Christmas, Carols, and Cocoa

Earlier in the week, Erwin, the pastor of El Camino, called me and invited me to “Christmas, Carols, and Cocoa”, the church’s attempt at gathering some of the neighbors to Lydia’s house to meet them and tell them the Christmas story. Lydia lived in Baker and was very active in El Camino; I’d spoken to her a few times, but this was the first time I would be spending any substantial time in her house.

It happened that their neighborhood party was the same day as the Mika Christmas Store,  so when I arrived at Lydia’s house, I had already worked a 10 hour shift on 5 hours of sleep after surviving an incredibly hard week for me personally. I wasn’t thrilled about having to leave the Store and return an hour later to spend the rest of my night cleaning, but I went anyway.

I walked in right at 5pm and was greeted with the smells of beans, rice, and fried tortillas. Erwin sat me down with a plate full of food and an excited look on his face and said, “Michaela” (my Spanish name), “we would be honored if you would read the Christmas story to the children. The story is in English and the kids will respond to you.” I knew they had wanted me there to talk to some of the neighbors, but I didn’t realize I would be heading up the activity that was the central purpose of gathering the neighbors together.

Because I had to get back to the Christmas Store within the hour, I hardly had time to think about it. Immediately after we finished eating, we went outside in the back alley behind the apartments where all the chairs and the nativity scene were set up. I was introduced to a few families and sat down in a chair in front of a group of 20-30 people. I was handed a microphone, a book, and a bag of prizes– to give to the kids after they correctly answered my questions about the story. All the children in the crowd gathered at my feet, and I stared back at them as they waited to hear what this girl that couldn’t communicate with most of the crowd could possibly have to say.

And then I read. I could hear my voice projecting through the speakers down the alley and into the apartments. Most of the kids had no idea what was happening. They fidgeted a lot and occasionally looked up at me to see the pictures. After I finished the story, I had to come up with questions about what I just read. “Who told Mary she was going to have a baby?” Silence. “God,” one child quietly answered. “Well, technically, yes…but…” I trailed off. “Okay, how about another question..Why do we celebrate Christmas?” I asked. “God,” another child answered. After what seemed like hours, we were finally able to coax the kids into giving the right answers and gave away all the prizes. A wave of relief came over me and the neighbors clapped and cheered for me.

Before I left, I sat at the sidelines to take it all in. Neighbors went and got food. Kids ran around and looked at the nativity scene. People smiled at me and I smiled back at them. I had left the comfort of my behind-the-scenes job at the Store with the rest of the Mika staff to stand in front of a crowd of native Spanish speakers who I hardly knew. They had invited me– insisting that I re-arrange my schedule so I could be there– to put me in a leadership position in their community. I realized what an honor it was to be a trusted part of their lives although we have so little in common. However, that which we do have in common– the desire to be in community despite our obvious differences– brought us together. I was refreshed, and suddenly going back to finish cleaning the Christmas Store didn’t seem so daunting.

Mikkele Bringard

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower website by clicking here.

Visit the Kingdom Causes Bellflower blog by clicking here.

Transformation In Sierra Vista

Last year I had the privilege of working with John and Alice De Haan.  John read about Asset Based Community Development and was like a child in a candy store.   He called Jay the CRWRC North American Team leader asking for help.  Jay gave him resources which he quickly devoured.  He was so excited because he wanted to see Sierra Vista transformed and saw ABCD as the way to do it.

Sierra Vista is about an hour east of Tucson It is spread out over 150 miles of beautiful desert.  It is at an elevation of 4,623 feet.  Surrounded by mountain ranges the Huachuca Mountains are the closest and are always lush with vegetation.  Sierra Vista has a disproportionate amount of college graduates and is a magnet for retirees.  In recent years however it, like other cities, it has also experienced a disproportionate number of criminal activities.  In past years, investors bought land in the unincorporated areas of town to provide affordable rent to Army personnel.  As the town grew the mobile home parks became part of the city.  Low income folks along with parolees were attracted to the mobile home parks because of the affordable rent.

About a year ago, John and Alice helped convene five area churches for training in ABCD.  Part of the training involved participants doing a door to door ABCD interview.  After they overcame their initial fears they went out in groups of three.  Members from the Bible Way Community Church went to a neighboring mobile home park.  They came back surprised that people they did not know were not only willing to talk to them but wanted them to stay and visit.  They found in the residents of the mobile home park, friends relieved that people cared.

