The “Who” of Community Development

 

Wendy McCaig–Embrace Richmond, Richmond, VA

One of my most challenging tasks as an Executive Director is answering  the question, “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  When people focus on the “what”, I find they miss the more important question of “who.”  The “what” sounds like, “We helped the residents start a community center that includes a computer lab, a mom’s support group, a food pantry, monthly community fellowship events,  a clothing closet, activities for seniors, an afterschool creative and performing arts program, gardening projects, GED tutoring, vocational mentoring and leadership development training.”  While all these activities meet real needs within a community, the activities themselves are not as important as the residents from the neighborhood who are doing all this work.

When we entered the Hillside Court community more than three years ago, the recreation center had been closed down for several years.  There was a sense of despair in the community.  We heard stories like this one shared by a long-time resident, “Used to be that the recreation center was open to the community and they had all kind of activities for the residents.  Different groups have been in that building over the years;  they always leave.  I don’t believe anything will ever change around here.  I don’t think anyone really cares about this neighborhood.”

The recreation center is once again bustling with activity and over the past three years, we have seen dozens of residents step up and take on leadership roles.   This coming fall, Embrace Richmond will be leading by stepping back.  Our resident leadership team is now strong enough to lead the effort with Embrace Richmond simply contributing the financial and spiritual support they need to keep the center open to the community and thriving.

Above are the pictures of the key leaders who will assume control of the Hillside Recreation Center.  If you ask me “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  I will likely show you these pictures and say, “We support neighbors who build great neighborhoods.”  This is what true community development success looks like, neighbors helping neighbors.

Friday Food For Thought: Abundance and Necessity

 

from The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, written by Peter Block and John McKnight

“Our communities are abundant with the resources we need for the future.  It is the awakening of families and neighborhoods to these resources that is needed.  Consumer access to all that business professions, and government have to offer still leaves our lives half full.  Community life fills the glass the rest of the way, and this is why a strong local community is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” (p. 30)

Children: The Hope of a Neighborhood

Eric Smith–Think Tank, Inc. and Springfield Promise Neighborhood Springfield, OH

The Complexity of the Church Van

Rick Droog–Siouxland Diaconal Conference

From Kurt & Emily Rietema’s stories of life and love in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas published in the February 2012 edition of  “the Minute”.

This past week a neighborhood teenager put a message on Twitter that said, “You know you’re living in a ghetto when the church vans come in for spring break.” I laughed immediately when I heard it. It was loaded with all the pithy irony of a political newspaper cartoon. I saw the van myself. In fact, it was a van of college students coming to serve alongside us. I cringed when I saw the windows, slathered in orange window paint with Jesus-y messages about what they were intending to do in Argentine.  That teenager’s tweet was so poignant to me because it encrypted volumes of social angst, philosophical treatises on  religious crusading, and cultural commentaries on the idiosyncratic vacationing habits of affluent, white adolescents–all in 140 characters or less. She was bringing to the surface tensions that I’ve only begun to have eyes to see by living here among people who, to state it bluntly, aren’t educated, middle-class, evangelical whites like myself. What I think that girl was getting at in her tweet is that no one likes to feel like someone else’s charity case.  She was getting at the psychological damage that happens when you’re living in a ghetto–not simply the obvious dangers of knowing that kids in the neighborhood are packing concealed Glocks, but the more subtle dangers of knowing that some zealous kid is roaming about her neighborhood with Jesus in his quiver and there’s a target on her chest. The subtext to what she was saying was, “I don’t need to be reminded once again through the haloed glow emanating from your white vans that we’re poor and in need of a savior.”

