Sunday Dinners

Kristy Wallace is an AmeriCorp member serving in the West Coconut Grove Community in Miami, Fl.  She arrived in Miami in 2009 from Virginia by way of Chicago to become part of the Urban Resurrection team.  She grew up in an Air Force household on a military base where she first learned the value of community living.  She truly believes in the work that Urban Resurrection is doing in the West Coconut Grove community and feels privileged to be a part of the community there.  I coach and mentor Kristy on Community Development and Community Organizing.  Community Development is often referred to as both an Art and a Science, and the best community developers are those that strike a good balance in these two “seemingly” polar opposites.  The “Art” form is in the ability to create and maintain caring individual relationships.  The “Science’ is in seeking or creating opportunities for the individual relationships to transform or mature into “communal” relationships; where visions and desires for a better community life can begin to take shape.  As I continue to coach and mentor Kristy I can see how she strives to find that balance.   The following story is a glimpse of how she’s doing that in her neighborhood.

Bring on the crowds…
Back in November, our home hosted a barbeque and movie night in our backyard.  We left a flyer with every home on our street and the surrounding streets inviting them to participate and contribute to the event.  We were blown away as each and every person that we spoke with expressed excitement at the idea of bringing together all of the neighbors for such an event.  The week before the big event, we eagerly prepared our home and reminded neighbors as we came in contact with them.  On the day of the event, we set out the tables, fired up the grill, put on the music, opened the gate, and waited for the crowds to arrive.  Well … although we had some of our neighbors show, the crowds never arrived.  The day wasn’t a waste but it was not what we expected.

Fast forward three months…
Over the Christmas holiday, I made door-to-door deliveries of homemade cookies to neighbors.  Although this activity was of a much smaller scale than our first attempt at connecting with neighbors, it proved to be effective.  In following weeks, there were many inquiries about the next batch of cookies and even offers to purchase ingredients to expedite the process.  I’ll never forget the day “Cliff” came up to the car as we drove by with excitement in his voice and said, “I got the chocolate chips!”  Who would have thought that young men hanging on the corner until the wee hours of the morning would be so interested in homemade cookies?

The cookies broke the ice leading to conversation among our neighbors about ways in which we could gather together as a community.  Although we were invited, Elaina and I were not going to hang on the corner drinking with the fellas every weekend; we needed a different venue that would be appropriate for all ages.  The solution… old school “Sunday Dinner” like grandma used to do.  We come together every week at our home to share a meal in which each neighbor has mutually contributed to the planning and preparation.

Sunday Dinners have carried on for about seven weeks now.  Each week, dinner looks a little different; one week it might be good conversation over plates of spaghetti, the next it might be an engaging movie with a helping of chili, and the next week might be intense card games with a side of tender ribs covered in barbeque sauce.  What I see at our dinners is that neighbors look after one another’s children, serve each other plates of food to ensure everyone has enough, and clean up after one another so the burden is not on a select few.  No only are they…no…we caring for one another in the most basic ways, but every interaction from meal preparation to table set up to meal clean up has become an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation about transformation of our community.

During our most recent dinner, we first filled their bellies then focused our attention on the task of planning the upcoming “Easter Sunday Dinner”.  Each neighbor expressed a desire to make this dinner extra special with a traditional meal and fun activities for the kids.  Facilitating this planning process was a lot of fun where I was able to see the gifts, talents, and interests of each neighbor come out as we discussed the roles they would play in making the dinner a success.  We got Cliff and “Nathan” on the kids’ games, “Kevin” and Cliff on the egg decorating, Elaina and Erika on the meats, Asquith and Lu on the potatoes/sweet potatoes, and so forth.

In the midst of our planning, there was a side conversation being carried on which quickly became a loud debate.  Back and forth each party passionately made their point.  When the volume came down and the discussion was over, it was clear that the love remained.  Sunday Dinners have actually become a place of honest discussion, familial security, and unconditional love.  That’s what I’m talking’ ‘bout!

