Family Day in the Park Day 2011

Al Santino – Northeast Community Transformation

This is an older story from AmeriCorps Member, Pam Ramos, Ayuda Community Center. 

Today was another good day in Hunting Park, Philadelphia. On Saturday, July 16, 2011, Hunting Park United, an organized neighborhood civic-association group made up of community individuals and partnering organizations, launched their first annual Family Day in the Park 2011. It was organized by our very own AmeriCorps member Pam Ramos. She is in her 8th month of service and has had the privilege of working alongside great community leaders and invested organizations. In the process of organizing this huge event in the park, she has had community meetings and has gathered community leaders for the purpose of input to what it was the community wanted at this event. With much work and collaboration of all, there were 25 non-profit organizations represented and over 75 volunteers recruited and more importantly over 500 plus community people that participated.

With all the resource tables available for the adults, from health screens put on by Esperanza Health Center’s Summer Medical Institute which is a program that allows medical students from around the country the unique opportunity to serve in an urban setting, engaging neighbors and performing various health screenings. Esperanza Health Center’s own Community Health Promoters graduates were on hand to answer questions. This is a lay-health class offered to community people who wish to be educated on various health issues; given 50 hours of training are then certified to promote health topics in varies ways. There was donated food BBQ’d & served by Richard & Friends United in the Community and finally Zumba aerobics instruction given by our local friend Cindy Ortiz from the Philadelphia group.

There was also plenty for the kids to do like face painting provided by a local congregation (One Hope Community Church) to plenty of crafts and games put on by a brand new coalition established in Hunting Park by four existing organizations to create S.E.A.C. Its mission is to work with engaging families to prevent drug-usage & abuse.  It includes Spirit & Truth Fellowship, Esperanza Health Center, Ayuda Community Center, and Casa De Consejeria translates into “House of Counseling. As you can see that Hunting Park United understands the power of community development and organizing– partnering for the greater good of the community. I’d say this community event was a success people went away full of resources and food…another fine day in Hunting Park, where it takes community to build a community.

Rear View Mirror Check

Wendy McCaig – Embrace Richmond

True success comes when the community is the driving force behind change.

Several months ago Jay Van Groningen from Communities First Association taught a three day intensive workshop on Asset Based Community Development.  One question Jay asked us over and over again is “When you look in the rear view mirror, do you see a community transformation story?”

This week we wrapped up our 2010-11 AmeriCorps service year and I had a chance to look in the rear view mirror.  I wrote a post on the Embrace Richmond blog which chronologically highlighted the achievements of our team this past year.  I also included some outcomes numbers for the year in our newsletter.  Below is a summary

We provided positions for 31 AmeriCorps members, 14 of which were homeless or at-risk with barriers to employment.  75% of our members successfully completed their term of service and all the graduating members either enrolled for another term of service, entered college or moved into permanent employment.

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AmeriCorps Update

Brianna Menning - Director of Community Based Learning – CFA

(Originally published in the CFA Summer 2011 Newsletter)

Brianna Menning

For the past six years, we have been fortunate to be able to implement asset based community development service through a national direct AmeriCorps grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). With the passage of the Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, the hope within CNCS was to increase the size of the AmeriCorps program, while also working more sectorally in specific designated target areas (education, veterans, environmental, economic opportunity, and health). This was going to be a bit of a challenge to the CFA program, as our work with ABCD is clearly not sectoral, and is instead an opportunity to work with a community, and letting them determine the focus. When Congress eventually passed a budget bill this past spring, they made significant cuts to the CNCS budget, and AmeriCorps in particular.

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Jim Schepers – The Other Way Ministries

A young man needing to do some community service gets an experience beyond what he came for.

One of the main outcomes wanted when placing an Americorps community worker in a neighborhood to do asset based community development is the development of an increasing number of volunteers who care enough about the community to spend their time making it better for everyone.  Of course, we are most interested in investing in local neighborhood residents, the assets of our neighborhood.  However, sometimes, the assets we find don’t always fit our pre-determined model.