So the Bible Way church members made a commitment to work with the residents in the mobile home park.  As they did, they found the mobile home park owner also relieved that they were willing to help.  They made incredible progress but also found it difficult to stay connected with everyone because people moved.

Myrina finding it difficult to see people move became overwhelmed.  She  was getting tired of working in the church, her job, and community organizing.

John invited Stan Rowland, CRWRC Arizona partner and I back for a visioning time with new leaders and some of the leaders that participated in the training we did a year ago.

Myrina came.  She expressed her disappointment with finding new leaders when old leaders leave. However when participants in the class wondered about going door to door, she came alive.  She shared the story of the mobile home park where her church worked.

“The second day we came out to the park and walked into a 30 man brawl” she said.  But as we began to meet the people and began to build trust, the violence stopped.  They began to clean up.

When you go out there it is much like dating, you can’t expect to kiss on the first date, she said.  Everyone laughed.  You have to build trust with the people.  The park is not the same park.  A good and bad thing is that the owner decided to sell the park to the residents.  Not all the resident can afford to buy.  But either way we experienced incredible transformation.  This time has fired me up to keep working on community transformation, Myrina exclaimed in testimony fashion.

With that other participants got excited as well.  Golden Acres is a mobile home park near the church where we held the training.  Yvonne, a participant at the training encouraged the church leaders to come and work in this park.  At the end of our training leaders committed to implementing church initiated community transformation in Sierra Vista.  The residents are beginning to get a picture of community transformation in Sierra Visa.

East Portland and ABCD

Since the early 80’s, the City of Portland (Oregon) has annexed a lot of unincorporated land. Much of this land is on the east side of Portland. Today East Portland is made up of over 200,000 residents, living in 13 designated Neighborhood Associations.

The effect (planned or otherwise) has been an accelerated gentrification phenomena have occurred. Many within the north‐central portions of Portland have been “priced” out of affordable housing. Many have found the cheaper housing stock in East Portland their only option, and have moved there.

With such rapid socio‐economic changes, a number of East Portland’s neighborhoods have come under great pressures, often negative. The transitory nature brought on by the “rental industry” has fueled instability, non‐ownership, irresponsibility, etc. Drugs, crime, fragmentation, fear, declining home values, plus have been the result in a number of the 13 neighborhoods.

Nothing new when it comes to unmitigated, uncontrolled gentrification.

However, the City of Portland is keenly aware of what is happening. Not always making the best policy decisions, they yet are trying hard to address the issues. However, the City of Portland is keenly aware of what is happening. Not crisis to the east. One very positive initiative has been the city funding the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO). Under the very imaginative leadership of its Executive Director, Richard Bixby, this alliance of 13 Neighborhood Association Directors, has begun to  embark on a journey that seeks “citizen solutions” the A‐B‐C‐D way!

One of our brethren, Mike VanderVeen (Parklane CRC), through his work within his own Hazelwood Neighborhood Association in East Portland, shared the ABCD “story”. He began to describe the value of using Asset‐Based Community Development strategies that rely upon the local citizen’s dreams for positive futures. He outlined how the community can rally around the multitude of local assets (skills, abilities, education, resources) that can be put to work to make dreams reality.

Richard Bixby began to hear about this new concept – ABCD. He loved it!

He particularly sees the key essential of building up the capacity of local energies at the block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood levels, as central to creating sustainability conditions. ABCD starts at the grassroots, works outward, every so slowly often, but eventually arriving at a place where there are sufficient residents, businesses and associations that are empowered so as to internally guide their own affairs short and long term.

Today, VanderVeen and Bixby are hosting a weekly “ABCD Reading Group”. Many from the 13 Neighborhood Associations attend. Many ideas and initiatives are coming from this. One is to enhance the current the Small and Simple Neighborhoods Grant program, so as to require the applicant entity to show proof they have formed substantive collaborative links with other groups or organizations in the area of the short term project. This will push the applicant to think broader and act in a more inclusive way, to make positive things happen in their area.

