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.

A Community Comes Together

In December, a week before Christmas, one of our faithful community volunteers, Melinda, and two of her children were volunteering on Saturday at our annual Christmas Store.  Our volunteer has been a real story of transformation herself as she has connected with our AmeriCorps representatives to volunteer for many community events that Hope for the Inner City has been involved in throughout the past year.

We have seen Melinda’s life begin to change as her heart began to change for improving her life and extending her service in her own community.  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Melinda and two of her children were volunteering at Hope for the Inner City the Saturday before Christmas.  The following day, her son who was with her at Hope was murdered in the Harriet Tubman community.  It was a senseless and violent event that in the past would have set off a reaction of more violence and retribution in the community.  If there is tangible evidence that transformation is beginning to take place in Harriet Tubman, it was seen in the reaction of the community residents toward this tragic event and toward Melinda in the aftermath of the loss of her son.

Our AmeriCorps representatives, along with many of the community residents who have stepped up to serve their community in this past year, came together in an amazing show of love and support for Melinda and her family in a time of tragedy.  The typical reaction in the past may have been more violence or in some cases apathy to an event such as this one.  So many of the residents in the community have supported her in many different ways.  They provided moral support, they provided meals for the family, they provided logistical support for the funeral arrangements as well as transportation for various needs.

A dinner for the family was organized by the AmeriCorps representatives and community residents after the funeral service.  In the weeks that have followed the loss of her son, the community and Hope for the Inner City continue to support Melinda and her family as they deal with this tragedy.


Comeback of a Neighborhood Association

In September of 2009, the Harriet Tubman community brought back to life their neighborhood association.The association had been inactive since 2000. In 1985, a group of concerned ladies from the community banded together to form the original neighborhood association for the Harriet Tubman community.
Troubled by the deterioration of their community by violence and drugs, this group visited several neighborhood associations throughout the South to learn and gather ideas on forming their own organization.Soon after organizing, the group began addressing the issues that concerned them about their community. At one time, they had brought in several social service groups and small businesses to locate into the community.
As the years passed by and this original group of ladies began to get older, many of them were unable to continue their activities with the association. Given that at the time there were no residents of the younger generations interested in carrying on the work, the association slowly faded out of existence.

In the Summer of 2009 during a collaboration with Hope for the Inner City and its AmeriCorps members for a annual block party, many of the residents who were on the planning committee expressed an interest in revitalizing the neighborhood association for the greater good of the community. Meetings were held to nominate residents for the leadership positions of the association. With the help of the AmeriCorps members, the residents worked together to organize and hold the election of their leaders for the association. Six residents were elected to the leadership positions in the association and will begin holding meetings in the Fall of 2009. It is truly a great accomplishment to see the residents come together to form this important group for the betterment of their community.

For more information on Hope for the Inner City visit there website: www.hope4theinnercity.org

A Visit to Overtown

I visited the Overtown neighborhood in Miami this week. I learned a tiny bit of their history. Historically, this was the “over the tracks” section of town for black folks. The lead entertainers for the posh white community had to cross town at night after hours and this was their neighborhood. It was rich in musical talent, cuisine arts, and many other skills that made life in Miami so great for the rich and famous.

More recently it is a community of exclusion by virtue of poverty. It is plagued by many social ills. It is the place self-respecting folks avoid.  No big surprise when the highways were built they ran smack through the middle of this part of town. On the other hand, had the highway not been a detriment to development, this likely would be a totally gentrified neighborhood today with its proximity to downtown and waterfronts.

Serving Miami with Love is a little non-profit organization serving in this neighborhood.  They receive coaching and training from CRWRC to increase their capacity to transform this community from the inside out.

A few years ago they were feeding the poor and homeless, and running some after school programs for kids. These are good things to do in a community like this but they do not typically lead to sustainable change in the community.

CRWRC has coached this partner to:

  1. Stake out a specific neighborhood that will be their target neighborhood.
  2. Listen to the people in this neighborhood for what is really great, and what they care about changing.
  3. Facilitate neighbors meeting and interacting with each other
  4. Facilitate neighbors working together on what they care change.

Themis is a newly recruited CRWRC AmerCorps worker from within this neighborhood. She loves her community. She says that 6 months ago, she would never let her kids out of her apartment because they could get shot. She did not know her neighbors and she was afraid of them. Today Themis freely walks the neighborhood with many folks hollering a friendly hello to her as they catch sight of her. She has connected neighbor to neighbor in ways that neighbors help each other, breaking out of their isolation and strengthening community.