To identify and engage neighborhood ‘assets’, we train Americorps members to listen carefully for opportunity and to make connections, giving volunteers the chance to do some simple good works in the neighborhood.  What we cannot teach is the thoughtful follow-up, invitation and encouragement it takes to help change a person from a disconnected resident to a volunteer engaged and invested in developing community.  Karl, our Westown Americorps Member tells one story of how he makes that happen.  His story is about Keith.  Keith came to us simply to fill a school required community service project.  He left having gotten much more than he needed.

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Community Garden Takes off in Bellflower

Check out a new post from the CFA AmeriCorps blog:

Community gardening is a way a number of our AmeriCorps members have been able to engage their neighbors in meaningful relationships, and create opportunities to serve each other. Please check out the recent post on the AmeriCorps blog on the community garden efforts in his neighborhood!

Neighborhood Youth Camp in Muskegon

CFA AmeriCorps has a new blog post that you should check out:

Thoughts on Servant Leadership in Asset Based Community Development

Brianna Menning – Communities First – Director of Community Based Learning

ABCD and servant leadership– check out the recent blog post on our AmeriCorps blog!

Community Fruit

Jim Schepers – The Other Way

As is often the case, it takes a while for fruit to develop.  Often we look for fruit of our neighborhood Americorps listening, connecting, and convening in the increased willingness of neighborhood residents and other stakeholder to work together for their own good.  Occasionally though, the fruit of this work is the discovery of other community leaders who will not only show up and lend a hand, but will step up and organize others in the neighborhood also.   The picture below is of our Fresh Fruit – Matt.

This happy experience has been a recent development of our Americorps Member working on the west side of Grand Rapids.  He is supported by a coalition of three partners: The Other Way Ministries, Servants Community Church, and West Town Jubilee Housing.  Karl Williams, our Americorps Member, whose first hand story is provided below has proved to be both a wealth of neighborhood network connections and a non-stop advocate for neighborhood investment in making Westown a better neighborhood for all.  Every community should have a Karl.

Jim Schepers
Church and Community Development Coach
The Other Way Ministries




Montana Vista Story of Transformation

Often times we look at short term impacts when dealing with community development. However, the best indicator of transformation is in the long term. Several years ago, when community development started, it was the parents who were first touched by ESL classes. Since then, these parents have taught their children to succeed.

It must be noted that these children had also been influenced by former Americorps interns Maria del Rosario Arreola, Mayela Lucero and David Gonzalez.  At the present time, Genesis, Griselda and Ivonne are now attending college with a vision of helping impulse the community of Montana Vista toward progress. Ivonne, in particular, is working and studying to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has the desire to stay within the community of Montana Vista.

In addition to this, several former students, like Claudia, have secured and kept their jobs for at least three years.

Mustard Seed Ministries

This past fall, we (Volunteers In Service – CFA West Michigan) were pleased to place an Americorps Member in the Westown area of Grand Rapids.  Our site partner, The Other Way Ministries, has been a sustaining member of the neighborhood for about forty years, bringing individual and community development opportunities to the residents there.   For the past several years, The Other Way Ministries has been partnering with two other near-by community organizations (Servants Community Church and Westown Jubilee Housing) to coordinate community betterment and development efforts.  All three members of the partnership worked together to develop the capacity to bring the Americorps program to Westown.

Based upon his history in the neighborhood and his interview, we were not too surprised to discover that the new Americorps Member, Karl Williams got right down to work, introducing himself and engaging local residents in the work of making the neighborhood a better place for all.  Among the several ‘small actions’ Karl has already initiated with neighborhood volunteers was connecting some willing volunteers and a community member in need.   Here is the brief story in Karl’s own words.

“For the past month, we have had an elderly resident, that has recently gone through surgery.  She has received letters from the City, pertaining to her fence being out of code due to vandalism.  I met her through community involvement and interaction.  I informed her that Americorps has volunteers that could repair her fence to code.  Adam Lavas, not pictured, and Terry Williams repaired her fence to code, and our resident forwarded a note stating that she was profusely Glad!!”

These ‘small actions’ go a long way toward changing the character of the neighborhood.  Neighbors have the experience of receiving appreciated acts of kindness from other neighborhood residents, who experience the joy of doing something they enjoy for a neighbor.  A small action – just a few people involved, but little by little Westown is on the way to a better day – no big expensive programs, just neighbors working together with each other – for each other.

