Community SHINE Event

Churches are beginning to experience the benefit of working together to reach out to their communities. This was a community Fall Festival in York County, Virginia.

As a part of this outreach the leadership conducted a survey of those attending to hear their wishes for their community. This will be followed up with meetings of the community to plan community development efforts. Since a local church and Christians in the community are leading this effort the community will be well served and drawn to the church.

As our ministry continues to interact with churches in various communities the need for workers to coordinate these efforts within each community grows. We will also need to develop our web site’s capacity to handle and manage the information generated from these efforts as well the workers to manage the site and develop its capability.

These are urgent needs since as our ministry grows the demand for quality resources and personal management becomes critical. Your support will enable us to be effective and efficient managers of these resources

Cheers and Challenges

I am experiencing the struggle of trying to move those interested in and excited about the possibilities of adopting ABCD principles in their communities to being leaders who embrace these principles to the point of actually implementing them.

My intention now is to go deeper rather than wider in select communities. By this I mean that I am going to reduce my involvement in several communities in order to work more intentionally in two particular communities to identify community stakeholders and to organize visioning meetings.

I continue to find many churches, ministers and para-church ministries interested in learning more about ABCD but they also shy away from working with others in their communities to develop a connectedness in their community for this work.

Their motivation seems to be their desire to attract more community members to their churches and ministries without having to share leadership responsibilities for community development or their organizational resources for this work.

Although I will continue to share the ABCD message with these types of ministries as the opportunities present themselves, I plan to widen the circle of those I approach to other non-church specific community stakeholders.

One dynamic Iʼve observed is that of the ministry leaderʼs passionate ownership of his or her ministry. Although he or she may be interested in the possibilities of implementing ABCD they fear the dramatic changes such implementation would bring.

One leader said in response to my answer to his question of, “OK, what do we do next?” “Oh now, we canʼt do that! If we did that no one would come back.” In other words, even though there is a deep desire for their ministries to be much more effective and Kingdom- like, they canʼt let go enough to go through the process needed for His Kingdom to actually come.

I must let go of my stubborn desire to see the organized church embrace ABCD and simply implement the ABCD principles to the best of my knowledge and ability trusting that Jesus will bring the changes He desires in the process.

The Church “With” The Community

By Delia Caderno, director Partnership for Community Transformation (P4CT)

Being the church “with” the community is much more difficult and complex than one can imagine.  Having the desire to be the church “with” the community isn’t enough.  Having a few “community focused” events isn’t enough.  Inviting the community isn’t enough.

So, what does a church need to do to become the church “with” their community? How does a church start down that pathway? What does it mean to be community inclusive?

In partnership with P4CT, South Kendall Community Church has been asking and working-through some of these questions.  Some insights into the answers to these questions were revealed during a recent Small Group Leaders Dialogue.  “I need to change how I think about community, I need a new mindset” was the heart’s cry of one of the leaders.  “We need a new approach; we need to start asking and not telling” declared another.  “We need to start joining their stuff”.  One of my favorite remarks was “We need to get the word but out of our thinking. And, we need to get our butts into the community”.

An active, intentional and thoughtful listening process is necessary in the pathway to become the church “with” the community.  Listening to what’s being said and to also notice what is missing from the conversation, were key insights that the group was discovering from “listening” to one another.  At the end of the dialogue there was a deeper appreciation for each other, the community and their vision to be in the heart of the community and to have the community in their heart.

Being the church “with” the community isn’t an easy task.  It requires a paradigm shift of how we think and act.  It requires intentionality.  It means that we have to build trusting relationships, one conversation at a time over time. As the SKCC leaders are discovering it isn’t at easy task, but it is a task worth doing because as they continue to walk down this pathway they too are being changed and transformed.

Community Listening

The strategy for community listening being implemented by All Nations Church is to start literally in their back yard. Saunders Elementary School’s property abuts the church property. Although they have had a cordial relationship over the years the majority of interaction has been through the church giving school supplies each year. This year their intention is to go deeper and to build transformational relationships.

