Acts of Love

Jim Moynihan – One Church

I met Steve Edwards at a community gathering in the Buckroe area of Hampton, Virginia last summer. We share a heart for the city and a passion to see Jesusʼ Church actively involved in transforming the city for the better.

Since then we have developed a close friendship as we have served together in various ways to impact our communities for Jesus. One of these ways is Steveʼs wife Deniseʼs free lunch to the homeless ministry she leads three days a week. She and her helpers prepare bag lunches that they distribute at two parking lots in downtown Hampton on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. They are distributing about 200 lunches each day.

This photograph was taken on Christmas Day, 2010. I am helping this little guy put his orange into his pocket. We distributed many lunches as well as coats, sweaters, hats and gloves.

Most of those we served are either homeless or live in a low- income housing project across the street form this parking lot.

As we get to know these folks better we hope to invite them to learn about ABCD and to lead them to develop transformational efforts in their neighborhood.

Steve and Denise have developed close relationships with those they serve and with members of the community they have met along the way.

They have been slowly getting to know the management of the low-income housing development and are discussing ways to help them help themselves.

Steve and Denise believe in the ABCD process and are helping me to get the word out to our local churches and communities. We are working together to share this concept with the apartment managers in the hopes of conducting listening sessions soon.

Faith In Action Committee Visions

Al Santino – Northeast Community Transformation

Fordham Manor Reformed Church
By Doncine Kelly, Coordinator

On Nov 4, 2010 Doni Kelly and Margaret Donato attended the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition Leadership Council Meeting as co-chairs for Fordham Manor Reformed Church.  As representatives of Fordham Manor, it was determined that a Faith In Action Committee would be formed at the Church.  The Faith In Action Committee is a bible based self-advocacy group that meets the third Monday of every month, and has dedicated its energy to the betterment of the residents of the neighborhood it serves.  It has become the voice of the Church and the community in regard to housing, employment, and education.

On Nov 18, 2010 The Fordham Manor Reformed Church Faith In Action Committee held its first meeting.  Immediately, landlord-tenant and Dept of Education issues took center stage.  One of the congregants, Rose Rehfield expressed the horrendous conditions in her apartment that her landlord had refused to correct.  The Committee determined that a fact finding mission was in order.  Rose and Amanda Altman, our staff member from NWBCCC, literally tracked the none existent landlord office to the landlord’s home address at which time a letter was sent requesting his immediate attention to the matters at hand as well as to our local politicians.  Within three weeks, not only had the work been done in Rose’s apartment but work had begun throughout the building.  It was a successful resolution to an ongoing problem.

The Dept of Education, in its infinite wisdom, decided to use P.S. 86, one of the best elementary schools in the city, as an experimental project by eliminating the 6th grade class and importing 7th graders.  Because their logic escaped us, we decided to protest along with numerous parents associations, teachers, principals, NWBCCC education staffers and local politicians at the Community Education Council Meeting at P.S. 447 on Thursday, Nov 18, 2010.  At least 300 plus were in attendance.  As a result, the motion was shelved until 2012 at which time we will again present logical, cogent points and principles for why this project should be defeated.  As of this time, we have yet to receive an explanation as to why this was being done.

In the future, the Committee will endeavor to address the following:

FIAC Core Organizing Workshop with Al Santino, Director at Northeast Community Transformation

Four part workshop on organizational skills and application

FIAC Low Income Housing Application Workshop with Marcus Soler FIAC Member & NWBCCC Board Member

Meeting eligibility requirements
Understanding application process
Alternative resources
Information access

Building a Safe Place for Oliver

Judy Van Dyke – Good Samaritan Ministries

Good Samaritan Ministries provides leadership and organizational development for a local nonprofit, 3sixty that recently worked with 80 volunteers to help a family remodel their home for their 4 year old son, Oliver who has been battling neuroblastoma cancer. Parts of the home needed to become germ free for Oliver to live at home after receiving a bone marrow transplant.

After six busy weeks and 800 volunteer hours later the kitchen, stairway, hallway, bathroom and Oliver’s bedroom were all remodeled and ready for him to come home.

