Eric C. Basye
Hometown: Jackson, Wyoming
Eric Basye is the Executive Director of Community Leadership and Development, Inc., and has helped lead a revitalization of building and community projects on Billings' South Side. Some of the things he's helped lead include Hannah House Ministries, youth Works, Koninia Housing Construction, 316 Youth Center and the Southside Christmas Store. Currently, CLDI is refurbishing the Labor Temple.
How did you become involved in Community Leadership and Development?
Originally born and raised in Jackson, Wyoming, after graduating from Denver Seminary I moved to Memphis, Tennessee after getting married to my wife Shelly, who had just completed her first year of medical school at UT Health Science Center. Having spent seven-plus years in Memphis, I had become heavily involved in urban ministry as I worked with a Christian home repair camp in the inner city of Memphis in a neighborhood known as Binghampton. In addition to working and eventually leading this organization (www.sosmemphis.org), my wife and I also lived in the community we served as part of a church community that intentionally sought to live among those we served.
Needless to say, these years of living and working in a low-income community made a huge impression on our lives, such that my wife and I had committed ourselves to continue to live and work among marginalized communities. Having been vaguely familiar with Billings, what first drew us to consider moving from Memphis were the South Side and North Park neighborhoods. Shelly was able to get an interview for a hospitalist position at Billings Clinic in the spring of 2008. While she was in the interview process, I was busy scouring the South Side and North Park to determine if we were going to move to Billings, and if so, to which neighborhood. Needless to say, Shelly and I both fell in love with the city of Billings and the South Side community as we had found our future home, a burned out house on the 400 block of South 31st Street. Shelly accepted a job offer, we connected with Dave Goodridge to buy this condemned home, and we had plans to move to the South Side upon Shelly’s completion of residency (the fall of 2009) with a vision of buying a house, raising our family, and planting a church with our friends Steve and Tasha Houlihan.
Leading up to this point, I was unfamiliar with CLDI. Having spoken with Mike Yakawich during Shelly’s interview process, he suggested I call Dave Hagstrom. Arriving back in Memphis, I called Dave, introduced myself, and told him of our plans to buy a house in the South Side and plant a church. Much to my surprise, he knew the house we were trying to buy. In fact, he had even watched it burn, from his front porch! Leading up to our arrival in Billings, Dave and I had become well acquainted as we hired CLDI’s job training program, Koinonia Housing Construction Company, to tear down the home we had bought and then hired them to start the construction of our new home prior to our arrival. I was both amazed and delighted to learn more about CLDI and the remarkable works that had been at work in the South Side community since the late 1970s.
Finally moving to Billings in October 2009, my first year was devoted to starting the church we had planted and creating an internship program that was housed underneath the umbrella of CLDI. In the summer of 2010, Dave approached Steve Houlihan (our friend that had moved with us from Memphis with his family to plant the church) and myself and asked us if we would consider taking over CLDI and the construction company. This was a perfect fit for Steve, a talented builder, and myself as we hoped to be further immersed in the South Side to make Jesus known in word and deed. In February 2010 I officially became the Executive Director of CLDI and Steve became the President of Koinonia Housing Construction Company.
You’re passionate about the South Side of Billings, what drew you to that?
First and foremost, my wife and I are passionate about the person of Jesus, to both enjoy Him as well as make Him known so others can enjoy Him. As followers of Jesus, we look to the Bible to learn the heart of God in order that we may live in ways that please Him. It is very clear in the Bible that God has a concern for all people and gives concern to those on the margins - the widow, orphan, stranger, and poor. For this reason, my wife and I are passionate about engaging communities like the South Side as often times such places are considered unsafe, undesirable, and on the wrong side of the tracks. We believe this simply is not true as all people have been made with Imago Dei (in the image of God) and therefore have intrinsic value and worth. Our passion is to love God by loving people as we share this life-giving message of the good news of Jesus with our neighbors and friends.
What aspect of your job is most satisfying?
The aspects of my job that I find most satisfying are: The mission to make Jesus known in tangible ways; the amazing friends I have the privilege of working with; the beautiful people, history, and community of the South Side; and the variety of our work, ranging from volunteering in the schools to large building projects.
What aspect of your job is most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of my job is that often I feel ill-equipped to do what it is we hope we do. I am regularly reminded that we are called to do works greater than ourselves in order that others may see these works not as our own, but as God’s, and give praise to Him.
You care about Billings and its future: What do you see Billings looking like in 10 years?
I am excited for the continued growth and development of Billings as a whole, especially in the downtown/South Side area. I remember my first time being in Billings in 1990 when we dropped my oldest sister off to college. Needless to say, Billings is a very different city than it was then. Even since we moved here in 2009, Billings has continued to develop and grow into a more desirable community in which to live.
What is the community’s biggest challenge?
I believe that education is a very real challenge our community needs to consider, especially when it comes to the schools with a higher density of poverty. As a father of four school-age children, we have had to make some very challenging decisions as to the education of our children, but my concern extends to all of the youth of the South Side. The challenge we must deal with is: how do we provide the best education to all children and how do we support the amazing teachers and administration of our Title 1 schools?
Undoubtedly, another challenge our community faces is that of quality, affordable housing for all people. As we see in the South Side, often times the only viable housing option for some of our most vulnerable community members is housing from private landlords in expensive, sub-par living conditions.
What first drew you to re-creating the Billings Labor Temple space?
To be honest, I wasn’t initially drawn to the Labor Temple building for two reasons: 1) the sheer cost of making it usable space once again; and 2) it wasn’t a very attractive building to begin with. However, it is also for these two reasons that I am glad CLDI took this project on. Due to the cost of restoring this dilapidated building, I believe it is fair to say most would have passed on this project because of the cost and location. When the idea for this building project was first conceived in 2014, I never imagined it would be the Labor building and at a cost $3.5 million! However, as God grew the vision of this project, so also did He provide in abundant ways to make it feasible. In the end, this once dilapidated rubble of a building will be transformed into a beautiful space for the benefit of the South Side and city of Billings.
How do you recharge and refresh from your work?
My favorite and most needed time of the day is early in the morning, before any of the other Basye clan is up, to sit in our sun room and drink a cup of coffee as I spend time with the Lord to read the Bible, pray and meditate. Without this daily time I would have nothing to offer either my family or community. Beyond this, I love spending time with my family, enjoying our evening meals around the table, and taking in all of the outdoor beauty Montana has to offer.
What is one piece of advice you give to others and why?
Do you want a full life? Fullness of joy? And pleasures without end? Then look to Jesus, the giver of life. His word says, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). I assure you, you will not be disappointed.