Coincidentally, a week before, a coworker of mine shared an altogether different story about another church van.  My friend grew up in a prototypical biker family if there ever was such a thing. Her parents would leave home with their biker friends, get smashed, come home, go back to low-wage jobs they detested, and do it all over again the next week while my friend and her brother found themselves mixed up in the chaos of it all. Her mom caught her dad cheating on her and did absolutely nothing about it. They’d often come home and find their parents smoking pot like it was as routine as making a pot of Folgers. There was only one escape for her–a church van that showed up at her house every Sunday. While her parents were still strung out, my friend and her brother would be whisked away into another world and into a new kind of normal that was anything but normal to them. When I asked how she didn’t follow the well-ridden tire marks of her parents and the culture they immersed themselves in she said that there was just nothing in it for her. When that church van picked her up every Sunday morning, she was transported into another world where church people, while mixed up with their own issues of vanity and vulnerability, lived in a way that was so much more compelling. The way of her parents was empty and she was never turning back.  All because of a church van. The kind of church van that I’ve had mixed, missiological feelings about.

Two church vans, two entirely different responses by the people who live in those neighborhoods. One viewed indignantly, the other indispensable.  For most of us, all we need to hear is the legitimately moving story of my friend in order to blow off the cultural critiques of the neighborhood teenager. So what if one girl, armed with a mobile phone and a Twitter account makes a witty, sarcastic comment about another’s efforts to live out their faith in sometimes clunky ways? Look at how those same efforts saved the life of your friend. Those church vans save souls. I don’t disagree. Yet the Twittering teen seems to suggest that the unintentional messages that accompany those same church vans about what who they are and who you are can slowly dissolve and destroy the dignity and soul of another.

In a broken world littered with unresolved cultural tensions how are we to live out our faith when our attempts at reconciliation can be interpreted so wildly different? This past week, we loaded up a group of local, Argentine teenagers on that church van for a retreat at Youthfront Camp West that showed the messiness and beauty of both.

The group of boys that we brought with us were the same ones that have come over to our house for dinner, plus a handful more. During one of our first gatherings, we did an exercise where we explored our own stories and how God has also invited us into a story filled with the same peaks and valleys, moments of brilliance and failure as our own. Finally, during our last session, I came to realize that the Argentine that I knew was not the Argentine that these kids in the public housing project knew. We were discussing how the gospel begins to take root, provide a story, hope and direction for our own lives and then spills out into the world around us. As we asked what they’d change about Argentine if they could, they overwhelmingly said they’d change the violence. While I’ve heard occasional gunshots, it’s far from a regular occurrence. But Antonio said a man was shot on his doorstep about a month ago. Nate said kids were shooting at one another on a main thoroughfare in broad daylight after school last week. When I asked what we could do to be agents of change in this, one of the toughest kids finally cracked. “We need more groups like this.” I pushed him on what he meant.  Another kid piped in. “We need more youth to talk seriously like this. And then to be able to get away from it all, clear out our heads and relax like this and have fun”. For the next few minutes we talked about how more Argentine youth would be interested in being a part of a group like this and what we could do about it.  Lester leaned over to Nate and said, “If I hadn’t come and experienced it myself, I would’ve made fun of it.”

And there it was. The complexity of the church van caught up in that one little statement. It’s easy to make fun of others’ efforts to live out the gospel from afar. But the college students that came with us embodied everything that we’ve been hoping to instill. They were honest about their own relatively healthy upbringings in the face of youth who’d experienced more brokenness than we can imagine. They didn’t   deny their differences. They didn’t make them out into targets. They didn’t try to change the kids’ behaviors and make them quit dropping the f-bomb. They realized they were stewarding a much bigger story in Jesus than cleaning up our externals. They realized a subtle presence is more sustainable than one that shouts and screams for attention–even (and especially) for the sake of the gospel. It’s this that speaks louder than any tangerine tinted messages on any church van. The church van. Vindicated.

Michael’s Story: Neighborhood Participation and Personal Transformation

 

Karl Williams (L) and Michael Vanord (R)

Wayne Squires

Partners in Neighborhood Transformation (a ministry of The Other Way)

Karl Williams works as the Coordinator of Community Connections on behalf of a west side neighborhood partnership in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He spends a great deal of time catalyzing listening efforts, identifying assets, and connecting residents to serving opportunities.  This is done with support, encouragement, and participation of six organizational members in the partnership, one of which is Partners in Neighborhood Transformation (a ministry of The Other Way) that provides coaching and training for asset based development work.