3sixty coordinated businesses and individuals that donated time, money, and materials to the project along with many professional builders, electricians, plumber, painters, drywallers and plasterers (most from the neighborhood) that shared their expertise to support the effort. There were many neighbors that came together to work on the project…many meeting for the first time because of their time shared in service. They did everything from demolition, to hanging drywall, to painting, to baking fresh cinnamon rolls for the work crews. Brian Wolthuis, the director of 3sixty was amazed at the generous outpouring from the neighborhood.

“We would have been completely unable to accomplish what we did without the neighborhood and the family’s own community in partnership. I’m thankful for the new friends, neighbors, and fellow servants that I’ve met in the process.” Now Oliver can be in a safe and healthy environment with his family because of the generosity and talents shared by a supportive community of care.

We Can Do Our Part: Youth Build Urban Gardens

Tronn Moller – Faith and Community Development Institute

Lots in the Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans maybe still abandon because of Hurricane Katrina, but its days are quickly coming to an end thanks to youth in the community.  They are turning the abandon lots into urban gardens.

The Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans still has 25 percent of their homes still blighted and 15 percent of the lots are abandoned.  Parlo Perkins, a Youth leader at Desire Street Ministries and resident of the community, said, “When I walk around the Upper 9th Ward, I see work that has been done. But I also see an opportunity for work to be done. Several months ago, we turned a vacant lot into an urban garden and we were excited about what happened. When the vegetables started growing, we really got excited.  That excitement grew into us asking ourselves, what if we took more lots and built more gardens?”

With the assistance of Desire Street Ministries staff and Tronn Moller of the Faith & Community Development Institute, the youth organized, mapped all of the properties on Louisa Street, and then researched to see who the owners were.   Some of the properties were owned by locals, and some of the properties were owned by the City of New Orleans.

The youth contacted the owners of 1706 Louisa and 1540 Louisa and they acknowledged that they weren’t ready to move on rebuilding on the lots. They just didn’t have the resources. The youth shared their vision of planting urban gardens and the property owners agreed to allow them to clean and plant gardens.

The first month of the project, the youth cleared the yards of paper, trash, old tires, and debris.  They reached a roadblock with hauling away the trash, but the City of New Orleans moved quickly to help.  On March 10th, youth volunteers and community leaders turned dirt and planted seeds. After they completed planting, Parlo commented, “I think we are on to something here. We can do our part in rebuilding the community.”

Shut Up, Listen, and Trust: My translation of Psalm 43:10

Wendy McCaig – Embrace Richmond

The community of Hillside Court witnessed three shootings and three murders in the first three weeks of this year.  While Hillside has always been a rough community, this was over the top even for them.  As you can imagine, the community was gripped by fear of their neighbors and equally paralyzed by their distrust of the police.   As we did a community interest survey and asked the residents, “If you had a magic wand and could do anything for your community, what would you do?”, the unanimous response was “Make the neighborhood safer.”

We heard this cry and thought that the right answer was to have greater collaboration between the community and the police so we invited the police to come and share information about a neighborhood watch program.  It became clear very quickly that this was not the right answer at this time for this community.  We heard things like “I am no snitch”, “I don’t ever want to be seen with the police”, and “The only way to stay alive in this place is if you see nothing and say nothing.”

I was baffled. In my neighborhood, if there is a safety issue, you call the police.  I quickly learned that Hillside Court has its own culture and it is a culture driven by fear.  We heard stories of police brutality and harassment and I quickly learned why there was such a high level of distrust by the community.  Most everyone I know in the community has a family member or close friend who is in jail and many have had their own run in with the law.

I thought I had the answer but I clearly heard God saying, “Shut up and listen!” at every turn.

I am thankful to Jay Van Groningen of Communities First Association for his skill and experience in doing community development work.  We decided to use Jay’s approach to hear the community’s answer to this perplexing issue and I was astonished at what I learned.

Two weeks ago we conducted our first public “listening session” in which we gathered concerned citizens together and asked them these questions in this order.  We then recorded their responses on a flip chart.  More than 30 residents showed up to participate.

