Grandma’s Hands

Tronn Moller – Faith and Community Development Institute

Meeting at their weekly Bible study to pray, share potluck suppers, Chat and Chew discussions and  ideas about how to better their grandchildren’s lives was a regular event for many of the grandmothers residing at The Estates, formerly known as the Desire Housing Development in New Orleans.  According to Marcia Peterson, director of Desire Street Ministries who leads the weekly study, it began after Hurricane Katrina and the main focus of the ladies was to help provide activities and services for their own live-in grandchildren .  “A lot of them are single women raising their grandchildren for various reasons,” said Peterson.

The women met every Thursday, planned activities for the kids, and participated in  discussions focused on keeping the children safe and healthy.   But they began to realize that in order to make more effective and long term  change within the neighborhood, they needed to reach beyond their own homes and  into the community itself. This they decided could be best done by mentoring the young mothers around them.  So, armed with spirited determination and a strong sense of community , they became , “Grandmas Hands,” an organization bent on community empowerment.

According to group member, Margaret McMillan, during one of their meetings,  Peterson was struck with a divinely inspired idea about how to better reach the residents. “We were all in here doing crafts one day and Ms. Peterson during Chat and Chew , the Lord gave (her ) a vision. So we said we could reach them (mothers) and then teach them because of economic situations . We wanted them to be thinking about economic development. Isn’t that beautiful? Now we’re taking our hands and going back to basics, teaching the things they need to know, “said McMillan.

Their meetings soon gave opportunity for developing simple money making basics. The grandmothers brought with them a wealth of information and knowledge on how to accomplish the task , teaching economic empowerment strategies. Sylvia Norman, who began raising her three grandchildren after her daughter succumbed to cancer , set a goal to teach the women to refurbish and recycle used linens and home decorations. “I can cook a little , I can sew dolls , sewing and alterations, that’s my thing. We can go to thrift stores and a sheet becomes curtains, those things can turn into money for the home ,” Norman explained. Some of the items purchased by the group to help bring their goal to fruition, include a sewing machine, cake decorating kits, knitting kits, and cookbooks. Bonnie Peters, a member  who gives the women instruction in flower arranging , explained their realization that empowering mothers, many  of them single parents  was key to building a more  productive home environment.  “The Bible says that the older women should teach the younger women. Spiritually , socially, you know. It’s all about showing the young people how to survive with what little they have.”

Margaret McMillan added “When they would come, they would talk at the Chat and Chew , it was more counseling than anything. We didn’t know where this was going but you’re talking to older women who have come through some of the same things.

But  McMillan like the other grandmothers believes that with age comes wisdom and a responsibility to those who are in need. “When you were young , you’d go to mama and get negatives  but grandma would have the answer. ” The mothers, mostly in their twenties are allowed to bring their children to meetings and are met with compassion and lots of patience.

Grandmas Hands is measuring its success within the community as mothers take  advantage of what they have to offer.  Twenty-six year old Terri McMillan  a mother of a nine year old son and seven month daughter, pointed out how being a part of the group has helped to better her interpersonal skills. McMillan who, outside of her home and work environments found it hard to connect on a social level  has greatly benefited from the group’s influence. “I’m was a very reserved person, I am still somewhat reserved, but they helped me sit with and hang out with other people. I am not good with new people in my personal life, just being able to connect with other people.”

Ashley Stewart , a twenty-four year old mother of  four children ranging in age from six to one year old, explained that the ladies helped her in developing better parenting  skills and develop a positive discipline strategy for her children by having her write a list of behavioral changes the children needed to practice.  “It’s mainly like dealing with them (her children) because they were all over the place, but now they are better, “said Stewart .

Overall the group believes that the total recovery and health of their community lies in the hands of the community as a whole and can only be turned around by a concentrated effort by those with the wisdom to do so. That is one reason why they believe Grandmas Hands is so important. “Many young mothers have succumbed to the drug culture, grandmothers are stepping in and filling that gap. They have to mother their children again and their grandchildren,” Margaret McMillan said.

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.”

Listening Works

Faith and Community Development Institute – AL, LA, MS

In October, when New Orleans is beginning to cool down a little, 10 people from the House of Hope Fellowship began doing prayer walks and listening to the community.  Rev. Gerald Burton, Pastor of House of Hope Fellowship, said, “We are a 1 year old church plant in the 9th Ward community. It wasn’t my original intention to be in this community, but God shifted our focus here. With most church plants you do demographic surveys and then start moving. I didn’t take that route. We just moved into the community and trusted what God is going to do.  We didn’t have a great feel or deep roots into the community, so I thought it would be very important to listen to the people in the community.”