This is being done through a team led by Tricia Goeller from All Nations Church and Carol Hall from Huntington Mennonite Church which is located near the school as well.

Both churches are encouraging the involvement of their members is this work. I am coaching this team in the steps of ABCD but they are truly leading the effort.
We have established relationships with the school’s parent involvement coordinator and its principal as well as several teachers. We have conducted one listening event with the teachers and parents at their PTA meeting recently and have plans for several more listening events. Tricia and Carol are excited about this process. As Carol said this week, “I knew that something was missing. Now we know what it is. I cannot wait to see what is going to happen next.”

I conducted a “What is ABCD?” meeting at Huntington Mennonite Church with Carol’s Community Outreach Team which includes their pastor. We are also planning for other listening efforts.

Cheers and Challenges

I am seeing a growing interest in ABCD and receptivity by churches to implement it in their neighborhoods. However, several good opportunities to employ ABCD best practices have been abandoned by some pastors just as the opportunity arose.

The relationship with All Nations Church is deepening between myself, the pastor and the congregation and widening in the sense that the church leadership is now directly engaging in ABCD listening events. I have been impressed with how eagerly they have taken the responsibility upon themselves to work through the process of using ABCD in their church events.

Crossroads Community Church is embracing ABCD as well. They are seeing and hearing about the progress of All Nations Church and have been inspired and challenged to see similar results in their community.

I have noticed a reluctance of many churches to commit to the process. They seem to see its benefits but are hesitant to commit themselves to this journey.

Since I have become better known, I am being invited to participate in many community programs. I’m learning that these can be very distracting and time consuming, As a result I have become more discerning as to those I believe are really interested in community transformational efforts versus those seeking only to implement a to-for program.

Partnering for Community Transformation: It Really Can Happen!

By Delia Caderno, Director-Partnership for Community Transformation.

The Following story comes from the Christian Community Development Association’s eRestorer’s July issue July.  At first glance it might seem to be about their Regional Institute, but it really is a story about partnering for change in local communities.  Although my work is mainly concentrated in South Florida I often-times partner with other organizations, such as CCDA, to train and encourage community leaders on the art of Asset Based Community Development.  This was one such opportunity.

To Define a Neighborhood

The CCDA Institute in Augusta, GA

By Meg E. Cox

Who has the privilege of defining a neighborhood, of naming its assets and its needs?

The city of Augusta, Georgia, is eyeing its Harrisburg neighborhood as a potential site for development because of its prime location. The press has defined Harrisburg as a dangerous place that is best to avoid. The operators of a day shelter for people with mental illness in Harrisburg envision a community that welcomes and cares for troubled people. A neighborhood association envisions Harrisburg as a place free of the day shelter’s clientele.

Marsha Jones, music director and director of outreach at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, saw a neighborhood on the precipice: the community’s many assets make it a prime target for gentrification, and she hoped for a way to capture those assets “and at the same time make sure there is still low-income housing for people who have lived there for generations.” The city’s growing interest in Harrisburg’s development potential made it “a really good time to get into the community and say, ‘What do the people who live here want?’”

Jones saw that although everyone agrees that they want the neighborhood to be a safe place for kids to play, there has been intense conflict between neighbors about how to reduce crime. “People who have lived here for years and own homes are afraid, and people coming to the day shelter are afraid,” she said. “Because they’re afraid, they can’t get past the first step and say, ‘Who is this person, really?’ We’ve got to have a conversation together.”

“It’s so easy to have bad feelings about people, but when you get to know them you don’t have those feelings.”

That long-needed conversation began at a CCDA Institute that Jones and St. Luke’s brought to Augusta on May 7–8, 2010. Jones invited community leaders, staff from local nonprofits, and people from outside the region to participate in two classes over two days: Listening to the Community, facilitated by CCDA board member Delia Caderno of Partners for Community Transformation in Miami, and Empowerment, taught by Bob Lupton, founder and president of FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta. Jones’s invitations brought out people representing a broad cross-section of community residents, including members of opposing factions in an intense neighborhood dispute.