Jim Schepers
Volunteers In Service
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Meadows Mural

Cana community change? Is there hope for a place with broken windows, high crime, gang activities and unsupervised children? YES there is! And it really only takes one person who does not want to have things stay that way.

In this case it was Tracey the new manager of a 100 unit low-income apartment complex that was the catalyst to get things started.

Over the last 1 ½ year an AmeriCorps member has been walking the neighborhood, getting to know community members, building relationships, and when the time was right, we had the opportunity to partner with Tracey to start a summer program for the children in the apartment complex.

A small group from Gateway Community Church and a couple of college students who wanted to volunteer, started with some arts and crafts with the children and in the process built relationships with the parents who are now part of it.  Together they meet and decide what they want to do.

The community members are empowered to voice their ideas and the ‘outsiders’ get to see how community development can work and what amazing gifts and passions and dreams are in the neighbors if they get a chance to voice it.

We believe that we are created in God’s image and that every person is unique with gifts and passions, and we believe that God moved into the neighborhood way before we ever thought about it.  So we get to interact with people in a brand new way, because a community that was seen as ‘hopeless’ and ‘poor’ and ‘under-resourced’ will now be seen ‘creative’, ‘empowered’ and ‘purposeful’.

We started with the children. Every day they see graffiti, violence, gang activities .. what if they see something beautiful? What if they would create something beautiful?

The manager offered us the use of one of the walls in the community room and an artist came to work with the children on developing a theme and laying out their painting… it was a beautiful sight. The kids were excited that they could create something, the artist was excited to use her gifts and the community ended up working together.

So many parents, grandparents and  guardians came to see the artwork and it created a buzz in the community.

Besides the mural, the kids planted flowers, helped with graffiti abatement and now clean up their grounds on a regular basis.

So where do we go from here? This is only the beginning. The community members are starting to talk about what is needed once the kids are back in school. Many of the families don’t have computers and wonder if we could get some computers in the community center for kids to do homework. They are talking about more BBQ’s and better security……
We are here to facilitate some of the work, but the community members are the key stakeholders in this.

We have a saying at LifeLine CDC “Every person no matter how rich has a need. Every person no matter how poor has a gift. That is why we build and celebrate community .”

Monika Grasley

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

West Core City:

This is my neighborhood. I moved here two years ago, purchasing an abandoned HUD home and significantly renovating it. Ownership vs rental is probably now around 24 to 4 respectively. This is a working class neighborhood and most adults are working or looking for work. There are 2 or 3 households headed by a single adult. Children here play together and their parents quite often chat back and forth as they watch their children at play. There is positive interaction among neighbors and helpful gift giving back and forth in care of their children and support for one another.
Art work and music is evident with a smorgasbord of cultural flavors, historic and contemporary genres being evident.

In this neighborhood, neighbors deposit a house key with their neighbor so that they can help each other if one is absent for a short while. Neighbors share goods and services; My neighbor uses my snow blower, she puts gas in it. I use another neighbors tiller and on occasion a power tool. Gift giving is common and frequent.

Harriet Tubman:
This is Jerry’s neighborhood. He’s been there over a year. His neighborhood is 100% rental and all low income (all below the poverty line).  This is a second, third and fourth generation welfare community. Hardly anyone goes to work on a daily basis. Every apartment here is headed by a single head of household – few, if any exceptions. Children here are almost always outside, playing together, and often unsupervised. Parents seem to mistrust or disrespect each other in their parenting practices and finger pointing, blaming, and gossip are common with escalating problems among neighbors.

In this neighborhood a city employee comes to cut the lawns (if you can call them that), and the landscape is largely barren of color and plant life.

Having the latest, or the loudest art or music seems more important than the enjoyment of the artist.

In this neighborhood if a neighbor is gone, she better have big and solid locks, because the house will be broken into and goods stolen if they are not locked up tightly. Chances are a resident will be robbed even if there is a lock if no  additional security is added.

In this neighborhood you are on likely to be “on your own” in the event you need something or someone. Being “on your own” is actually an invitation to being abused or taken advantage of in some way. Vulnerabilities are exploited not protected.

