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Carlos Santana visits ‘peace bench’ at Henderson home

Rock legend Carlos Santana was glad to see how the power of positive thought could help residents of Southern Nevada.

On Tuesday, Santana visited the site where a “peace bench” was installed outside the home of Henderson resident Reuben Nieves.

The bench is one of five created by woodworker Kerm Sablan and artist Justin Lepper in a partnership between Santana and Habitat for Humanity of Las Vegas. In 2017, the artists and nonprofit wanted to incorporate Santana’s mindset into future Habitat neighborhoods. The result was conversation pieces about love, peace and music in the form of artistic benches.

“It makes me happy to see that what John Coltrane said is true: ‘One positive thought creates millions of positive vibrations,’” Santana said. “I feel very honored and very, very invigorated knowing that I can make a difference. I don’t think ‘little me’ anymore. That’s victim mentality. I think, ‘Let me get in there, and I can make a difference.’”

Habitat for Humanity and city of Henderson officials want the bench to be the “positive thought” spot for community and conversation among neighbors.

Habitat homeowners work alongside staff and volunteers during construction to build their own homes to create connections. The bench is a continued example of that goal, said Angela Phillips, chief operating officer of the Las Vegas nonprofit.

“By creating that sense of community, they’re able once they move in and become official homeowners to still have that sense of connection, because we’ve seen an increase in quality of life by having those social connections and support as they encounter their homeownership journey,” Phillips said.

‘Connection to life’

To Nieves, it’s his home that he likes the most. While his family still lives in California, his neighbors look out for him by inviting him to family gatherings and helping around the house.

“It’s a connection to life,” Nieves said while he sat on the specially woodworked piece. “A lot of people felt very depressed, despondent after losing their homes or their families so it was very sentimental.”

Nieves, 78, has lived in his Habitat for Humanity-built home with Little Bear, his Chihuahua-beagle mix, since July 2020. A U.S. Naval Air veteran, he was working as a real estate agent when the 2008 economic collapse left him without business, unable to pay mortgages, and with about $11,000 in liens on his property, he said.

In 2014, he moved to the Las Vegas Valley and lived in a low-income, senior housing facility. But he was encouraged by the idea of getting his own home that Habitat could build for him as a veteran. Nieves worked with nonprofit, pro bono laywers to get the liens expunged and he qualified for a Habitat house not long after.

“I’m grateful that I have now a home ’cause I didn’t think I was gonna get another home after the last one,” Nieves said.

Nieves’ home is one of the six in the first phase of Habitat’s project in Henderson. Phase II is now constructing two, anticipated to be done in March, of the eventual 14 homes that will go up just a block from the first homes on Apache Paint and Jefferson streets.

The organization completes about two homes per year, though it was delayed during 2020 because of the pandemic, Phillips said. Leaders hope to finish the second phase in Henderson in five to seven years, depending on funding.

Empowering messages

While touring the construction site Tuesday, Santana and Henderson Mayor Debra March wrote inspirational messages on a house truss for homeowners to see during construction.

“Change your mind. Change your destiny,” Santana wrote.

He said his goal was to encourage people to move past a victim mentality and take power in their own actions to achieve major goals, such as homeownership.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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