By Kristi Wallace-AmeriCorp Member Miami, Fl

All Nations Church Looks to Apply ABCD

All Nations Church, as their name implies, has a heart to share Jesus with everyone in their community. Lead pastor, Brian Forrester says, “Since Jesus has changed our lives, our passion is to impact our city – and beyond – with the message that he died for our sins and rose again.”

Pastor Brian and All Nations Church are committed to being a transforming presence in their neighborhood and throughout our Virginia Peninsula community. They know this means more than sharing the words of the message of Jesus. Their desire is to make a Kingdom difference in the lives of their neighbors. It has been this desire on their part that has brought me into a growing relationship with pastor Brian and the All Nations Church family.

Over the better part of the last year I have come to know Brian as he has hosted a monthly community Pastors Prayer gathering. His desire is for the Body of Christ to care for one another, to worship God together and to serve our communities alongside each other. As I have attended these meetings I have been able to meet many other likeminded brothers and sisters in Christ. This has laid a relational foundation for introducing the concept of ABCD in our community.

While attending ABCD training with Jay Van Groningen in Cleveland in December, 2009, I often thought of Pastor Brian and All Nations Church as being people already having this heart for their neighborhood and surrounding communities. Since then, Brian and I have prayed about and discussed the possibility of applying ABCD in our community. I am happy to say that we are currently in the process of developing our Memorandum of Agreement for applying the ABCD approach in his church and community. He and his church leadership have made the commitment to be coached by me over the next year.

Our greatest challenge is that we are all new to ABCD. The good news is that we are willing and eager to let God use us and we are looking forward to learning how to apply ABCD in our community.

For more information on All Nations Church visit their website: http://www.allnationschurch.org/

A Community Easter Egg Hunt

The Harriett Tubman community has historically been a community of “to” and “for” activities and programs.  A good example would be a year ago in the Spring of 2009, Hope for the Inner City sponsored an Easter Egg hunt “for” the children of the community.  It was a well attended event and those who came, both children and adults, enjoyed themselves.

Fast forward to February 2010, Jerry Woods, the AmeriCorps representative with Hope for the Inner City, holds a monthly convening with the officers of the Harriett Tubman resident association to discuss what issues they care most about for their community.  A central theme from meeting centered around the children in the community and the fact that the residents would like to have more positive activities and events for the youth to be involved.  One of the residents inquired about the annual Easter Egg hunt and it was decided in the meeting that if there was going to be a successful event for the children that the residents needed to drive the process to make it happen.

Jerry helped plan the event “with” the residents of the neighborhood association.  One of the first positive actions the residents took was to engage the help of the county commissioner who represents the area of town where Harriett Tubman is located.  The residents began meeting with the county commissioner and got his commitment for some financial support from the county to help with the expense of the event.  The residents also contacted local businesses for donations of goods for the event.

The day of the event 14 residents from the community worked the event on behalf of the children in the community.  Instead of the event taking place at the Hope for the Inner City facility, the event was held in the community.  The attendance was very good and the event was a success.  The residents who worked with Jerry Woods to plan and manage the event felt a sense of community pride to know they had worked together on an issue they cared about.

It is the prayer of Hope for the Inner City that the residents of the community use this event as a reminder of what they are capable of accomplishing when they come together as a community on their own behalf.

West Core City Holland: A Community Transformation Story

What Was:

The City of Holland announced it had some funds for community development and specifically they were interested in some alley clean up and beautification. They decided the alley behind my house would be a good one start with. There is a Boys and Girls Club at the end of the alley.

The City sent out announcements and invited residents to a meeting. Several of us showed up. It is interesting who does and who does not show up. Some neighbors did not show up because they were sure their limited English would be a problem and maybe embarrass them. Not a single renter (and there are many) showed up. Mostly they are not willing to invest time, energy and resources into their properties.

During the meeting there was a lot of negativity, lots of stories about kids using the alley for their dope hangout and quickie trysts. Neighbors complained about how disrespectful the youth were when they asked them to move on and quit hanging out there. The Boys and Girls club was blamed, the local alternative high school was blamed (both inaccurately).

