Neighborhood Change: A Better Way

View this great video from one CFA member, and see what happens when neighbors,
“…call out each other’s gifts, and fill in for each other’s weaknesses.”

 

 

A Better Way from CFA Videos on Vimeo.

Kimi Zimmerman, Community enCompass

The Richness of Community

Wayne Squires-Partners In Neighborhood Transformation, a ministry of The Other Way

Story by Kurt Reppart, Director of Family Development at The Other Way

Some of our most satisfying work at The Other Way happens around food and tables.  Throughout the year on Monday evenings, 8-10 families get together in the Family Center to share a meal.  Each family brings a dish to pass, and we literally get to taste the variety of cultures represented.  The experience is rich.  The goal of these gatherings is to build a community of trust and support.  We do this by listening to each other, sharing our stories, playing games, and reflecting on God’s Word together.

After the meal is finished, the children are dismissed for enrichment activities so that the adults can have some focused conversation.  This fall these adult conversations centered on the topic of “passing on our values to our children”.   We broke up into 3 groups, and the atmosphere was full of joy and discovery as our discussion narrowed to how to foster responsibility in our children.  Represented in the room were a wide range of  values, ideas, and practical wisdom.  The variety of experiences was rich.  Several important things happened as we shared:  we learned from one another, our love for our children was affirmed, and we all left with  new insights and new ideas to try.  The conversation will continue, but this particular conversation provided solid ground to build upon;  to build community and to build hope.

The Christmas Gifts were ON the Tree

Monika Grasley-LifeLine CDC of Merced County

Winton, California is known for unemployment, drug abuse and gangs, but for a growing number of community members it is becoming a community of hope, caring and working together. Several years ago a number of community members decided to “Put Winton on the map for something good” for a change and so under Ernie Solis’s leadership (who is coached in Asset Based Community Development) more and more people are working together for the common good.

This Christmas a neighbor donated a Christmas tree to the small community center that is the hub for many activities. Since there was no money for fancy decorations every community member who entered the center received a plain blank Christmas ornament and was asked to write on it one of their gifts  (skills, abilities, passions) that they are willing to share with the community. The end result was a beautiful tree decorated with gifts.

As part of the ongoing conversation several people wanted to put a Christmas dinner together for the homeless of the community, but then decided it should be open to everyone. The word got out; people volunteered. Some purchased turkeys and supplies, others were willing to cook them, some wanted to help with decorating, others brought what they had. And so on December 29 a beautiful feast was spread out: Turkey, mashed potatoes, beans, stuffing, dessert, coffee, and cider. Everyone brought what they had and shared in this amazing feast.

Over 100 neighbors filled the room as Christmas music played in the background, and laughter and conversation filled the space. Gang members and seniors, young and old, undocumented community members and old-timers, homeless and business people all sitting beside each other and enjoying a beautiful time while the Christmas tree filled with gifts of community members stood in the corner of the room.

People who would never interact with each other under normal circumstances now heard each other’s stories. People who had prejudices against each other sat beside each other and broke down some walls. LifeLine CDC has a saying that “Everyone no matter how rich has a need. Everyone no matter how poor has a gift. That is why we build and celebrate community.”  It was a beautiful sight to see this happening and know that it is one small part of community transformation.

Best Practices: Church as a Gift for Neighborhood Transformation

Jay Van Groningen, CFA Executive Director

Over the years, I have noticed that most Christians who get serious about Community Development – serious enough to work at it – try to start the work of neighborhood transformation from a church platform. They hope and expect that a congregation will engage in God’s redemption story in the neighborhood as a lead agent for positive change. They expect that the church will care enough about their neighbors and neighborhood to want to be a lead “player” in the neighborhood redemption story.  They are soon disappointed with Church as agent for neighborhood transformation.  Those who have launched neighborhood transformation from a church platform (be it new church or established church) feel isolated, alone, under-resourced, and disillusioned with church participation. While church is loaded with gifts for neighborhood transformation, their focus and energies seem directed to “healthy church” issues, not “healthy community” issues.

Church can be a good neighbor bringing gifts/contributions to the neighborhood transformation story.  It can be great neighbor – taking responsibility for the neighborhood transformation story. CFA has learned that a best practices approach is to lead neighborhood transformation from outside the church (a non-profit) and to call on the church to bring their gifts (as much as they are willing) in the same way any other institution is invited to bring their gifts to the neighborhood transformation process.  “Healthy church” and “healthy community” is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed.  A community is healthier when church gifts are a shaping force; a Church is healthier when as servant/witness it stretches itself in giving gifts for the redemption of the neighborhood it occupies.

Three Neighborhoods, One Voice

LINCNewOrleans

This past December, three churches in the city of New Orleans, Journey 9th Ward (Assembly of God), Grace Baptist, and St. Paul Lutheran from the St. Claude, Bywater, and Marigny neighborhoods respectively joined together to spread Christmas joy to their neighbors.

The idea originated from a fellowship gathering facilitated by LINCNewOrleans for persons either interested in learning about or currently participating in Christian community development. Many of the people present at the fellowship gathering attended last October’s Christian Community Development Association Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The group was brainstorming about how to collaborate together to create a multi-denominational effort to strengthen the neighborhood.  When singing was suggested, it produced a calming lull over the group, a reassuring familiarity.  The Caroling Extravaganza took flight.

Young and old from each neighborhood’s church took to the streets together to spread Christmas cheer.   Aaron Ford, youth pastor at Grace Baptist in the Bywater neighborhood, highly encouraged the churches youth to be in attendance, and despite it being a Friday night in a lively city, the youth came out in droves.   It was found out later that some had fun in spite of themselves, as one of the youth later blogged,  “Went caroling with some awesome people yesterday and I actually had way more fun than I thought I would.”

Though to the untrained eye, the aforementioned sounds like a cut  down, it is actually a beacon of hope.  The next generation is learning that intentional community isn’t only important, but enjoyable. “Simply put, it was fun,” explained another participant while reflecting on the night.

The churches visited two assisted living facilities in their neighborhoods, and sang both religious and pop tunes. Though it wasn’t a “sell-out crowd” by any means, the looks on the faces of those who invited us to share Christmas with them was utterly priceless.

Transformation: One Act, Big Impact

Jeff Bisgrove–Neighborhood Transformation

Seeing God at work in a neighborhood can be a challenge.  The world pushes us to measure things as the world does.  Hence we find ourselves pushed into using numbers – people attending events, people involved in an after-school program, or people graduating from a program.  These numbers might not be bad in and of themselves.  Transformation does indeed manifest itself in numbers.  However, I must remind myself that God is really concerned about the person.  Numbers follow, but it all starts in the heart, and He has to remind me of this often.

This month, a family we have been working with in one of our poorest, underserved neighborhoods took a step of faith.   We had started a local basketball team. Basketball is hugely popular in this community, and the basketball teams that are present in the community charge money to join.  The fees are not major amounts, but something many people in the community cannot afford.  Therefore we started a team, run by locals for the locals, that was free to join.  However, the coach got ill and was hospitalized, and the team stopped. It stayed this way for a couple of months.  The coach recovered but could not go back to coaching; no team.

Last month, one family decided to step in and coach.  We now have three teams running, so we are back in business. The family, with no job, no car, and no real hope of a gift-laden Christmas stepped in to run the team.  They did it because they love the kids, they love their neighborhood, and they enjoy sharing in the community.  You could argue it is a small act, and in the world of numbers it is.  However, in a place where gaming the system is common, it is a major step forward in faith for the community.  I did not realize the magnitude of this act until I prayed over it, and God opened my heart to it.  God is moving.

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