Before teaching her class, Delia toured the community and learned about some of its assets and its challenges. Then she customized her class for the audience. Instead of just providing a forum for listening to the community and teaching about asset-based community development, she also facilitated the creation of an asset map of the neighborhood.

Delia’s full agenda meant that everyone had to move very quickly, CCDA digital communications coordinator Chris Like recalled, but a day that began with complaints about the pace “ended with plans and a vision and a greater understanding of what it would take to get their neighborhood active and involved.” Bob Lupton’s Empowerment session on the second day drew a larger crowd that included more people from outside Harrisburg.

During Delia’s asset-mapping exercise, groups of attendees gathered to write down their own skills and resources, then record the physical assets of the community: sidewalks, trees and greenery, a beautiful canal along the border, sturdy houses, people who have yards and like to be out and about in public spaces. Then the groups listed people assets: organizations, churches, civic functions, and so on. Finally the groups brainstormed about what more they could do to engage the community and listen to it; this process produced ideas for next steps.

“We can all agree that it’s time to go into the neighborhood and try and connect the dots.”

Discussing the community’s assets was transformative for many participants. Augusta resident and St. Luke’s volunteer Gloria Norwood reported learning that “you can live in Harrisburg without a car—rare in Augusta and in the South. You can walk to what you need, and there’s a bus station. For a lower-income neighborhood to be able to walk is a big positive. I didn’t realize that before.”

The exercise also increased personal engagement among neighbors. “It’s so easy to have bad feelings about people,” Norwood said, “but when you get to know them you don’t have those feelings.” The Institute created a way to match people who have particular needs with people who have corresponding assets. It helped neighbors find each other—by gathering people for a community garden, for example. “Ms. Jones didn’t know Ms. Smith,” Norwood explained, “but they both like to grow tomatoes.”

The increased neighborhood engagement didn’t end with the Institute. A few weeks after the learning weekend, about 20 people gathered to make an interim plan for going forward. They decided to conduct a neighborhood survey, and a few participants volunteered to begin drawing up a list of questions. There has also been talk of starting a community development corporation in the neighborhood. “We can all agree that it’s time to go into the neighborhood and try and connect the dots,” Jones said.

Harrisburg native Michael Strickland traveled from his home in Atlanta to attend the Institute. He was impressed that “the presenters tried to bring a sense of ethics and compassion back to the community. . . . CCDA has helped us by giving us the tools we need to create a positive dialogue among ourselves as a community.”

Strickland urges people outside Augusta to host CCDA Institutes in their own towns and cities: “This is a very caring, compassionate, and well-informed group of individuals who can provide a community with the necessary tools they will need to begin transforming their community in a humane and compassionate way.”

All Nations Church Introduces ABCD to Life Groups

Pastor Brian Forrester is very excited about being a “with” church. The ABCD model of community transformation captured his imagination immediately and he continues to be a champion of it in his church and our community. His dream is for his church to implement the ABCD model in their church through their Life Group ministry.

All Nations Church has developed a healthy Life Group ministry that is far more than a school of discipleship. Their philosophy of disciple making is built upon the model of Jesus teaching his disciples as they served along side of him. The ANC Life Groups are built upon the God-given dreams of the membership of All Nations Church. This makes the implementation of the ABCD model a good fit for their Life Group ministry.

Pastor Brian and his church leaders and I are working to integrate ABCD into their Life Group ministry. He has quarterly Life Group leader training as they launch each new quarterʼs groups. We met with this quarterʼs leaders to share “What is ABCD?” Our next step is to hold listening activities with the churchʼs elders and deacons and then with the church itself in itʼs neighborhood.