For several hours, the members walked in the community.  Before they left the church, they defined their boundaries and developed into teams of two.  In the listening sessions, they ask the following questions. Please tell us about yourself and your connection to this community? How long have you been in this community? Who are the leaders in the community? What would you want to see in this community? What would you like to see going on in this community?

Upon returning the group shared what they learned. They discovered:

  • Pre Katrina, the community was predominately African American. Now the community has become a little more diverse to include Hispanics and white people.
  • The middle school and high school students are bused out of the community.
  • They envision programs to reduce crime, new and rehabilitated housing, and activities for the youth.

“When we finished that day, we were excited about what had just happened”, says Rev Burton. He goes on to say, “But the real impact on walking the community didn’t until we walked again a few weeks later.  “As they walked this time, Calvin Jackson and Audrey Brown met them and shared with them their appreciation for listening to the community.  They also shared that they owned the neighborhood grocery store and would like to partner to mentor youth.

In December, they House of Hope Fellowship, We Got It Grocery Store, and the New Orleans Recreation Department developed a youth mentoring program. On a weekly basis, youth are contacted and engaged by adults in the community.

Faith and Community Development Institute

Strengthening Community By Strengthening It’s Leaders and Organizations

There is a growing movement sweeping across the nation that community matters more than ever, and that building on the skills of local residents, community leaders and its institutions creates more sustainable communities for the future. The task of developing the framework for these organizations is a daunting one, but with the help of organizations like the Faith and Community Development Institute (FCDI) there is relief and hope.

The mission of the Faith and Community Institute is to build the capacity of citizens and institutions engaged in community transformation by providing coaching, training and research. The ultimate goal is to see people and organizations working together to restore and strengthen their communities.

“I am equipping leaders, engaging congregational leaders, providing constituency development, and developing a regional network of leaders. Together we learn about churches being strategic players with their communities making life better for everyone,” said Executive Director of the Faith and Community Institute Tronn Moller.

After Katrina, Moller was looking for an opportunity to engage the Faith Community in the redevelopment of the Gulf Region. Over the past 3 years since the FCDI’s inception the institute has helped over 21 organizations grow and thrive.

By providing a supportive learning environment, resources and the necessary tools to strengthen those engaged in building community it not only benefits the individuals, the organizations they work with, but most importantly the citizens of the communities.

“The services that Tronn and the Institute provide are extremely needed in the faith-based community. Training leaders to be more effective at what they do will and has made a valuable impact on our communities,” said Pastor Nelson Dexter Jr.

Dexter is a Pastor and Teacher with the Temple of Praise Ministries, and serves as Board President for Jefferson Cops and Clergy Coalition.

“In my church Tronn has done asset based community development training, leadership development, board development, and team building for my volunteers. Personally, Tronn and the Institute have grown me as a leader. He has expanded my ability to organize, plan and implement strategies that will cause both organizations I serve to be more effective and efficient in both vision and mission,” said Pastor Nelson Dexter Jr.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation to the city of New Orleans, the guidance of Moller and the institute was invaluable helping Rev. Dwight Webster and Churches Supporting Churches (CSC) rebuild the communities affected. The mission of CSC is to restart, repair and rebuild churches to redevelop New Orleans.

“Moller’s work with us through The Faith and Community Development Institute was instrumental in assisting us in formulating the three main thrusts or pillars of CSC—Capacity Building, Community Development and Advocacy,” said Rev. Webster.

Through the Institute’s assistance CSC was able to secure start-up funds to get the organization established as a working group, later a Louisiana non-profit corporation and ultimately a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt organization. According to Rev. Webster, Moller’s work was not limited to the organization, but he also worked one-on-one with individual pastors who were able to shadow CSC’s development and get tax exemption designation for their churches as well.

Recently, FCDI was instrumental in the development of our first deeply affordable house. This has built even more trust between the pastors and FCDI and they now at the beginning stages of training and coaching two leaders from each church in community engagement.

The FCDI is a much needed faith-based community development organization, according to Marcia Peterson of Desire Street Ministries, whose organization is based in the upper ninth ward of New Orleans and operates a medical clinic and youth development programs.

“I have benefited from working with Tronn as a coach in helping me create an RBM tool for managing my organization; he has conducted our staff development around leadership and community engagement for the past three years; and most recently he is working with our board of directors for our charter newly formed school, facilitating our board development sessions on forming a mission statement and vision elements.” Peterson said.

By strengthening those engaged in community development The Faith and Community Development Institute provides a much needed service to New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Like most non-profits they rely on donations to keep their vital operations going.