The Richness of Community

Wayne Squires-Partners In Neighborhood Transformation, a ministry of The Other Way

Story by Kurt Reppart, Director of Family Development at The Other Way

Some of our most satisfying work at The Other Way happens around food and tables.  Throughout the year on Monday evenings, 8-10 families get together in the Family Center to share a meal.  Each family brings a dish to pass, and we literally get to taste the variety of cultures represented.  The experience is rich.  The goal of these gatherings is to build a community of trust and support.  We do this by listening to each other, sharing our stories, playing games, and reflecting on God’s Word together.

After the meal is finished, the children are dismissed for enrichment activities so that the adults can have some focused conversation.  This fall these adult conversations centered on the topic of “passing on our values to our children”.   We broke up into 3 groups, and the atmosphere was full of joy and discovery as our discussion narrowed to how to foster responsibility in our children.  Represented in the room were a wide range of  values, ideas, and practical wisdom.  The variety of experiences was rich.  Several important things happened as we shared:  we learned from one another, our love for our children was affirmed, and we all left with  new insights and new ideas to try.  The conversation will continue, but this particular conversation provided solid ground to build upon;  to build community and to build hope.

Relationship Matters

Jim Schepers - The Other Way Ministries 

Three community members move from volunteer status to employed volunteer status.

These are difficult days in our West side of Grand Rapids community.  Housing values have cratered.  Long-term neighborhood businesses are closing.  Unemployment has soared, particularly for our community members of color.  And so, it is particularly delightful when hard work and opportunity come together for those who care enough about their neighborhood to stay involved in the work of community development.

We had just such an experience this past month, when three of our regular community volunteers were able to take advantage of an employment opportunity and move from simple volunteer status to employed volunteer status.  The path to this new status was through relationships developed through their community volunteering. This past month, they collectively took over the landscaping duties for the several properties owned and operated by The Other Way Ministries.

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Keith

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 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

AMERICORPS’ FIRST COMMUNITY LEADER IS MR. MATT BATTEN. MATT HAS LIVED ON THE WEST SIDE OF GRAND RAPIDS SINCE 2009. HE ALSO WORKS AT THE FULTON PARTY STORE WHERE HE IS A VALUED EMPLOYEE. MATT WAS MY FIRST VOLUNTEER FOR THE VERY FIRST AMERICORPS PROJECT: THE WEST SIDE RAKE PROJECT, IN NOVEMBER OF 2010. THIS PROJECT WAS A RESULT OF SURVEYS BEING HANDED OUT IN THE COMMUNITY AND RETURNED TO REFLECT WHAT THE COMMUNITY WANTED, A CLEANER NEIGHBORHOOD. MATT ASSISTED IN RAKING SOME ELDERLY AND DISABLED MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY’S YARDS WHILE CONNECTING WITH NEIGHBORS AND FAMILIES, WHO SHARED SOME OF THE SAME GOALS IN WORKING TOGETHER. MATT HAS ALSO VOLUNTEERED FOR THE WEST SIDE MOVING PROJECT, WHERE HE HELPED A GROUP OF THREE VOLUNTEERS, HELP A WOMEN, WHO WAS EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT TO MOVE HER FAMILY’S BELONGINGS INTO STORAGE UNTIL HER NEW HOME WAS READY TO MOVE IN.

GRAND RAPIDS AMERICORPS, WILL WELCOME THE COMMUNITY’S FIRST COMMUNITY PROJECT LEADER. MATT BATTEN. THIS WILL BE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR MATT TO FACILITATE IN CONNECTING RESIDENTS IN A DIVERSE ATMOSPHERE. THIS {ABCD} APPROACH IN BRINGING POSITIVE COLLABORATION AND SUPPORT TO THE WEST SIDE SHOWCASES THE ASSETS WAITING TO BE TAPPED INTO, AND SHOULD HAVE A GREAT OUTCOME.

KARL T. WILLIAMS  AMERICORPS

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

How Do You Teach Kids to Take Care of Their Neighborhoods?


How Do You Teach Kids to Take Care of Their Neighborhoods? from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


How do you teach kids to take care of their neighborhoods?  Have them keep it clean.
Posted: Sept. 25th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Tools: Community
Betterment (1:21)

To download Quicktime right click (control-click for Mac) on the
“DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME” text and choose “Save Target As,” “Save Link As,” or “Download Linked File.”

How Do You Teach Kids to Save?


How Do You Teach Kids to Save? from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


How do you teach kids to save?  Give them incentives.
Posted: Sept. 25th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Tools: Betterment to
Development (1:18)

To download Quicktime right click (control-click for Mac) on the
“DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME” text and choose “Save Target As,” “Save Link As,” or “Download Linked File.”

How Do You Teach Kids Responsibility?


How Do You Teach Kids Responsibility? from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


How do you teach kids responsibility?  Give them some.
Posted: Sept. 25th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Tools: Betterment to
Development (1:19)

To download Quicktime right click (control-click for Mac) on the
“DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME” text and choose “Save Target As,” “Save Link As,” or “Download Linked File.”

Youth Employment Service (Y.E.S.)

Youth Employment Service (Y.E.S.) from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


The Y.E.S. program offers local youth a first work experience.  Kids  learn work ethic, good saving habits through incentives, and taking pride in their communities through caring.
Posted: Aug. 28th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Community Betterment
(2:44)

To download Quicktime right click (control-click for Mac) on the
“DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME” text and choose “Save Target As,” “Save Link As,”
or “Download Linked File.”

Fathers


Fathers from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


Active fathers make better families.  This is a program that helps to connect fathers with their kids.  This video is about trying to reclaim the father being an important figure in the home, as well as encouraging them to be active in their children’s lives.
Posted: May 9th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
General (3:16)

Christmas Store


Christmas Store from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


During Christmas The Other Way runs a Christmas Store which is aimed at restoring dignity to Christmas.  Rather than giving away gifts people work in the store to build up credit, and then shop for gifts with the credit they have earned.  Dignity comes with involvement.
Posted: April 4th, 2007 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Betterment to
Development (2:44)
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