Jerry is an AmeriCorps volunteer working with CFA. He voluntarily moved into his neighborhood to increase gift giving among residents, to encourage residents to act on what they care about, to bring shalom. It is slow going, very slow; After more than a year,  Jerry is still trying to discover if they care about anything! Maybe it is not reasonable for one person to act alone as a change agent among so many “entitled” residents who have checked out on personal responsibility?  Maybe solutions lie more in renegotiating occupancy in the neighborhood with a healthy mix of low, middle and upper income folks, a healthy ratio of renters and owners?

Jay Van Groningen, Executive Director

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

Applying Community Development

Within the past year there has been many happenings in community development in Long Beach, so here are just a few highlights that Kingdom Causes Long Beach has been involved in. I was able to work in Linden Avenue between Market and South Street as an AmeriCorps worker. Through the Atlantic Corridor Project, I trained two interns from Victory Outreach and St. Athanasius Church in Asset Based Community Development. Together we surveyed the neighborhood to find out the top concerns of the neighborhood.

At the first neighborhood meeting we reported back to the neighbors and placed in their hands what they would like to do about things. The neighbors decided to attract more neighbors to the meetings by hosting a neighborhood clean up. The eighth district, Rae Gaeblich’s, office sponsored the neighborhood clean up. Several neighbors donated their time, treasure, touch, and talent into the clean up. The clean up started at eight o’clock and by 9:30 AM the industrial sized dumpster was filled to the top. It was encouraging to see neighbors come together for the betterment of their neighborhood.

In Downtown Long Beach, Somatra (another AmeriCorps worker) has been convening a group of neighbors along 9th Street between Atlantic Avenue and Martin L. King Jr Street. Neighbors met, many for the first time, during barbecues at a local church parking lot. From there the neighbors starting a neighborhood meeting. Together they decided to work on neighborhood safety and wanted to become a registered neighborhood watch block. First they had their local beat police officer share about the neighborhood. Just recently, Lisa, coordinator of neighborhood watch for Long Beach, orientated the neighbors on neighborhood watch. The neighborhood is finally an official registered neighborhood watch block!

These are just a few stories from the two neighborhood Somatra and I are working in. There are so many more stories of individuals and relationships developing through our involvement with these neighborhoods. Community development is difficult work. There is no set structure, hours, or boundaries because you work where you live. It takes lots of time, commitment and love. But it is so rewarding! The relationships that I have built with my neighbors is irreplaceable. The growth within my neighbors is encouraging to witness. I get to share life with them and see them take responsibility and ownership of their neighborhood. They have great commitment and care for the community. Sadly my time with AmeriCorps is coming to an end, but my time within my community is just beginning.

Kingdom Causes Long Beach is looking for an individual who would like to work with a neighborhood in North Long Beach as an AmeriCorps worker. If you have a heart for community development, bringing neighbors together to work toward a better community, then please contact us! To learn more please see the job description at the Kingdom Causes Long Beach website.

Susana Sngiem

Mobilizing People Around Key Kingdom Issues

Every other month I am honored to facilitate the “Let’s Partner ” network. This network gathers Christian leaders who are facilitating and implementing an asset-based community development vision in their various cities. At the table there is representation from 12 cities where grassroots work is happening in 20 neighborhoods. The collective result from our collaboration is astounding!
One of the stories I recently heard from the Baker Street neighborhood in Costa Mesa is about a couple who had made a decision to end their marriage. The following day they received a flyer from MIKA CDC, an associated city member of Kingdom Causes . The flyer was an invitation to a marriage class that was starting in their neighborhood (at the request of neighbors).
This couple made a decision that they would attend as a last effort. Weekly they made incredible strides in renewing their relationship, learning new ways of communicating and how to deal with conflict. By the end of the class they decided to stay married, they both gave their lives to Jesus Christ and are now attending a local church in their neighborhood.
Kingdom touching earth in the home of a struggling couple, reconciliation is a sign of the transformative power of God through his obedient children at MIKA CDC .

Prayer Points:

  1. The Let’s Partner Network of leaders for wisdom, discernment, favor within neighborhoods and cities, funding opportunities as all have been affected by the slow economy.
  2. Continued growth in Let’s Partner network of those living incarnational, missional lifestyles.
  3. AmeriCorp program in our region with members who are positioned in neighborhoods to build relationships with residents, learn what they care about, identify the wonderful treasures in neighbors (skills, talents, knowledge), facilitate dream sessions and planning and connect missing resources to support what the neighbors are working on together.