Another real cool thing that has developed from all this, is that the EPNO will very likely host an AmeriCorps position starting this coming fall. This position will serve to accelerate the ABCD portfolio of EPNO, spending a lot of effort connecting and networking with a growing group of active citizens. From such connection‐making, we believe a wide variety of citizen initiatives will form that work on building community and developing positives throughout the place and people in East Portland.

California Pastors Search for Keys to Community

What is the role of the Church in the world? That’s a big question. A group of Northern California CRC pastors meet regularly to discuss an even tougher question: How do I make my church relevant in my own community and neighborhood…how can I help my congregation to show the love, mercy, and justice of God in my own city or town?

George Montoya, Northwest Regional Church and Community Consultant for the CRWRC, serves as facilitator, and guide for a group of pastors from the Bay Area and Merced that has no name. It “started with George and I, Dave Nederhood (Alameda), and Layne Kilbreath (Walnut Creek) getting together to talk about community development practices and how they can be used by churches,” says Dan Hutt, a pastor for a CRC congregation in Palo Alto. The group has grown to include Brad Smith (San Jose) and Andy Vanden Akker (Merced).

Vanden Akker laughs over the nameless group, and takes a stab at it when he stated, “It’s an informal think tank of colleagues thinking about ministry in 21st century. How do we extend the love of Jesus to our communities in an age and world where evangelism has taken on a different meaning than loving our neighbors on the other side of town?”

The central focus for the group is based around reading and discussing “Communities First,” a publication of the CRWRC. Montoya says, “We’re all asking the same kinds of questions about community. So we got together to share ideas relative to what each pastor is doing to implement community development concepts with their churchs.”

Each pastor has been working on projects in their community. Kilbreath works in a food pantry in a poor, Hispanic neighborhood of Concord, CA. Nederhood’s congregation runs the Crossroads Coffee Shop in Alameda. Vanden Akker’s congregation works to help create community in some apartment buildings as well as work with parolees.

The common thread each faces is the disconnect between the way we think about community engagement and the fact that our churches are in middle class communities. Unfortunately, most community-building models designed for helping under-resourced neighborhoods somehow do not scale to middle class communities and neighborhoods and to our middle class churches where “Missions” are in third world countries, not across the street.

“How do we connect with neighbors in a deeper way,” that’s our main topic explained Montoya. “Being salt and light forces us to think more deeply about how we practice purity and live in proximity to a fallen world. If we don’t do both then we get stuck in pietism or separatism on the one hand, and potentially secular activism on the other. We need to find a way to live in proximity to a fallen world, to connect with our surrounding community, and yet be true to holy living.”

“I’ve come to understand that I need to think more about the needs of the people around us,” said Hutt. “I don’t have to drive to the other side of the tracks to meet people who have needs. They live across the street. Frail elderly, frazzled two-job families with latchkey kids that don’t have a safe place to play are very prevalent in our neighborhoods.” Hutt sums up, “So how does our faith speak to our own communities where even neighborliness has collapsed.”

“All of us are working in poor communities in need. Yet, we always come back to the dilemma that the denominational priority for working in poor neighborhoods does not translate because most CRC churches simply are located somewhere else,” explained Kilbreath. “What we’ve learned from Communities First and meeting with George is that it’s easier to reach down where it doesn’t require relationships than it is to reach across that requires neighbor-hooding, as well as working on personal and structural relationships.”

According to Montoya, “Churches have become irrelevant to their surrounding communities. Most congregants commute to their churches and few live in the surrounding neighborhood.  The church has become disconnected with the neighborhood and it would not notice if the church closed.  There ought to be a way for churches to connect and work together with a middle-class neighborhood or community on a ‘parish’ vision that offers both salt and light.”

Ice Cream Chat

Horizon Community Church of Downer’s Grove knows the importance of listening to their community and what better way to do that than over ice cream?  Inspired by Asset Based Community Development Horizon CC is actively seeking out opportunities for listening conversations with their Prentiss Creek neighbors, the 700 unit apartment complex that border’s the church.  Horizon co-hosted with the manager of Prentiss Creek an ice cream social where neighbors were encouraged to talk with each other concerning current issues going on in the neighborhood.