There is a growing sense of community here. Resident participation in the things they care about, working together for the welfare of the neighborhood is way up, especially in things that affect their children. There is a growing sense that the residents when they work together can make good things happen.

It was a joy to walk into their office, and the FIRST thing I saw walking in was the map of their neighborhood. The first thing Jason did to introduce us to his ministry was to talk about the history and strengths of the neighborhood. Then he started talking about some of the dreams the residents shared for neighborhood strengthening.

This little non-profit is giving their neighborhood their voice and their future by helping them work together for God’s glory! Incidentally (and naturally) the residents are now asking for Bible study and Worship opportunities.

Jay Van Groningen

Organizing Center St. in Costa Mesa CA

This is the vision statement of the Christian Reformed Church: The Christian Reformed Church is a diverse family of healthy congregations, assemblies, and ministries expressing the good news of God’s kingdom that transforms lives and communities worldwide.

What is this transforming lives and communities about?

Here is a picture for you:
Imagine a dense, low income (all of it) neighborhood in which:

  • Unemployment is high
  • There is high crime
  • Many neighbors are illegal immigrants
  • Schools struggle; most students drop out
  • There is fear – rampant fear, debilitating fear
  • Neighbors don’t know each other
  • Kids don’t play outside without a parent attending them

You get the picture.

This is a snapshot of Center Street in Costa Mesa

Add one CRWRC half-time AmeriCorps volunteer. After completing a two day asset based community development program Juval started hanging out in this neighborhood getting to know the kids. He focused first on the skate boarders (a common passion). Then he started interviewing parents. He wanted to find out their priorities for life in the neighborhood. He quickly formed a parent advisory committee and gave them responsibility to name the changes they wanted to work on in their community.

He supported them as they began English classes, Health Classes, Legal Aid, Exercise groups, Housing Forums on fair housing practices. Economic Development and Savings Plans. Plans are in the works for Neighborhood watch groups, Neighbor/Police joint ventures, and much more.

AmeriCorps service is changing the community, indigenous leaders are developing, neighbors are working together doing what they can with what they have to make life better for the common good. Bible studies are taking place, more people have a church home, and life is more peaceful – Shalom!

Juval has also changed. From a fearful and hesitant young man, he has become a servant leader. He loves the neighborhood and the people. He has signed up for a second year of service – this time full time – and then he has big plans for continuing his education.

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.

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!

AmeriCorps Makes A Difference

by Trudy Shuravloff

With the help of Imagine NW! my organization, The Whatcom Dream has been able to receive a grant in the form of an AmeriCorps position for the past year and a half.  John Shuravloff filled this position as an AmeriCorps member.  The requirements of the position are to advance Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) practices in our neighborhood.  John and I live in the Roosevelt Neighborhood of Bellingham, Washington.

Some of the ABCD efforts include:

1.  Helping residents organize and develop a neighborhood poster and calendar.

2.  Supporting and encouraging neighbors to work with local Child Welfare Officials to create a system that allows foster kids from our neighborhood to stay in our neighborhood.  A system that enables kids to remain in their same school, with the support and familiarity of friends and teachers, will decrease stress on the kids while the family is in crisis and foster a sense of belonging and stability for families.

3.  Assist neighbors in organizing local block watch programs.  Every resident was given a free low energy compact fluorescent light bulb for a porch light to help reduce crime in the area.  Roosevelt is no longer the highest crime area in Bellingham.  Community Development REALLY WORKS!

4.  Facilitate a “Citizen Leadership” program in the Roosevelt neighborhood.  This program is patterned after one developed by Imagine-Chicago, a non-profit community organization in Chicago.  This is a structured, on-the-job training that equips local people, young or old, to learn the basics of community organizing.

The goal is for each trainee to form a team of citizens to plan and complete a small project that improves the neighborhood.

John will be facilitating the nominee’s work sessions, which provide them with the necessary tools, information and resources to complete a project of their choice.  This is a wonderful opportunity to provide free leadership development training to residents who are recognized as potential leaders!

Lastly, John can be seen most days out in the community garden – planting, weeding and watering.  When we moved here several years ago, this garden became a huge and exciting gathering point for neighbors to naturally connect and talk.  This benefits the neighborhood by bringing people together through meaningful conversations.  Our neighbors love the produce and the spontaneous chats!

Thanks Imagine NW! for supporting us in our work!  We appreciate your help!  TS


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