about me recruiting people to help me as it is to figure out what they want to do and let them run with it.” Ziegler says. “Unfortunately, the business model is not great because they’ll be successful on their own and not able to help with the project anymore. But I think that’s part of the fun, that we’re going to continue to find new people that want to help over time. Because the goal is not just to retain them as contractors. We want to make them sustainable on their own. That’s the whole idea.”
Topics: Alumni Impact