Through this ice cream social neighbors were able to connect, many for the first time.  Horizon was not sure how many to expect for this event but numbers did not turn out to be an issue as Megan Johnson, the AmeriCorps member of Horizon, said “we left both doors open and people just kept coming!”  Everyone who came was excited to talk about the numerous possibilities for Prentiss Creek and how they might be involved.

Maple Mothers Care

I’ve been working at the Maple Community Center through Americorps for six months now, in the first stages of Community Development, and it’s been a frustrating journey to say the least. It seems to me that people in this particular community care just enough to raise awareness but not enough to create a change. But I have a feeling that won’t be the case for much longer.
Glenda Thompson, the principal of Maple Elementary School, invited those of us that work at the Maple Community Center to participate at a weekly mothers’ meeting. At this meeting, we asked the mothers what they thought of their neighborhood and the answers were almost identical. They were all concerned with the community’s problems with gangs and violence.
Their children in elementary school are the next generation of recruits in this community’s local gang. With the withdrawal of the City’s After School Programs for teens in the Maple Community Center, and the lack of activities for the teens in the community altogether, these mothers were almost pretty much willing to accept their children’s fate and hope for the best.
So we introduced them to Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD believes that each and every person in the community is a valuable asset, and through relationships, the community can unite and create one powerful voice that can translate in action.
Along the lines of the popular saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” we explained this approach to the mothers and asked if they were willing to give it a try. I’m not going to lie, nobody jumped in excitement, but they all agreed.
About a month and a half later, we revisited the group of mothers. This time we came to ask them to take action and take a step towards ABCD. We gave them suggestions on how they could initiate a community-wide call for unison. And so from this meeting, the mothers, 17 of them, came up with the idea of a potluck picnic at Lemon Park, where the Maple Community Center is located.  This is a great first step because it puts them in the driver’s seat. As it’s a potluck, everybody that comes on that day is contributing to the event, and by default, it becomes a community event.
I’d like to mention one mother in particular. Her name is Suzy Hernandez. She is a long-time resident of this community, the PTA president at Maple Elementary School and an active community activist.
From the first time I met her, I admired her energy and dedication to the community. Not only was she present at the weekly mothers’ meeting, but she was also present at the city council meetings to help fight for the preservation of the community’s artistic murals. She has embraced the ABCD approach and welcomed it as a positive necessary change. I have no doubt that Suzy is living out her purpose and loving through actions.
And that to me is a reason to stay faithful and trust God for He is definitely present among us in the Maple community.

Daniel Hwang, Maple Community Development Associate

From Member to Director

Tracey was a 2 year AmeriCorps member. She moved into her neighborhood, interviewed residents to discover their gifts and their dreams about what makes a great community.

She served in a neighborhood food pantry (to meet people); She organized an amazing community event that celebrated residents gifts/talents. She organized basketball games in the cul de sac, youth activities in the neighborhood; She gathered residents to engage them in what they could with what they had to make the neighborhood stronger (more ownership), better (cleaner, prettier, safer).

After two years of great service to her neighbors, her organization (Heights of Hope) asked her to become their new executive director. Among other things, Tracey now supervises additional AmeriCorps volunteers who are advancing the work of community development – neighbors creating a better tomorrow, using what they have.

Visit Heights of Hope’s website by clicking here.

New Orleans Church Intervenes with the Concerns of Community Senior Citizens

Residents of the greater New Orleans area are still facing the rebuilding and restoration phases due to the catastrophic hurricane, Katrina. However, seniors of the Marine and Mt. Moriah ministries, neighboring churches and citizens of the community, are finding strategic ways to cope with the devastation.  The “Senior Citizens Ministry,” headed by Sis. Carolyn Lewis is taking the community by storm by catering to the needs of the senior citizens. “Working with the seniors brings joy to my heart. I often find myself relating to each one of them on different levels. It’s a true blessing,” Sis. Lewis said.

The senior citizens meets at the Marine and Mt. Moriah ministries, located at 3034 Andover St. every Tuesday and Thursday for some personal time “away from the storms of life.” From 10a.m. until 1p.m., the senior citizens participate in thorough exercises to keep their bodies healthy. “Coach Bobby Floyd, is our man when it comes to keeping our bodies in-shape,” said, Sis. Sedonia Doty, a member of the Marine and Mt. Moriah ministries since January of 2006. The senior citizens also partake in a hardy breakfast prepared by other members in the ministry.