Karl met Michael in August in the midst of neighborhood conversations and connecting activities and discovered Michael was homeless, living under the Franklin Street Bridge.  Michael was looking for work even as he needed help in having basic personal needs met.  Karl was able to get Michael actively involved in a neighborhood service team focused on “neighbors helping neighbors to build our community from the inside out.”  Michael found himself assisting with food distribution, moving furniture into homes, doing light home repairs, fixing small engines, and landscaping residents’ lawns…activities which utilized his gifts and experiences.

Karl also assisted Michael in his job search, encouraging him to highlight his home repair skills and truck-driving experience.  (For several years, Michael drove a truck for a nationwide firm.)  Michael was initially able to find a floor replacement project for which he was paid, and then through a bit of unexpected networking that occurred through his volunteer work in the neighborhood, he landed a full-time job as a truck driver for a local business.  Karl reports this has not only brought great encouragement to other unemployed volunteers but also fueled his own passion for recognizing and using the gifts of every neighbor…regardless of their life situation(s).

Four Men Giving Abundantly During Hard Times

Monika Grasley–Lifeline CDC of Merced County

LifeLine CDC has a saying: “Everyone no matter how rich has a need. Everyone no matter how poor has a gift. That is why we build and celebrate community.” ™  We were able to experience that again with one of our partners in Winton, California, a small rural community with over 30% unemployment.  There four men have stepped forward, giving abundantly of their gifts despite hard times.

Two years ago David, a Winton community member, returned to Winton after finishing his 4 year college degree in Business. He returned hoping to find a job but was unable to do so. Instead he started volunteering at the Winton Community Center.  Last year David assisted at the Community Center with the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, and this year he headed  up the program.  The VITA program helped over 70 individuals and families get their taxes prepared for free and brought over $80,000 back into the community. These low-income families had no other way to get their taxes done during these difficult economic times, and were so thankful for the service.

Winton LifeLine Community Center is a site for the Work Experience Program for the County. These men and women work at the Winton Community Center for a few hours a day learning new skills and helping them with the community work.  George and Francisco came to work with the center because they could not find employment. During the many conversations we found that both have amazing gifts in auto mechanics and are generally able to fix just about anything.

The first project they worked on was a passenger bus that belongs to LifeLine CDC and is being used in Winton. This bus is being used for transporting the youth to do the graffiti abatement, assist moving people, picking up and dropping off donations, and transporting senior citizens to special events.

After successfully fixing the bus they worked on several other projects.  As the team talked about exchanging gifts they came up with the idea of having a car repair clinic. What if these men would help some of the seniors get some minor repairs done and teach some of the community members to do their own maintenance … that would be a blessing for everyone! So the plans are being made to have a community wide ‘car clinic’ and the contacts with the Vintage Car Club will make this an even bigger event!

At the same time Chico came to the center and starting volunteering his time.  In his broken English he stated one day: “I will start cleaning your bathroom. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. I will do it for Jesus and I know how to do it good.” We thanked him and he said “No, thank you, you give me purpose again.”

All four men felt useless, unemployed, and under-used and yet in the context of community conversations all got to use their gifts and abilities to help others.

When we say that everyone has a gift, we mean it! So, not a day goes by when we don’t discover one more gift that makes the community richer, that brings the Shalom of God into the neighborhood. When David assists someone with taxes, he blesses the community, when George and Francisco fix the cars they bless the community, when Chico cleans the bathroom he blesses the community. We often hear about the ‘tipping point’  and we are looking forward to the time when the teams slogan “Putting Winton on the map for something good” becomes a reality!