1.) What do you like best about your neighborhood?  This solicited responses like affordability, senior residents who care for the neighborhood, outside groups like Embrace and local churches that help the community.

2.) If you could wave a magic wand and make your community safer what would you do?  This is where it got really interesting.  It was apparent within a few minutes that the majority of the citizens were concerned not for their own safety but for the safety of the children who are often playing in the streets with no adult supervision.  As we listened, it became obvious that many of the older residents blamed the younger single mothers for not supervising the children.  Thankfully there were several younger single moms in the room who voiced their need for a break and the fact that they had babies and could not possibly care for the babies and watch the older children at the same time.

3.) What are you willing to do to help make the streets safer for the children? We had individuals volunteer to monitor the bus stops, others said they would help build more playgrounds so it would be easier for the moms to see the areas where the children were playing, but the most exciting outcome was a group of older moms and grandmothers who offered to support the young single moms, to help them with their children and to mentor and encourage them.  In total we had 10 people volunteered for specific tasks.

4.) Who is willing to take a leadership role and ensure this all happens?  I think I shocked everyone when I said that Embrace would support the community but that we had no intention of leading the initiative.  This community is so used to having outside groups come in and “do it for them” that though we never indicated that we would, that was the assumption.  There was a moment of tension as everyone looked around the room and then thankfully Patrice boldly raised her hand.  Joe and Debra soon followed and we had our leadership team.

5.) Will the rest of you commit to support and pray for this team and these leaders?  Throughout our time together the issue of prayer and the need for spiritual renewal had come up.  Everyone in that room knew that this small band of people had a momentous task ahead of them if they hoped to make the streets of Hillside safer for the children.  It was during this time of prayer that I heard God clearly say to us all, “Be still and know that I am God, psalm 43:10” Or, my translation, “Shut up, listen, and trust.”

I don’t know if this newly formed Community Action Team will succeed.  I honestly don’t think that is as important as the fact that we gave the power back to the community.  Walking into that meeting, they felt powerless over the criminal element that was terrorizing them and powerless over their own fear of the police.  They heard everyone telling them what to do and no one taking the time to listen to them.  They felt dependent on outsiders who come and go as funding streams come and go.  However, at the end of that meeting, I could feel a sense of ownership and pride in that room and it was a glorious thing to witness!

Long ago someone told me that if we do things for people that they can do for themselves, that we are “dis-empowering” them and creating dependency.  This community can do all the things they noted were important.  The key is to get out of the way and let them.   I honestly was shocked that a meeting about safety led to a support group for single moms, bus monitors and playgrounds.  However, the more I have reflected upon this conversation, the more I see the wisdom and Devine hand in it all.  I think we would all be better ministers if we learned to “shut up, listen, and trust” a bit more.

Please pray for our community leaders, the children of Hillside court and those who have historically terrorized our residents.  Pray for safety especially as we move into the summer months, which historically have high crime rates.  Also pray for our Embrace team and I as we seek to “shut up, listen, and trust” more in the future.

Programs and Communities of Support

Jay Van Groningen – Executive Director

My friend said to me recently, “The problem with this country is that people who operate the systems don’t care.” What was he talking about?

  • Three of his children were perpetually not in their classes at school, and no one notified him even though he had shared custody of them.  All three dropped out by the time they were in the 9th grade.
  • The courts never took the time to get to know him, see his good gifts for parenting because he had a prior felony on his record. They always sided for custody with his ex wife who was mentally unstable and a terrible parent. She only had misdemeanors on her record. (She is white and he is Mexican).
  • His current wife crossed the border to Mexico to be at a nephew’s wedding. Now she cannot return because she had an immigration request pending. No one told her she could not leave the country with her case pending. (Green card application)
  • He has an acquaintance (aged 34) who is on permanent disability. He has a good mind, and mostly able body. He could work, but because he is lazy, he prefers to be on assistance.
  • His youngest son (4th child) is a high school graduate who sleeps all day, watches TV all night while smoking pot and receives disability for being “slow”.  He may be slow, but he is not brain dead and he certainly is not disabled. Who signs off on this young man as being disabled?
  • Another acquaintance applied for and got more than $30,000 in housing subsidies by hiding his (under the table) income and only declaring his wife’s part time recorded income. It was obvious if any one would check there was more income in the household than they declared. No one checked. Meanwhile his roof needs replacing and he can’t get any help because he can’t come up with his portion of the program costs. The inequity in the system is glaring to him.

