Neighborhood Youth Camp in Muskegon

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

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

Going Deep In Partnership

Northeast Community Transformation is excited to announce a new venture in our collaborative partnership with Safe Haven Urban Redemption in Newark, NJ.

Safe Haven is a youth development ministry affiliated with Trinity Reformed Church (Reformed Church in America) in the Ironbound community.  Their mission is to empower youth and their families to be the spiritual and social change agents of their community.  This is being accomplished through ministries such as after school, teen employment, arts and music, summer camp, and partnerships with the local school, parents association and health clinic.

Founder and Director Danny Iverson, who has become a dear colleague and friend to Al Santino, is embarking on seminary studies in Florida and will be working long distance.

To help fill is some of the gaps, Al will serve as community development Strategy Coach for six hours per week for the year July, 2010-June 2011.  His role will be to encourage the staff  in developing creative community focused programs and leadership skills.  We believe this going deep” partnership will be a blessing to both NECT and Safe Haven as we give and receive from each other the expertise, gifts, and synergy to work for God’s Kingdom coming to the Newark Ironbound community.

Please pray for this partnership as it represents a deeper level of engagement for NECT that could serve as a model for a strategic focus for empowering our partners and their communities.

Al has been meeting with a group of summer teen employees to discuss how they can own the change in their community through persuading their peers to come together to work together on issues which are critical to their well being.

Some of the issues raised by the teens included  having a safe place for socializing and recreation and using music as a positive, creative force for good.

Al encouraged them to see their job at the Safe Haven summer youth program as an opportunity to grow in community as they affirm each other’s gifts and abilities.

One young person commented that he came to make a few dollars but now is actually enjoying working with the children.

Safe Haven Community Coordinator Jason Bundy will be following up with the youth to help them “own the change”.

The Best Things About Spring: Worms

The snow has melted and the tell-tale signs of Spring are all around us here in Chicago.  Spring does strange things to Chicagoans as we come out of hibernation from the Winter months.  Whereas 60 degrees was cold in the Fall now that Spring has arrived 60 degrees seems warm enough to wear shorts and sandals and head to the beach.  There are certain signs that we Chicagoans look for to know that Spring is coming, outdoor seating at restaurants and cafés pop up and baseball becomes the talk at the water-cooler however the surest sign of Spring is the flowers.  Suddenly the gardens and street planters that looked barren and forgotten are filled with bright flowers.

The students of Jordon and Gale schools in the Roger’s Park neighborhood had a hand in ushering Spring in this year as they became gardeners and planted all the flowers in the street planters.  The excitement of warm weather (well 55°) and the promise of working in the dirt excited the students as they began their day of planting.  The adults are excited too, they are teaching the children the importance of hard work and community beautification.  They are using experiential teaching to help the students understand that the way they treat their neighborhood makes a difference, that they have the power to transform their community.  The learning will not stop at the planting, watering and beautification; the students are also earning money as they plant to go on field trips to organic farms to further expand their understanding of the growing process and healthy eating.
As the adults enjoy the Spring day surveying the important learning that is going on with the students they hear a shout and are reminded of another blessing of Spring, worms.  One student has found a worm in his planter and, of course, the other students cannot be outdone so become determined to find worms in their planters.  The flowers are forgotten for the time being as worms take over the conversations and attention of all.  At the end of the day if one of the students were to be asked the best part bout Spring, easy answer, WORMS of course!

It’s Working!

In July, about thirty people packed inside the stuffy, airless garage of the Mika CDC office.  Neighbors, staff, interns, volunteers and a few teens from our youth programs had come together to talk about what we envisioned for the youth of our community.  How do we want our kids to look in thirty years?  What do we need to be doing now to make it happen?  After brainstorming and walking through some pointed exercises, we came up with an ambitious afterschool program for our neighborhood youth.  We all concurred on some important values and structure and we arrived at a program called, Step Up.

It would include academic tutoring, spiritual training and enrichment classes in art, health, finance and leadership training.  We would need 64 volunteers each week, experts to teach the enrichment portions and others willing to do Bible lessons with the students.  And we would do it at three different sites.  Could we do it?  Could we really make this happen?  That was July, now it’s December…

The answer is “yes”!  We did make it happen.  Maybe it doesn’t look exactly as we thought it would and maybe there are a few gaps, but it is working.  Sometimes when I think that it isn’t, I remind myself of what I’ve seen as I float from site to site to site.  I see Abigail at Baker Street who raises her hand to answer every question the group is asked about the Bible lessons.  She doesn’t always know the answer, but she always raises her hand.  I hear Juan’s mom calling him from the door at the Maple Learning Center at 5:45 when his session ended at 5:30.  “He never wants to leave here”, his mom says with a smile.  “It’s the best part of his day”.  Jasmine and Gio, both seniors in high school, give up nearly eight hours a week working with the younger students at The Hope Center.  They say it’s for their community service hours, but I know it’s more than that.

