Village of Lights Vendors Get Some Recognition

Community First! Village event employs formerly homeless residents

Community First! Village of Lights employs the community's formerly homeless residents (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Some would say this is the most wonderful time of the year, and the Community First! Village of Lights is one of the most wonderful places to spend the holiday season here in Austin. For the seventh year running, Community First! Village, which provides supportive housing to people exiting homelessness, opened its annual holiday celebration last weekend at its campus off Hog Eye Road in eastern Travis County, and will continue the festivities this Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 9pm with free admission for all.

After scaling down the event for the past two years, CF!V Director of Community Empowerment Taylor Graham says it's been great to get back to business as usual this year with s'mores, holiday movies, live music, and a display of over 250,000 lights. "We have been really thrilled to see the excitement in the city to come out and celebrate this community and ... celebrate the season with us," she says.

Village residents have the opportunity to earn income through jobs like installing the light displays, manning the food trucks, and acting as greeters during the festivities. Neighbors also work as vendors, selling their own handmade creations – paintings, pottery, ornaments, quilts, and more – at the holiday market as a way to earn money and have their artistry recognized.

Village resident Jason Cole Redman has been painting for over 50 years, making everything from murals to acrylic paintings. His goal is for people to feel anything other than negative emotions when they look at his art, whether it's a rendering of one of Stevie Ray Vaughn's guitars or a multicolored abstract. "I try to make people smile," Redman says. "Everything I see is art."

Resident Ute Dittemer had a rainbow of claywork and paintings on display at the market. Painting has always been one of her favorite things, but she started working with clay after moving to the Village five years ago and has grown to love the form. "Now I make money out of mud." Even though she at times can struggle to find inspiration, she said she loves focusing fully on creating. Whenever she sees someone buy one of her works at the market, she makes sure to thank them for wanting her art. "It makes you feel appreciated," she says. "It gives you a good feeling to make your own money."

Graham says one of the best parts of the Village of Lights is seeing people recognize the talents of the neighbors by buying their art or being moved by what they've created. "Somebody else really loved the work that they did and they wanted to take it home with them," she says. "It's one of the most beautiful things to watch them see that happen."

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