 

2011 Annual Report

  Click here for the CFA 2011 Annual Report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powering America

This post was originally published by John McKnight on March 1, 2011 at www.abundantcommunity.com.  Click here to see the original post. 

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer… read more »

In a neighborhood, people are empowered by the work they do together.  Often, they use this power to confront institutions and advocate for the neighborhood’s self-interest.  In this kind of action, power is understood as our ability to get someone else to do something for us.  This is the consumer power of confrontation.

The other kind of neighborhood power results when we come together to create something for ourselves — from ourselves.  This is the power of citizens engaged in community building.

Many of us think of power in terms of the confrontation approach.  Power is about advocacy, demands, negotiation and control.  On the other hand, community-building is often described as “nice and cooperative,” but not powerful.

In our book, The Abundant Community, we point out that there are at least six community-building characteristics of a neighborhood that empowers its residents:  cooperation, hospitality, generosity, kindness, forgiveness and accepting fallibilities.

Each of these qualities is a power and creates powerful results.

Kindness is the power to care.  A careless society is a weak society. It finally descends to callous practices and brutal disregard for its members.

Hospitality is the power to welcome.  A fearful society is frightened of strangers and weakened by its exclusions of the talents of strangers inside and outside its community.

Generosity is the power to give.  Powerlessness is greatest when we are denied the right to contribute and express ourselves.  That is why prison is so terrible, even though food, clothing and shelter are provided. There is no stronger punishment than denying a person’s power to give.

Cooperation is the power to join with your neighbors to create a future.  Every totalitarian system knows that the greatest threat is people working together in groups, small or large.  In those societies, the power to associate is called a conspiracy.

Accepting fallibility creates the power to enjoy each other in spite of our failures, deficiencies and differences.  It creates the glue that holds us together in spite of our nature.

Finally, forgiveness is the power to forget. Many communities have been weakened for centuries because of an event that happened in the distant past.  Until a community or its members can overcome a pervasive sense of grievance, that community will atrophy in a spirit of retribution.

It is these qualities of community that are the basic source of a nation’s power:

  • power to care
  • power to give
  • power to welcome
  • power to join
  • power to enjoy
  • power to forget.

These powers are abundant and available in every community. When they are manifested, they are more powerful than business or government.  That is why America’s recovery as a powerful nation finally depends on what we do on our own block.

~ John ~

John McKnight

 

ABCD Transforms Street Church Team

Jim Moynihan–OneChurch

Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2011, Street Church sought to develop relationships with the residents of Downtown Hampton, Virginia.  Street Church is a community ministry led by Steve Edwards with numerous helpers from several area churches. OneChurch has been working with Steve to develop ABCD strategies for this community over the past year.  Our major effort was in the Harbor Square apartments, a low-income housing development in the center of the city. During the Summer of 2011, Street Church provided Sunday evening worship services on the grounds, a Summer Vacation Bible School, several clothing and food drives, and conducted surveys in the community. These efforts resulted in good relationships being built with the members of this community, several city officials, and local helping agencies such as H.E.L.P. – a ministry to the homeless of the area, and area churches.

In the Fall of 2011 this effort ended as the weather changed and the city purchased the apartment complex and moved the residents out of the area. Street Church and OneChurch have been meeting to discern our Lords plans for us during this time. As a result, we recently formed a leadership team committed to applying ABCD methods of community development in a strategic manner in this neighborhood. 

This team came together as we sought to develop deeper relationships with those who participated in our Street Church events in 2011. We shared the book, “When Helping Hurts,” with key leaders (about 50 people) which has ignited an interest in our efforts.  This team has committed to be trained in ABCD methods, to study “When Helping Hurts” in a small group setting, and to begin implementation of a consensus plan that will emerge through a Technology of Participation (ToP) consensus workshop in April.  This group of loosely connected but caring people willing to get involved in some “to/for” ministry efforts in a needy community has transitioned into a team committed to learning and applying ABCD “with” methods in a specific downtown Hampton neighborhood for the foreseeable future.

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