“Love in Action”
Florence’s Comfort House is the Best of “Weird Austin”
By Michael King,
3:30PM, Fri. May 22, 2015
Among the nine domiciles featured in Saturday’s second annual “Weird Homes Tour” is Florence Ponziano’s “Comfort House,” a Montopolis neighborhood wonderland dedicated to Ponziano’s myriad, multi-form art projects and her lifelong devotion to nurturing Montopolis children and helping her neighbors.
The Tour, now in its second year, was founded last year by David and Chelle Neff and sponsored by their “social impact start-up … that takes care of our people, our planet and makes a profit … and invests it … into smart, well-run nonprofits.” Twenty percent of the proceeds of the Tour, for example, will go to Caritas of Austin, a nonprofit that combats poverty and homelessness.”
This year’s Tour – focused on “homes and spaces” – features local homes-made “weird” in unusual residential architecture, and marked by unique, DIY features, whimsy, and intellectual and aesthetic adventure, among them: the Huston-Tillotson University Dumpster Project, Bouldin Creek’s Casa Neverlandia, and Aralyn Hughes East Austin Queen’s Palace.
But the Comfort House is unique in that the 74-year-old Ponziano’s art-filled home is also itself a nonprofit, the embodiment of her decades of personal dedication to the children and elderly of her neighborhood – offering shelter, sustenance, friendship, everyday wisdom, and indeed comfort. Her place has become an afternoon snack and study center for the neighborhood kids, a playground for toddlers, a hangout for grownups looking for conversation or other support. Asked how all this came to be, Florence responds, a piece at a time – she gives away or sells for fundraising much of the art she makes, and supplementing that with donations and her own Social Security check, she keeps the work going, however possible.
She also reaches out to those who have shown a willingness to help. The staff at Sky Realty found themselves drawn into Florence’s orbit a few years ago, and have since helped her out with ongoing needs, including her annual Christmas gifts for children, her summer programs, and most especially backpacks-complete-with-school supplies for the summer kids. There may be 25 or 30 children she’s helping at any time, Florence says, and at Easter she hosted a celebration with more than 200 people, including several she had helped as children on through their educations to college and beyond. “They’re all my kids,” she says. “They don’t forget me.”
Malita Jones of Sky Realty calls Florence “everybody’s mother and grandmother,” who doesn’t just provide physical help but “wants those kids to have a better life – to help them become successful in life, and to reach for the light in the darkness.” Sky Realty President Curtis Reddehase says the group tries to respond whenever there’s a need (this week Florence pointed to a huge pile of diapers the group recently delivered in response to her own “birthday” request), and he noted Florence’s remarkable ability to amplify donations through her energy and outreach. “If you give her a dollar,” he said, “she’ll find a way to make it worth a whole lot more than a dollar, but spend nothing on herself. … If you give her something of value, she’ll sell it to buy something for the kids.”
“The best way to describe her,” Reddehase concluded – “she is love in action.”
See more on the Weird Homes Tour, including the schedule or to purchase tickets, here. For more on Florence’s Comfort House, and to donate (Florence says she could use some help right now for the summer programs), see here.