The House that $5 Built

Someone somewhere right this second wants the very best for you. How do I know? Because it’s me. I want to know that life feels warm and full to you. Full of love, full of gratitude and full of Thanksgiving leftover deliciousness. That’s what I’m wishing for you this very moment.

I wish I didn’t have to wish. I wish I knew that every single person reading this column was filled to overflowing with everything they need to get through today and tomorrow and the day after that. But that’s not the world we live in. Abundance is often in short supply. Thank goodness kindness is not.


This world is full of people who dream big to make life easier on others. Like the person who decided to put up a Christmas tree with name tags on it for children whom Santa may miss. Or the person who decided to put a cart in the grocery store for food donations for the hungry. Or James VanRaden, a Moorhead man who decided $5 could build a house.

James came up with an idea back in May, on Mother’s Day, to be exact. He and his wife were discussing the question, “Do you think it would be possible to raise $100,000 in a year’s time at $5 increments?” It was from that conversation that “The House That $5 Built” was born.

James started a GoFundMe account, asking people to donate just $5, the cost of a fancy cup of coffee.

While the project caught fire for a little while, it eventually simmered down and the donations grew stagnant. So far, 60 people have given for a total of just under $600. That’s a far cry from $100,000, and he only has six months left to meet that one-year goal. But that can’t stop a dreamer like James.

The House that $5 Built has teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to be one of three builds in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2016.

James is continuing to urge people to make an investment in the community by buying a “share” in the project, and contends that this is not frivolous or flippant giving.

“Every share purchased moves the project closer to being fully funded. A step closer to a deserving individual or family getting the keys to a new home. This is not a handout. These are homes that have mortgages, so this is a hand-up.”

There are plenty of prospective homeowners hoping this venture builds a strong foundation. Numerous applications have come in from people who want to make their dream of owning a home a reality, like the woman who works two jobs, is taking care of her mother with cancer, and still has a tough time making ends meet. And the couple who can’t afford the rent on their apartment now that one of them is disabled. And the mother who chose to leave a very nice house in order to raise her children in a non-abusive home.

James adds, “When I speak of The House That $5 Built, I speak of not a project, but a change. A change in the way we do things in an industry. But it starts with one.”

11009875_1417981071858573_5310055129363335828_oOne dreamer, one $5 bill, and one community of people who agree that everyone deserves to feel warm and full.

To learn more about this project go to or

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at

Going Dark to See the Light

If a Broadway show doesn’t have a performance, it’s said to be “dark.” Mondays are usually dark in order to give the actors a chance to recuperate — or perhaps go grocery shopping and pick up their dry cleaning, I’m not quite sure.

My blog posts and tweets are more of a horse-and-pony show than a Broadway musical, but I, too, have decided to go dark.

It’s difficult to explain, but I think need an attitude adjustment.

After this weekend and all of the troubles in Paris, my eyes started drifting to the negative. On Facebook, for example, I changed my profile picture to the French flag and then read three different posts from women who were extremely upset that people were leaving the terrorist victims in other countries disrespected and unsupported.

Why are we fighting about profile pictures? Aren’t we all hurting enough? Isn’t now the time for love and encouragement and kindness?

I’m running low on kindness lately. It’s not just Paris or Facebook… I see it in other areas of my life. I’m a little hesitant on offering to help. I’m a little slow on preferring others over myself.

When the state of your heart is in need of mending, you go to the Doctor. I started to pray, God, cleanse my heart. Show me what I’m doing wrong and help me to love your people, ALL of your people, the way you love them.

The Doctor told me to spend some time with his Son. I could see the problem instantly. I need to turn off the world’s spotlight. I need to go old-school and allow Jesus to walk along beside me, with his arm draped over my shoulder, pointing out all of the beautiful things in life that I’m missing. Your kids are giggling in the other room, Nic, do you hear them? Look at the smile on that woman’s face. She’s glowing. 

The world is a stage and it’s trying to show me what’s important and scary and popular by shining a big obnoxious spotlight on it. But Jesus and I are like two kids out at night on a scavenger hunt with a flashlight. I’m bound to find some pretty amazing things and I can’t wait to share them with you.

So please excuse me from all writing and responding responsibilities for the next week or so. I’m hoping that by going dark, I’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the Light.

Just Give Me A Sign

Nurse Holly has pronounced me full! I’m done with my weekly escapades to Columbus until I meet with the surgical oncologist and plastic surgeon again on December 2nd. That means no more day-long coffee dates with my ride-along girlfriends, no more stops at the gluten-free but not glutton-free bakery, and no more Target.  Ahhh…. Target. We’ve been such good friends. Are you sure you don’t want to come live in Athens?

On my last visit to Columbus, I found World Market. Ahh… World Market. Are you sure you don’t want to come live in Athens?

People spend a lifetime waiting for a sign. Please God, give me a sign. I got mine the moment I walked through the door (but was too cheap to buy it, so just took a picture to show you instead).

IMG_4197“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Who is the brilliant person who put together those ten simple words? All I can say is, AMEN!

Cancer’s not part of a perfect life, but lots of wonderful things have come of it. Marriage only looks perfect until you try it, but I sure wouldn’t trade in my rusty version for a newer model. My work terrifies me most days, but it’s better than the alternative, which means not being able to work.

My car now has the job of sitting in the garage while my body takes on the task of healing. After the basketball season wraps up, I’ll go back to Columbus and have a “swap surgery”, appropriately named since they will swap the expander in my chest for a silicon implant and then lift the other breast to match. I could do it as early as February, but I really want my husband available for my every beck and call during recovery. I’m a nice wife like that.

And hey, let me know if you need me to pick up anything for you. I’ll be sure to stop at World Market again, because — did you catch this?– the sign next to my sign is all about the silver lining, my favorite color… I bet the sign next to that says, Life is good.