Pastor Brian is also a champion of ABCD with area ministers. We will have a mapping session this coming week with the monthly pastors group that meets at ANC. Brian and I are committed to working as a team to encourage pastors in our area to learn more about ABCD and to dream with together about what we can do together to bring transformation to our community.

http://www.allnationschurch.org/

http://www.weareonechurch.com/

Ronnie – Maturing Amidst Gangs and Gunfire

It was a cool, clear Saturday evening when Ronnie Cosper, a 16-year old resident of East Chattanooga’s Harriet Tubman public housing development, took a walk to a nearby convenience store. However, his stroll was cut short when a white truck pulled up near him and several masked men jumped out and fired shots.

A Chattanooga police officer would later report that these shots were seemingly fired at random. Ronnie still took a bullet in the leg.

Roughly four hours earlier, another young man was shot in the neck at Rogers Road and North Parkdale Avenue. Police have reported a dozen gunfire victims since January, including three fatalities.

Resisting the Allure of Gangs

The string of violent crimes has alarmed city officials. While they agree on the need to steer youth away from the deceptive allure of gangs and criminal activity, solutions are few and far between. Hope for the Inner City believes that the solution lies in relationships centered on the gospel.

The men who shot Ronnie, clad in masks and matching black clothes, may have been gang members. “Victims not wanting to cooperate with us or identify a suspect … that’s the thing we deal with, as far as these gang-related shootings,” police Lt. Tim Carroll told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It is remarkable that Ronnie was not more severely injured by his attackers. But what is perhaps more remarkable is that Ronnie has no gang ties. This is notable considering his age, his lack of a father at home, his neighborhood, and his temperament: Those who know Ronnie would say he has a short fuse—or at least he used to.

“Ronnie was a kid who got in trouble a lot … prone to snap quick,” says Robert Blevins, Hope for the Inner City’s leadership development coordinator.

Growing in Self-Discipline

Blevins, who has visited Ronnie often during his recovery, says Ronnie was 12 when he first took part in Hope for the Inner City’s Summer Work Adventure Program, a leadership training experience where teens learn study skills, banking and budgeting, and job-landing strategies. Though Ronnie was rough around the edges when he first arrived, the relationships he made with Christians on staff began to yield significant changes in his character.

“When he first came to Hope for the Inner City, [Ronnie] didn’t have self discipline,” says Blevins. “But I’ve seen a maturity level in him that has resulted from the fact that he’s been around individuals that want to see him grow.”

Four years later, Ronnie is on the payroll, helping with activities and meals for the urban ministry teams that visit Hope for the Inner City each spring and summer. “He comes into work at 7 a.m. each morning and is almost never late,” says Blevins. “His grades have gone up. He’s been able to help provide for his family.”

Choosing Life over Death

Unfortunately, Blevins and the Hope for the Inner City staff are not the only forces vying for Ronnie’s commitment.

“A lot of gang members want him,” says Blevins. “They sense his leadership skills, his confidence. So it’s a struggle for us.”

While gang activity continues to threaten the peace of Chattanooga’s urban core, Hope for the Inner City is, in the spirit of gospel hope, preparing new community leaders who will chose integrity and mercy over violence and cruelty. These are young people who, like Ronnie, are being empowered by God to support their families in honest ways, instead of wearing masks and wielding guns.

The progress in Ronnie Cosper’s life evidences more than a move from crisis to stability; it’s a picture of true transformation. Hope believes such a profound change is possible only when individuals and organizations share the love of Jesus Christ in sincere and strategic ways.

http://hope4theinnercity.org/

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

All Nations Church Looks to Apply ABCD

All Nations Church, as their name implies, has a heart to share Jesus with everyone in their community. Lead pastor, Brian Forrester says, “Since Jesus has changed our lives, our passion is to impact our city – and beyond – with the message that he died for our sins and rose again.”

Pastor Brian and All Nations Church are committed to being a transforming presence in their neighborhood and throughout our Virginia Peninsula community. They know this means more than sharing the words of the message of Jesus. Their desire is to make a Kingdom difference in the lives of their neighbors. It has been this desire on their part that has brought me into a growing relationship with pastor Brian and the All Nations Church family.

