by George Montoya
Putting creative spin on the maxim “engage with the community,” members of the Alameda CRC have transformed a dark, abandoned Victorian hotel into the vibrant, light-infused Crosstown Community Center. This is a dynamic space for bringing new art, music and friendships to life.
Open mic nights, concerts, mother and toddler groups, knitting groups, book groups and impromptu jam sessions are among the activities that spark creativity and friendship among neighbors who otherwise would remain strangers. Crosstown was launched last August as an independent venture by Dave Nederhood, the pastor of Alameda CRC.
In an era when communities don’t really “commune,” and proliferating on every street corner are franchised coffee businesses built on a financial model that speed customers in and out, Crosstown was designed to encourage customers to sip their coffee at a leisurely pace and linger for as long as they like; even play the piano or sing if there’s an available mic. “Conversation and creativity are two powerful chemicals in any community,” says Dave. “In our case, coffee is just the catalyst that causes a great reaction between the two.”
“Our competition isn’t Starbucks. It’s television – which is what keeps people in their homes. There’s a huge need for friendships and dialogue. The community presented that need. Neighbors weren’t talking to each other.” Reaching a post-modern world with a pre-modern faith is central for Dave, and operating as an independent non-profit is critical to Crosstown’s success.
Dave wants to be able to say with integrity that it’s not an outreach program but a true collaboration with the community. While he and others are convinced that Christianity needs re-presenting, relationships formed at Crosstown are based on authentic connections born of real conversations. Pre-packaged messages are as forbidden as pre-packaged coffee. “Shared stories help focus the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in people’s lives. Crosstown’s tagline, ‘It’s about life and then some,’ indicates the process through which spiritual dialogue grows naturally out of life’s discussions.”
Crosstown is a place for community members to find their voice, to create, and to connect. Responsive to the emerging visions of the community, it’s always adding new programs to the mix. “If you’ve got a passion for it, we’ll find a way to do it!” says Dave. An example of a local talent connecting with a ready audience is “Cowboy Jared,” who walked into Crosstown one day for a cup of coffee and found the place was teeming with mothers and toddlers. After a few impromptu performances, he now packs the place on a regular basis. Toddlers depend on it.
Besides recognizing the need to create a sense of community for Alameda residents, Dave has a also longed for years to provide a place for young musical artists to be mentored and build up their reputation as artists. “Conceptually, Crosstown originated as a vision for a teen center and music venue where ministry to and with young people would happen in the context of the arts,” said Dave. He believes young artists and musicians are vital to the life of the church and should be respected and supported in tangible ways rather than marginalized. Dave says that often artists don’t get the nurturing they deserve if their art form doesn’t conform to conventional pursuits, such as playing the pipe organ, singing in the choir, or crafting stained glass windows. “Crosstown is helping to bring about good theology at the street level,” says Dave.
Suazanne Martin-Smith, the community center director, collaborated on the Crosstown vision when she recognized the need to provide mothers and toddlers with a place to connect and flourish in a coffeehouse setting. “A woman came in with two young girls,” Suzanne reported. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh! This is so great! I just met a friend in Starbucks and people were rushing us out the door, giving us dirty looks!’ Here, kids are encouraged to play and not be ‘shushed,’” said Suzanne, who orchestrates a stories and crafts program for kids.
The sweet cheery face and affectionate energy of Faith Rusca, the manager of Crosstown, is another of the many reflections of the “home sweet home” atmosphere of the place. Faith and chief barista Deb Nederhood not only know their customers’ coffee preferences, they also know their struggles.
“Sometimes Deb will come home and say, ‘John looked ten years older today. I think he’s really stressed. I’m going to pray for him,’” says Dave.
Besides prayer, church members and friends have contributed funding, volunteer time and expertise to make Crosstown happen. Bryan Gower, president of the board of directors for Crosstown, reported that community members emerged with experience in nonprofit management, coffeehouse management, bookkeeping, networking, city planning, legal services, construction, music promotion, children’s program development and fundraising. To further focus the skills of their volunteers and the direction of this ministry, Bryan, Suzanna, and Dave attended training in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). This mentality of collaboration, rather than needs-based outreach, was already in operation at Crosstown. “ABCD was a godsend,” said Dave, because it gave a language and a structure for their method of tapping into the community’s dreams, desires and resources. Soon after the leaders of Crosstown attended the training, they were off and running. Though not financially solid yet, Crosstown has already had a powerful influence on the community at large.
Three years ago when we started, there were few if any places in Alameda where kids or teens could just hang out or where families could come and enjoy music,” says Bryan. Now family-friendly and community-building places are germinating throughout the community. “I like to think that we tuned in to what Alameda needed and wanted, and we facilitated people in building community spaces,” Bryan said.
“Once in awhile, I stand back and take it all in,” says Faith who puts in about 60 hours a week at Crosstown. “Everything that we set out to do at Crosstown has flourished. It’s a home away from home, a place where you can meet like-minded individuals and form incredible relationships that create beautiful memories.”