The senior citizens also play Bible bingo, have prayer, have mini-discussion sessions about their husbands, children, grandchildren and for some, great-grandchildren and discussions about the cost of milk, bread and meat. The citizens have also found themselves in discussions about what preparations are being made for these senior citizens and the rebuilding of their homes. To ease the pain, they often find themselves singing old Baptist hymns like, “Blessed Assurance.” However, the day does not end there for the seniors.

“We eat good,” Sis. Doty said. “On holidays, we have a special lunch prepared for us and sometimes, we even treat ourselves out to lunch.”  Trips outside of the community and state are often a ‘breath of fresh air’ for Sis. Eunice Nero. “I love it when we ride on the church van for our little shopping sprees,” Sis. Nero said. “Most churches or pastors wouldn’t even take the time out to do these things for the elders of the church,” Sis. Doty said. “I have personally experienced being pushed to the side at other churches”, said Sis. Doty.

Furthermore,  the man behind all of this, is never hard to find for a hug, a smile or even joining the senior citizens for lunch. Elder Donald L. Robinson, Jr., is the pastor of the Marine and Mt. Moriah Ministries, who has a passion for the livelihood of his congregants. “Our pastor is young and he is a man who wants to see something different in the community. Most pastors want their senior citizens to just sit in the back and make no noise, but our pastor wants to see how we can also give back to the community and to other seniors” said Sis. Doty. “

Gulf Region Organizations Partner to Host a Community Transformation Workshop

Clergy and community leaders from around the Gulf Region participated in a one-day workshop, titled Community Development and Transformation, convened by the Faith & Community Development Institute & Desire Street Ministries. Twenty-four leaders participated in group discussions and were given tools to engage churches and neighborhood organizations in community rebuilding.

Although traditional methods of community missions have some merit, each participant was introduced to Asset Based Community Development & Communities First tools.  A primary objective of the workshop was to begin conversations about moving from short-term community relief work to long-term engagement that can help empower their neighborhoods for positive change.

For Pastor David Jones, of Jackson, Mississippi, education in community restructuring and reformation is vital. Jones, pastor of House of Joy and Praise located in Doodleville, a small neighborhood inside of Jackson, attended the workshop in hopes of gathering information necessary to restore the area in which he pastors. According to Jones, “problems with crime, lack of health care and recreational facilities for area youth have long plagued the neighborhood. Because of this, the community is unstable and in almost constant distress. We are planning a community health clinic to address some of those needs, but I feel there is more to it than just a health clinic.”

Workshop attendee Aimee George attended the workshop for two purposes. She attended for her church and as the Jefferson Parish Community Development Block Grants Administrator.  Aimee said, “As a Block Grant Administrator, I see  how organizations get grants to do programs, but once the money runs out(in most cases within a year) the program completely shuts down or ends. My usual thought processes for them closing was about the basic struggles of running programs. They either lacked the resources, organizational capacity, or leadership wasn’t effective. But know I see that people and institutions need to shift their methods to an asset approach.”

Senior Apartments Becoming a Reality

During the depths of the Great Depression, a group of Baptist ministers led by Isaiah Vincent began buying land for an apartment building where seniors could live out their waning years without worrying about high rents and unscrupulous landlords.

Those ministers never managed to find the money to build the place, but Vincent passed the dream on to his son-in-law and his grandson after that — all of them pastors of New Home Missionary Baptist Church. Seventy years after that dream was conceived, his grandson has finally made it real.

The Rising Sun Missionary Baptist Association, a coalition of churches founded by Vincent and led by his grandson, W.H. Jenneford, recently began building 33 apartments for seniors who are able to live on their own but cannot afford the inflated rents that have prevailed across the city since Hurricane Katrina.

“When people come to a certain age, it becomes difficult for those who do not own their own property to pay to take care of that responsibility,” Jenneford said. “You find in many instances that when people become elderly, they also become the extreme poor.”

While the goal of helping distressed seniors remained constant across three generations, today the Rising Sun apartments might also serve as a spark plug for the surrounding blocks in the Lower 9th Ward, where seemingly few residents have managed to return since the storm.