Together we are making Step Up happen.  We are providing a safe, warm environment for the kids to come and learn how to be leaders in their community.  We are giving them adult role models who know them and care about them.  We are giving them opportunities to learn how to be of service to each other and to the broader community.  We are connecting them to experts in their city who know about things that they have never been exposed to before.  We still don’t have 64 volunteers each week and we don’t have all the enrichment classes filled in on our master calendar – but each week we make it happen and each week more people are becoming involved.  I just hope I’m still around in 30 years so I can see how it all pans out!  These kids are going to be amazing because their community did “step up”!

BreakTime Bakery

BreakTime Bakery from CFA Videos on Vimeo.

BreakTime Bakery is a bakery that is run by kids during the summer. Instead of just sitting around and playing video games all summer the middle school students bake a variety of goods including cookies, cheese cakes, breads, bars, scones, and fudge. The kids sell their products and in the process learn responsibility, new skills, and of course new recipes!
Posted: Sept. 6, 2009          DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
General (4:37)
 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.”

Woodmere Community Organizes a Summer Youth Program

In March 2009, Mission Possible Community Development Corporation, in conjunction with members of Temple of Praise Ministries, developed a ministry called the Battle Ground Believers (BGBers). The purpose of the BGBers was to walk the Woodmere community, listen to the neighbors, build relationships, identify things we can do together to transform the community, and pray with people if the opportunity opened.

Elder Nelson Dexter, pastor of Temple of Praise Ministries said:

“Woodmere is the biggest neighborhood in the State of Louisiana. It’s located on the Westbank of New Orleans, in Jefferson Parish. When you drive into the community from Lapalco Blvd, you see commercial areas. Then for several square blocks, you see apartments and some homes that have been run down. You can also get any type of drug and gun you need. Then as you keep driving you have this healthy working class community. So our goal in walking the community wasn’t to evangelize to them. Or to even try and condemn them. We just wanted to listen and learn.”

Every Saturday evening for about two hours, the BGB walked the community. After six weeks, they held their first meeting to discuss how they could improve their community. Two vision elements developed out of that meeting: (1) Weed out the drugs in our community. (2) Partner with Woodmere Playground to develop more youth programs.

With the summer approaching, the community members held several more meetings and preformed research actions with Jefferson Parish Recreation Department and Councilman Byron Lee. Out of the meetings, we discovered we could hold a summer enrichment camp at Woodmere Playground, because the facility was basically going to be unused during the day.

Community member Lavar Smith said, “Once we found out that we could host a summer enrichment camp at Woodmere Playground for youth ages 6 to 18, we were excited. But what we didn’t realize was that we were going to have to organize more as a community and staff it. The Jefferson Parish Recreation Department and Council district were without monetary resources.”

Because it was late in the fiscal year, both the Jefferson Parish Recreation Department and the Councilman didn’t have funding. They used to be able to fund a summer program through dollars from the local casino, but the council changed the laws to bring that money into the overall budget.

The Woodmere Community members stepped up again. Four teachers and three volunteers from the community offered their services and managed the program fro 5 weeks. The program served 32 youth and enriched their math, reading, and writing skills. They went on field trips and listened to guest speakers.

Pastor Dexter said, “Watching all of this unfold for Woodmere in a matter of weeks was unbelievable. It’s a testament to what people can do when they organize and release their gifts. I can’t wait until the Night Out Against Crime in August. That may push us to working on our next vision statement.

BreakTime Bakery

Here’s a link to a news article about a summer youth program that teaches kids responsibility.

Click Here

“Put ‘em to work!” Youth Employment in McLaughlin

Sharon is 18 years old, and has an 18-month old daughter.  She dropped out of school in the 9th grade when she got pregnant.  Now a “single mom,” she is in an up-and-down relationship with her “baby’s daddy.” She struggles with academics, especially with reading.  She hasn’t spoken to her father in years, and recently was forced out of her mother’s place.  She is now in a living situation that is very precarious and unhealthy for her and for her baby.  Sharon and her daughter are living well below the poverty line and are essentially homeless.

Sharon recently became a program participant with Community enCompass’ Youth Entrepreneurship/Employment Program (YEP!).  She gets up every morning at 5:45 AM, prepares her daughter for the day of childcare, and walks across the neighborhood in the icy morning air to get to the job site.  She is always on-time.  She is a hard-worker: steady, silent, persistent.  She is willing to learn and is very creative.

The job site is 235 E. Larch, where she and seven other youth from the neighborhood are rehabilitating a home that had sat vacant for several years.   The home will be used as part of Community enCompass’ Permanent Supportive Housing Program for homeless families.

Ron Owens, a long-time builder and former Director of WISH (West Michigan Independent Self-help Housing), is the project supervisor at the job site and has been the primary teacher of construction skills for the YEP youth.  Ron is excited about the growth that he has seen in the youth over the past six months since the project’s inception.