A Catalyst for Change

Themis Vargas is an Americorp member working at Touching Miami With Love (TM) in the Overtown Community of South Florida.  In June of 2008 Themis was a stay at home mom who was afraid of her neighborhood and her neighbors.  She had been living in Overtown for a few years, but beyond her daughter’s Kindergarten teacher and a couple of other mom’s from the after-school program at TML, she didn’t know many people in her community.  Those who meet Themis would label her as shy; however, reserved is a word that would best describe her.  As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic life hasn’t been easy for her in this country.  However, in the midst of all of this Themis has emerged as a Catalyst for Change in her community!

Her work through Americorp and TML has opened up new possibilities and they are not just new possibilities for Themis, but for others in her community.  Now when Themis walks through her community she is no longer afraid.  She knows her neighbors and her neighbors know her.  During the tax season she helped many of them file their income taxes and made them aware of much needed benefits such as EIC.  They now see her as an advocate for them and she sees them as her neighbors.

Themis’ own needs have been turned into an asset for her neighbors.  As part of her work she needed to be able to use a variety of computer programs, but she didn’t know too much about computers.  The Director of TML thought it would be a good idea to have someone teach her computer literacy and asked her if she knew others that might benefit from the class. As she began talking to other neighbors she realized that this was true for many of them as well.  So, a computer literacy class was started at TML and there’s currently a waiting list!

Delia Caderno

Find out more about Touching Miami with Love by clicking here.

Winton Community Pride Day

I have lived in Winton for many years and as a community member it always bothered me that the MAC (the local advisory body and representative to the County) seemed to be very inward focused. So, when I became an AmeriCorps worker I decided that I wanted to be part of the MAC and see how we can work together to see change happen in the community.

Last year Winton LifeLine Community Center sponsored a Fall Festival. I (Ernie) coordinated the event, we had Gateway Community Church from Merced provide games for the children, a young Christian artist from Merced provide music, and numerous service organizations came out for a wonderful event that drew the whole community together.

We were asked if we would have another fall event and having gone through various training from ABCD and AmeriCorps I realized that we should not be in charge of it again, so I referred it to the MAC to see if they want to sponsor the event this year.

Well it worked. We partnered with the Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) for the first Winton Community Pride Day.  Several of the board members jumped at the idea, one board member offered his community hall free of charge, one person took care of delegating various jobs to the members of the board and I ended up only with one task: to get community organizations involved.

I asked one of the local churches to provide games and craft projects for the children, a business provided the food, LifeLine gave out winter coats and through a grant was able to provide Food Vouchers to the local grocery store. Community organizations came out to show their services. Businesses provided door prizes.

Over 250 people showed up that day and enjoyed getting to know their community better, ate pizza and realized that they do care about the community!

Ernie Solis

Teen Talents of Rogers Park

When AmeriCorps worker Katherine Vincent from Neighbors United in New Possibilities asked four teens of Rogers Park how they wanted to spend their summer they responded with two words, talent show.  They wanted to show their neighborhood that the teens had talent and things they could contribute to the community.

Rogers Park, like many neighborhoods in Chicago, is experiencing the sting of gentrification.  More and more people from outside of the community are purchasing condos and moving in causing friction between the home owners and renters in the neighborhood.  The teens hoped this celebration of talent would bring everyone out, owners and renters, to see the fun and unique talents of their community.

The summer was filled with planning and organizing.  The teens went around their community to see who could contribute to this event.  Churches donated staging and food, a local DJ loved the idea and donated his time and sound equipment.  After weeks of organizing, publicizing and practice the day of the talent show arrived.  Hosted by one of the teens the show included singers, rappers, and dancers.  People from all over the neighborhood came out to celebrate together with great food and great talent.

During the celebrations the police came out to see what all the noise was about thinking they were going to find some type of altercation going on.  However they were delighted to find such a peaceful and happy celebration that had all of the legal permits to be there!

The talent show was a success.  Neighbors were able to meet each other, fellowship together and rejoice in the talent of the youth.  There have already been requests for the 2nd annual Rogers Park talent show.


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