James Neville, the developer working with the ministers, said the Rising Sun association might move in the future to rehabilitate some of the vacant houses across the street from the apartments, located at 1420 Charbonnet St.

“It’s kind of empty now,” Neville said. “We’re hopeful that we’re going to act as a catalyst for that neighborhood. Once it gets built and we start moving tenants in, we hope things will begin to take off.”
Neville, president of Neville Development, said the building would rise three stories and consist entirely of new construction. All of the apartments are one-bedrooms or efficiencies that will rent for about $350 to $400 a month — no more than 30 percent of a resident’s annual income.

While the ministers endeavored for years to raise money through their congregations, much of the financing for the project will come from low-income housing tax credits through the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency. A company called the Richman Group will purchase the tax credits, and Fannie Mae will serve as one of the end users of the credits.

The developer has also applied for a $475,000 grant from the city of New Orleans.

Jenneford said this week that he is elated to fulfill his grandfather’s vision for the apartments, which he expects to open later this year.

Winton Community Pride Day

I have lived in Winton for many years and as a community member it always bothered me that the MAC (the local advisory body and representative to the County) seemed to be very inward focused. So, when I became an AmeriCorps worker I decided that I wanted to be part of the MAC and see how we can work together to see change happen in the community.

Last year Winton LifeLine Community Center sponsored a Fall Festival. I (Ernie) coordinated the event, we had Gateway Community Church from Merced provide games for the children, a young Christian artist from Merced provide music, and numerous service organizations came out for a wonderful event that drew the whole community together.

We were asked if we would have another fall event and having gone through various training from ABCD and AmeriCorps I realized that we should not be in charge of it again, so I referred it to the MAC to see if they want to sponsor the event this year.

Well it worked. We partnered with the Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) for the first Winton Community Pride Day.  Several of the board members jumped at the idea, one board member offered his community hall free of charge, one person took care of delegating various jobs to the members of the board and I ended up only with one task: to get community organizations involved.

I asked one of the local churches to provide games and craft projects for the children, a business provided the food, LifeLine gave out winter coats and through a grant was able to provide Food Vouchers to the local grocery store. Community organizations came out to show their services. Businesses provided door prizes.

Over 250 people showed up that day and enjoyed getting to know their community better, ate pizza and realized that they do care about the community!

Ernie Solis

Wrapping, Tea and Apples

One incredible part of my job is that I am often a bridge or link. At Christmastime that usually means that I am the connection between those that have the gifts and those that need the gifts. The best way that our community has figured out to bridge this is through The Christmas Store. Those that have the gifts bring them to one location that we set up like a store. Those that need the gifts are invited to come and shop, to pick out the gifts that they want to give their family. There is music and crafts for the kids and volunteers gift wrapping. It is a great day for our community.

It wasn’t always like that though. The first two years were a lesson in putting others first and learning to serve one another. There was jealousy among neighbors and sneakiness and tricks to get the best stuff. One year we even had a full blown fist fight. This year instead of trying to serve our neighbors, we brought them in as partners. Neighborhood leaders were on the planning committee. They had lots of feedback and suggestions from years past. They worked for three months setting up processes, selecting families, and developing systems that were fair and honoring. We had a vision of what we wanted the Christmas Store to look like and we worked toward it together.

We saw the vision realized: 100-ish volunteers, 23 bags of trash, 18 shopping shifts, 6 churches, 4 business sponsors, 1 giant wreath and 102 happy families carrying gifts home. It worked. It worked better because we did it together- start to finish.

In the morning we all took our places, church volunteers, neighborhood leaders and staff. I went to greet one of our neighborhood leaders in the wrapping department. She told me how beautiful the store looked and we chatted. Then she grabbed my shoulders and with tears in her eyes told me that her son was deported last night. He will not be with them for Christmas. “What are you doing here, I exclaimed?” “I came to serve my neighbors,” she said as someone plopped a gift down in front of her. She pulled the paper over and began wrapping. As I watched her I realized that The Christmas Store is a gift in many ways. This year her gift was not in getting the presents but in having the opportunity to serve others. In her own pain, it was better to have a way to reach out, then to be sitting at home with her grief. She was glad to be there.