Over the better part of the last year I have come to know Brian as he has hosted a monthly community Pastors Prayer gathering. His desire is for the Body of Christ to care for one another, to worship God together and to serve our communities alongside each other. As I have attended these meetings I have been able to meet many other likeminded brothers and sisters in Christ. This has laid a relational foundation for introducing the concept of ABCD in our community.

While attending ABCD training with Jay Van Groningen in Cleveland in December, 2009, I often thought of Pastor Brian and All Nations Church as being people already having this heart for their neighborhood and surrounding communities. Since then, Brian and I have prayed about and discussed the possibility of applying ABCD in our community. I am happy to say that we are currently in the process of developing our Memorandum of Agreement for applying the ABCD approach in his church and community. He and his church leadership have made the commitment to be coached by me over the next year.

Our greatest challenge is that we are all new to ABCD. The good news is that we are willing and eager to let God use us and we are looking forward to learning how to apply ABCD in our community.

For more information on All Nations Church visit their website: http://www.allnationschurch.org/

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.

http://hope4theinnercity.org/

Transforming West Coconut Grove

Miami, FL- After taking a full year to create relationships in an impoverished community, Urban Resurrection, a group of activists living in the West Grove are now starting to see changes. Three years later, they are a respected part of the community and the community is seeing empowerment as well.

They have started community groups that make plans to change their community. Plans have included gardens that feed over six households, an open mic for youth once a month, two businesses with the youth, mentoring programs and block parties. Local politicians respect them, but most of all, they are a part of the community.

“We’re connected to churches, businesses, non-profits, government, but mostly we’re connected on the streets,” said Laurie Cook one of the co-founders. “Relationships give us the platform to do what we do.”

What they have been doing has grabbed the attention and admiration of local politicians as well.

“They have done great work,” said Homer Wittaker, aide to Commissioner Carlos Jimenez. “They have created a real community of neighbors to take care of one another’s needs.”

Three years ago, Michael and Erika Philip, their 3 children and their friend Laurie Cook moved to Miami from Chicago with the financial backing of churches and friends to help in the community of the West Grove, but they didn’t start any programs. To the dismay of many of their supporters, Urban Resurrection spent the whole first year developing relationships and trying to get to know the West Grove rather than starting programs they thought would solve the problems they saw.

“We moved in and listened to what the people had to say and built a strong trust level,” said Michael Philip one of the co-founders. “We don’t act until the community says what they want to do.”

The West Grove is a historically Bahamian community where more than 40 percent of the 3,000 residents of this 65-block area live below the poverty line, and these activists live in the community itself.

With its now six staff and five volunteers, Urban Resurrection makes sure they are directly involved in the community.

“Our volunteers are required to go through a rigorous, six-week training program before they work with us,” said Cook. “In our mentoring program, our mentors are required to spend time in the community with the family of the kids they’re mentoring.”

Every week Urban Resurrection meets with the Carter Street Block Club with its neighbors to discuss what the needs of the community are. The group, made up of people from all ages, from small children to its oldest member who is 83. This community group has closed a generational gap that exists in the West Grove.

“There is at times a divide between the generations here,” said Cook. “We have brought young people into our community meetings and the elders are surprised by what their young people can do.”

The group has started a garden initiative that supplies food among the seven houses in the group, and the same group has organized a hurricane preparedness program. In response to youth violence that occurred in 2007, another community group decided to create their BEATS (Bringing Eternal Arts to The Streets) program that attracted one volunteer, a rapper from the Tampa area, to teach their hip-hop class over the summer.

“This is not just another organization. This is a relationship,” said Sekajipo Genes, a Christian rapper who will be releasing his first album in December and has moved to be in the West Grove permanently. “Urban Resurrection is a big story.”

The organization is now starting two businesses headed by some of the youth in the community: a t-shirt design company and a photography company. Orders are coming in from around the United States.

When asked if it is uncomfortable being white in a predominantly black community, Michael Philip who is white but has adopted two children from Ethiopia, responded that he enjoys the culture here and feels comfortable.