The litany of woes could go on; What really frustrates my friend is that the systems seem to give up on able people, seem incapable of reasonably attending to people – getting to know them and their story. They seem disinterested in the person and only interested in the eligibility rules. Rather than prepare people, rather than educate them, rather than giving them incentives to live into their giftedness, they adjudicate program rules and totally overlook the capacities, abilities, and promise that lie in dormant in human beings.

A society that addresses social problems with programs of assistance apart from building communities of support will not likely see positive outcomes. A society that couples program supports with communities of accountability and support has a chance at helping citizens move further into their giftedness. CFA is working hard to transform neighborhoods building these communities of accountability and support.  Churches and Christian neighbors are powerful allies in forming the new community and some of their primary gifts are the Biblical values and the gifts of the Spirit they bring to their neighbors.

Rooted and Linked

Here’s a video from Parish Collective that’s a great illustration of what CFA is about as well.

Parish Collective from John Harrison on Vimeo.

Lighthouse Inc CFA Update

Andy Batten – Lighthouse Inc

Happy Easter, I am happy to report that our “weavers” are hosting their first neighbor circle as I type. Brandy Davis, is our host and she is one of our “Asset Mapping/Weaver” workers. She has invited the 10 neighbors that share a building with her in her Cedar public housing building. She is inviting the parents to share in an Easter Egg hunt for their kids and to share their stories with the mapping exercise.

I must say that I am excited that the neighbors have come together to pull resources for both the egg hunt and for lunch. It cost a total of $15 for maps and markers. One of the great moments was when they chose to go with ham and cheese sandwiches because everyone did not want to wait till the food stamp cards were refilled. They felt it was better to start with what they had, than to wait. (What a great lesson for us to learn from) The group will be selecting the follow up date(s) this afternoon. I can’t wait to hear the report.

By the way, we have no fewer than 4 more circles ready to start. The families have been filling out our “point of entry” survey and have told our folks, we would never give out our personal information to anyone, but we trust Heaventrain. Now they are pushing us, calling, tracking down the “weavers” and asking, “when are we going to get ours started?” And “why are you starting with ‘that’ group, we are ready to go”. We have our hosts set for the next 3 circles, just waiting on a start dates.

We will meet on Wednesday to debrief, and will have a blog of sorts where our weavers will be sharing the significant moments. Once we get our hands on a couple of the flip cameras we will begin to document the moments with video blogs.

Update:

Well, Thanks. Things did not go exactly as we had planned. First, the weather the last few days left the ground a muddy mess so the egg hunt was delayed. That led the folks to work on a “edible” craft and homemade card making for the kids that got things going. The problem was that once the kids started having fun, more and more showed up. In total there were 46 kids. The adults did not want to turn the kids away and kept working with them. Then thing really went of the rails when they started frying up Bologna sandwiches (I know Bologna??), it was what they had. Once that started, nobody had thought that the kids had been off school for a week on spring break and were very hungry (No school lunches all week). When they ran out of food they had served 137 sandwiches. Not a whole lot of time left to do the mapping exercise, but the adults decided they needed to pick a time that works so that kids are in school because childcare is going to be an issue. They also want to take the new skill, Homemade card making, to create some cool invites and make it an exclusive party feel.

Obviously, this did not go anything as planned, but we did see our neighbors step up to a leadership roles (we were almost completely hands off) and tackle what turned out to be a real need for their neighbors. The big thing was they all felt like they had done something important, and are committed to continuing to work together. Some very cool conversations started without a facilitated meeting, and my wife got a card from a mom and a little girl that made her day.

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