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Collective Work: Harmony House’s Approach to Housing

Karla McDay

Over the past several years, everyone has been impacted by COVID-19. While many of the challenges presented by the pandemic were universal, different groups faced different challenges relative to their unique circumstances. For at-risk young adults, the challenge of finding or maintaining secure housing was exacerbated by COVID. Today, the challenge continues as over 500 people in Summit County are still facing homelessness for a myriad of reasons, many of which include barriers to pursuing education and knowledge of how to access available resources.

That’s where Karla McDay comes in.

Harmony House, an emergency supportive housing ministry for young people ages 18-26, opened its doors in 2014 under the principle of Ujima, with Executive Director Karla McDay promising to transform just $10 a day from clients into a secure, shared living experience, one that was built on collective work, collective responsibility, and collective learning.

“[The houses] were built off a very African-centered principle called Ujima, and it means to work collectively. It stands for collective work and responsibility,” says McDay.

In using a collective approach to housing, Harmony House provides a safe living environment that not only teaches clients to work together to maintain – and be responsible for – their home, but also removes the stigma around being unable to live solely on your own in young adulthood. These shared living experiences help build life skills in developing positive relationships and communication, as well as in managing stress and anger. Additionally, clients of Harmony House are assisted in obtaining birth certificates, social security cards, proper identification, and school enrollment. People experiencing homelessness often lack these documents, which can prevent them from securing employment or housing.

“In these environments, what you do is you share a house, all the common areas, with three to four other roommates,” said McDay. “This is not unlike what young people experience when they go off to college. They live in a dorm or in a house and they share it with other people.”

Using the principle of Ujima, you’ll find Harmony House building shared living environments for at-risk young adults in Akron. And you’ll find Karla McDay building on her promise to educate, empower, and equip this important population with the tools necessary to living healthy, productive lives.

To learn more about Harmony House’s mission and impact, or to make a donation or volunteer, visit: For more information about the Black Leaders Cohort, visit our blog.