We often say it is better to give than to receive, yet we always want to have the best gift- the giving gift. If the saying is really true, then we are giving a gift when we invite others to give. Giving the opportunity to give can be the most needed gift. My neighbor felt better knowing that she had something to offer besides her grief and need.

In all our planning and running around I had to drop a check off with another neighbor. It was a joint effort to pay her rent this month and a couple of donors had come through. I wanted to get the check to her on time but I was in a hurry. So much so that I called as I pulled up and asked her to come out to the car to meet me. As I pulled in I saw her rushing out with a pink mug and an apple. “Here”, she said, “I know you’re running around. You’ll need some food.” She handed me some hot tea and the apple. I knew that she had nothing and yet wanted to give something. On that day, at that hurried moment; hot tea and an apple were exactly what I needed. I received them gratefully and saw her joy when she realized that I really did want them. I devoured the apple as we chatted and left with my pink mug and grateful heart.

It is a privilege for me to play a part in giving to others and I am finding a deep contentment in recognizing my need for my neighbors. There is a great harmony is mutuality and our need for each other. They give me gifts I didn’t even know I needed and I hope that in graciously receiving, I am giving them a gift as well.

Crissy Brooks
Crissy Brooks is the executive director of MIKA Community Development Corporation. To learn more about MIKA visit their website by clicking here.

Click here to view Crissy’s Blog.

Dream Growth: A New Community Center

by Tracy Forbes – Executive Dir., Heights of Hope, Holland, MI

Three years ago I became an Americorps volunteer and a part of the Stratford Way/Abbey Court neighborhood in Holland.

I had a desire to help the neighbors and to organize the community.  So one of the first things I started doing was inviting neighbors over to my place for coffee, potlucks, and random get togethers because to really help your neighbors you have to get to know them first.

People started coming and it didn’t take long to realize that our group was growing, and it was less than a year before we outgrew my tiny apartment.  Throughout this year I repeatedly heard people say that they thought the churches were doing some nice things, but that they were too far away, especially during the winter.  Again and again I heard the phrase “It would be nice if…”.

I didn’t waste any time in letting the board know that it would be nice if we could begin to dream about a community center, so we put it on our ten year plan.  Two years later, a landlord agreed to let us rent one of his vacant apartments.  Two of the neighbors and I went to look at it, and even though it was an upstairs unit we decided it was a small start to a big dream.

After a few months in the upstairs, the landlord found a downstairs unit in the perfect location.  The neighbors have spent several weeks decorating and cleaning it and getting ready to introduce it to the neighborhood.  The facility will be opened to activities from the community churches, neighborhood meetings and gatherings, classes, and events for the neighborhood kids.  We look forward to watching our dream continue to grow!

Teen Talents of Rogers Park

When AmeriCorps worker Katherine Vincent from Neighbors United in New Possibilities asked four teens of Rogers Park how they wanted to spend their summer they responded with two words, talent show.  They wanted to show their neighborhood that the teens had talent and things they could contribute to the community.

Rogers Park, like many neighborhoods in Chicago, is experiencing the sting of gentrification.  More and more people from outside of the community are purchasing condos and moving in causing friction between the home owners and renters in the neighborhood.  The teens hoped this celebration of talent would bring everyone out, owners and renters, to see the fun and unique talents of their community.

The summer was filled with planning and organizing.  The teens went around their community to see who could contribute to this event.  Churches donated staging and food, a local DJ loved the idea and donated his time and sound equipment.  After weeks of organizing, publicizing and practice the day of the talent show arrived.  Hosted by one of the teens the show included singers, rappers, and dancers.  People from all over the neighborhood came out to celebrate together with great food and great talent.

During the celebrations the police came out to see what all the noise was about thinking they were going to find some type of altercation going on.  However they were delighted to find such a peaceful and happy celebration that had all of the legal permits to be there!

The talent show was a success.  Neighbors were able to meet each other, fellowship together and rejoice in the talent of the youth.  There have already been requests for the 2nd annual Rogers Park talent show.

Diaconal Network ESL

Al Santino, NECT Director

This September, the Community Diaconal Network launched an English as a Second Language (ESL) class which is being hosted by Unity Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Prospect Park, New Jersey.