The transition:

After showing photos of the alley as it was, the facilitator asked us to dream about what could be. We talked about alternative lighting, alternative porous pavement (water runoff and puddles are a current problem), painting, fencing and more.

The neighbors were having a tough time coming to any kind of consensus. But, then something changed. We began to talk about what could we do… What would we be willing to do, using what we have? We were invited to offer our gifts:

One neighbor said let’s start with an alley clean up. Another said, I’ll make hot dogs, let’s make it a picnic. Another said, I’ll map things that need fixing, Another said, let’s have a cake for Brian and Shannon’s wedding (newly marrieds on the block); And so a preliminary commitment was made to alley clean up and picnic together.

A neighbor group was formed to plan it. And we did it!

The next step:
After the clean up day, a follow up meeting was held to imagine next steps. This meeting immediately degenerated into more blaming and complaining. One neighbor wanted everyone to have the same kind of chain link fence;  Another wanted the city to do fencing and lighting. Another was still carrying bad feelings about youth in the alley.

Someone asked: What can we do using what we have? What a great question! It turned the meeting.
One said: “I can paint”, another said: “I can use my chain saw to take down a couple of the problem trees”; “I can talk to neighbors to see if they want help sprucing up their fence or garage”.  “I can talk to some absentee landlords”. The offers of help were flowing…

The city officials pulled their prior offers of funding from the table. The city budgets were being cut… Their big contribution was to stoke our imaginations with pictures they brought of beautiful alleys from other cities. They helped us begin to imagine the alley as a gathering place, a place for neighbor connections, an extension of our yards and community space. It was a mind shift.

So now we are dreaming about what we could make the alley into, how beautiful it could be, how we could use it for interacting together, how it could be a safe place for kids to play; The most important contribution of the city at this meeting was to stoke our imaginations.

Imagination, with resident gift-giving can transform a place! I’m excited to see neighbors working together, acting on what they care about and making a better community together. I am excited about this opportunity to get to know my neighbors better. When I see them, we now smile, wave, stop and talk and engage. Signs of shalom!

Great Neighbors

Great neighbors make great neighborhoods; Great neighborhoods make great towns and cities:

Sarah is a good neighbor to us. She is friendly, quick to chat. She has work connections that give her insider information about plant sales and she passes that information along to her neighbors. She is a willing helper watching neighbor children for a minute when the mom has to run to the corner grocery. Sarah has willingly given a cup of brown sugar when her neighbor ran out. She shares generously. Sarah has a ladder I need to borrow at times and I have a snow blower she uses. We share quite a few things, making life simpler for both us. When I blow her drive, she brings over fresh baked cinnamon rolls – so good! Sarah is a good neighbor!

There is another level of neighboring. Sarah has helped her neighbors Joe and Rene connect because Rene needed someone to watch her kids get on the school bus in the morning, because she was off to work before the bus came. Joe lives with a disability and is prone to depression. Getting up on time every morning to watch the kids get on the bus helps him get up and start his day with purpose. Sarah is a connector in the neighborhood. She is also finding ways to set the table for neighbors to interact together because neighbors who interact and know each other enjoy their community more. Sarah has offered her home as a place for neighbors to gather. She has organized block parties. Sarah builds the fabric of community.

Sarah has also been active in a community listening. Sarah loves to get neighbors dreaming about making their neighborhood the best it can be. Life here will be more like heaven when… As Sarah discovers what neighbors care about, ect., around common hopes and dreams so they can work together on what they care about. Sarah is a great neighbor because she takes responsibility for the condition of her neighborhood.

  • Communities First Association: Believes great neighbors make great neighborhoods, and great neighborhoods make great towns and cities.
  • Encourages congregations to leave a redemptive imprint in the neighborhood they occupy.
  • Is raising a growing cadre of leaders who are transforming a growing number of communities.

Miracles Wanted:

  • A safe place for kids to go after school
  • Green space
  • For non-resident people who bring trouble, to leave
  • Less gang violence
  • Neighbors who talk to each other, who are nice.
  • Parents working together on summer outings for kids

This is a community group in Bellflower CA who worked together to name and begin organizing residents to change things they wanted to see improved in their neighborhood.

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