As one politician, Stephen Murray a Democratic Committeeman who blogs about issues pertaining to the West Grove observed of Urban Resurrection (see article below), “They are extremely popular within the community. Community organizations like these fill the void that local government cannot.”

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 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.

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

Mrs. Stewart

Mrs Stewart came to us in the spring of 2008 requesting help with home repair. She had a hole in her bathroom floor that was preventing her from using the bathroom. We interviewed her and assessed her needs. We realized that she was in an unsafe living arrangement. There was an infestation of roaches and rats, as well as extreme filth in the home. We would only be able to help her if she was willing to help herself along side of us to completion of all her needs.

She agreed to allow us in to her house on a limited basis. At this time Mrs Stewart was a very angry person who really didn’t want us there, but needed help to get the bathroom fixed. We began with the help of a team of teens who wanted to serve in the community by cleaning out her house. Over the course of the first week there was a lot of tension and on one occasion we were thrown out of the house as Mrs Stewart had a temporary change of mind. We just continued to show her love.  Slowly and (three dumpsters later) we began to see a difference in the countenance of Mrs Stewart and on about day five we had a breakthrough with her. She stopped resisting our efforts to help restore her home to a livable situation.

From there we began to see a difference in her. She started to communicate with the workers, instead of them praying for her, she asked them could she pray for them, this was huge. Also instead of her watching them work she began to work along side of them. One day something very significant happened, She smiled. As each day went on over the summer we saw more of Mrs.Stewart come out. We began to see smiles, hugs, and one day flowers we found her out planting flowers.   She began to interact with her neighbors, she started to share a lot of her possessions with them, people wanted to know what was going on with Mrs Stewart and she was more than happy to tell them. As we saw more of her come out we realized that there was a long history of service and work before she had a bout with cancer.  Her identity changed, it became marred to the opposite of what it was originally. At one time she told me she was the community outreach coordinator for her church and they used to feed 900 people a year!! This was amazing because when we met her there was no sign of this person.

After a few more weeks the workers no longer needed masks to be in her home, Mrs. Stewart says “You all have given me my life back. I have never seen Christians behave this way”. Then she says: “I want to help y’all do for others what you did for me”. BINGO. Now Mrs Stewart has agreed to be our first Ambassador of HOPE for her Street. She wants to take her street back and infect her community with positive changes. We are still walking with her and her husband. The last time I saw her I noticed she had gotten another car. I asked her what she needed another car for, her husband was sick and retired and they had the one car that they both used. Neither used it much. She told me (very matter of factly) she was a missionary too!!! She needed her own car to do her missionary work, Unbelievable! So she has made herself available to us as a volunteer, she actually just agreed to help us by impacting the lives of the young mothers through a once a month gathering that is about to launch in the community. This is a very short account of our dealings with Mrs Stewart, but it has been a pleasure to see her life change and now as a result we are anxious to  give her the support she needs and cheer her on as she leads the charge transforming her community.

Travis C Upton

For more information on Hope for the Inner City click here for their website.

Central Alliance Church

Located in NW Miami, the Central Alliance Church is a family church, partnering with the local community to make life better.

In the last several months we’ve had a variety of “Community Building” events, such as a Hip-Hop concert, community health fair and community clean-ups.

We are intentional about working with our community’s assets such as the local neighborhood association and the local elementary school.

In December we had another community building event (Gingerbread House Building). Latricia, Joshua and their children Airiana and Aviair learned about the event through the local school.

The Warden  family has joined our church and are actively looking for ways to benefit their community.

Greg Noll, Pastor

Fraternidad de Fe

Our communities are filled with families and individuals with varying degrees of needs; however, the church has for many years focused only on the need of its members. We haven’t taken the time to get to know our communities. We don’t see ourselves as agents of justice and change. We have falsely believed that a spoken message was sufficient to meet the needs of the people.

The framework and concept of Christian Community Development (CCD) and specially the Asset Based Community Development have given us a glimpse of how the church can better exercise its function through holistic ministry.

Albert Ixchu, Senior Pastor and Jose Carvajal, Associate Pastor

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