The Community Diaconal Network is a collaboration of churches and organizations seeking to bring the deeds of the Gospel to the Haledon‐Prospect Park community through ministries of mercy and development. The Network came together in 2007 as a result of a series of meetings facilitated by Al Santino, Director of Northeast Community Transformation (NECT).

There are several Christian Reformed churches as well as two affiliated community organizations in or near the towns of Haledon and Prospect Park. As we met together, we soon realized that bringing together volunteers, resources and community relationships could have a significant impact on the well‐being of these two towns. The current Network members are: Bridgeway Community Church, Unity CRC, Covenant CRC, New Horizon CRC, Good Shepherd CRC/Apoyo Community Center and New Hope Community Ministries.

The ministries are participating in the ESL program in a variety of ways, such as publicity (including inviting people already participating in their ministries), teaching, conversation practice, hosting and child care. There are currently eight students divided into basic and intermediate classes.

Guillermo, who lives in Prospect Park, is from Costa Rica and has been in the US for six years. He runs a business from his home and works long hours. As I spoke with him, I sensed his zeal and joy to learn English. He wants to learn English “for communication, my job and my children… and I need to practice.”

Bill Reitsma, of Unity CRC, is coordinating the ESL program. He describes the benefits of the NECT‐fostered Diaconal Network: “Networking with ministry partners brings greater resources to the ESL program making it more efficient and effective. And I think most importantly it is exposes both the participants and the volunteers to meaningful ministry experiences. The more people whose lives are touched on both sides of the program, the more opportunity for seeing God work. This builds energy for more ministry.”

Indeed, the Network has plans to expand into other areas of community service such as citizenship classes, working with the New Hope women’s mentoring program and reaching out to other churches and organizations for partnership.

From Recipient to Participant: New Hope Women’s Support Group

By Anyelis Diaz

Sometimes God uses our needs to have us serve others.

That is the case of Alicia. When Alicia and her husband Hector moved to Haledon, New Jersey from Houston, Texas, they were without jobs, family or friends. Alicia, an immigrant housewife dedicated to her special need child Frankie, and her unemployed husband were having a very difficult time. Alicia didn’t speak much English and couldn’t work because of her legal status.

Soon after arriving in Haledon, Alicia heard about New Hope Community Ministries and she went to ask for help. Alicia says that at New Hope she not only received some financial relief but also holistic nourishment. She also discovered her gift as a mentor. Alicia always had a passion for serving in her native country of Argentina but she never thought she could serve by mentoring. Not long after her first participation with New Hope, Alicia became part of the women’s support group.

Her family’s difficult time was an illustration of how God works in each of our lives. Alicia and her family were struggling financially and emotionally but her desire to help others was bigger than her situation.

Alicia is not only a women’s mentor; she is encouraging families that are struggling just like hers. Alicia is compassionate and patient and a good listener. She takes her volunteer job very seriously. She has never missed a food pantry distribution and she’s always there to meet the families that she mentors. Alicia is taking an ESL class and is in the process of obtaining citizenship. She keeps mentoring women and families at New Hope and most of all Alicia keeps serving the Lord by serving others.

Justice Education: Walking the Micah Road

By Dave Zuiema, Covenant CRC Deacon & NECT Administrator

For several years now, the GEMS Girls Club ministry has been feeling the ‘Call to Africa’. As their awareness has grown, so has their calling — to the point that GEMS national leadership chose “Walk the Micah Road” as the theme for their ministry year, based on Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk numbly with your God.”

Part of that theme will be a “Micah Road  Experience” walk‐a‐thon fundraiser in the Spring of 2009. However, GEMS leaders in the northeast and mid‐Atlantic states saw an opportunity to use the event to set the tone at the beginning of this ministry year.

On Saturday, October 18, approximately 250 people (half of which were GEMS members, some from as far away as Virginia!) took part in the first Micah Road Experience at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The core of the experience was 3 booths which challenged walkers to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Hands‐on lessons about how poverty affects everyday life and death challenged walkers to consider the justice implications of Western affluence, and think about how they could make a difference
for others.

In addition, GEMS leaders invited local, regional and national service ministries to come, reinforcing for walkers that God provides ample opportunities to serve.

Approximately $3500 was collected for local and national GEMS activities, with over $1100 going toward the Esther School which GEMS is sponsoring in Zambia, Africa.

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