“They’ve learned so much already: how to get to work on time, what it means to be responsible for your work tools, how to use a speed square, how to swing a hammer, what nails to use in what situation, and—oh yes—those math skills you thought you would never need, and why a lunch from home is always better than fast food. The list goes on and on.”

“When the youth first received their own tools, the biggest mystery was the tape measurer.  It had lots of numbers on it, but the confusing part was all the little marks between those numbers. At first when I asked for a measurement I would get everything from, ‘It’s the third little mark past the second big mark after the number 68′ to ‘That would be 68 and two quarter, I think.’  Often I would be waiting for a measurement, and waiting and waiting, until I would say something like ‘Can you give me the measurement before I die of old age?’  This would always bring a smile to the faces of those who were standing by waiting, until it was their turn!  Now everyone can read and use a tape measure. That deserves big congratulations to all!

YEP is more than “just a job.”  As Ron reflects, “All of the youth are facing significant adversity in their lives.  We all try to understand how each person’s daily life can impact their workday, and we work through these issues by concentrating on the job at hand.  We have all learned a great deal, not just about building and construction, not just about life skills, but about each other and how to work with each other.  Learning these things has not been easy, but the reward they get from seeing a job well done gives them a sense of satisfaction that can be hard to come by in the neighborhood.”

Sharon is taking small, but mighty steps towards a different future for herself and her baby.  We all recognize and name the obstacles that are around her, but Community enCompass—its staff, programs, resources, and PRAYERS—is committed to walk along side of her as she takes each one of those small and mighty steps.

YEP is a partnership of AmeriCorps, CRWRC, Department of Employment and Training, GoodWill Industries, and Community enCompass.  Collaboration makes things happen!

Jim Schepers

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.

Justice Education: Walking the Micah Road

By Dave Zuiema, Covenant CRC Deacon & NECT Administrator

For several years now, the GEMS Girls Club ministry has been feeling the ‘Call to Africa’. As their awareness has grown, so has their calling — to the point that GEMS national leadership chose “Walk the Micah Road” as the theme for their ministry year, based on Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk numbly with your God.”

Part of that theme will be a “Micah Road  Experience” walk‐a‐thon fundraiser in the Spring of 2009. However, GEMS leaders in the northeast and mid‐Atlantic states saw an opportunity to use the event to set the tone at the beginning of this ministry year.

On Saturday, October 18, approximately 250 people (half of which were GEMS members, some from as far away as Virginia!) took part in the first Micah Road Experience at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The core of the experience was 3 booths which challenged walkers to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Hands‐on lessons about how poverty affects everyday life and death challenged walkers to consider the justice implications of Western affluence, and think about how they could make a difference
for others.

In addition, GEMS leaders invited local, regional and national service ministries to come, reinforcing for walkers that God provides ample opportunities to serve.

Approximately $3500 was collected for local and national GEMS activities, with over $1100 going toward the Esther School which GEMS is sponsoring in Zambia, Africa.

Birchwood Candy Walk

This was the first year of having a candy walk in the Birchwood Neighborhood and after spending several hours passing out fliers there were three of us at a station along the candy route.  We had no expectations but high hopes that people would react positively to the idea of having a safe way for kids to get the candy they so desperately wanted without the parents having the anxiety as their children went door to door.  So we approached the evening just being thankful it was not raining and that there were plenty of Trick or Treaters.

Within 15 minutes of each other two different neighbors approached us with their bowls of candy, asked what we were doing, and the asked if they could join us.  “Of course!” we practically shouted.  So for the next 30 minutes or so we had some neighbors setup a station similar to ours about 100 feet down the route.  Success!

Click here for a video on how the Candy Walk works.

Cameron Garcia

Praise for the Good

The last couple weeks at After School Program have been really challenging. The boys have been so frustrating, and it grinds on my nerves that they think it’s ok to ignore what I say. “Stop hitting,” I’ll say, and certain kids will look me in the eye and do it 5 more times.

I felt like that had been taking over my time at the program, just preparing myself to be frustrated and not listened to, and expecting certain kids to not give me any respect, which just leads to a frustrated feeling as the kids start walking in the door. Not a good attitude.

But at the same time, as I think about it, there have been blessings during the past few weeks too. I’m getting closer to my 1st/2nd graders, almost all of them can say my name now, and Giovanni looks for me whenever he has a question, asking in his raspy voice what color sharks are, and telling me about the State names he’s been learning in class. “Come,” he says, waving me over with his hand.

Marisol and a couple of the other girls started bringing flowers for Vanessa, Lisa, and me over the past couple of weeks, holding them up to our faces as they walk in the door.

These are all things that I can be thankful for. Yeah, maybe some of the kids don’t like it when I ask them to stop running, but friendships and trust are being built with the girls, and hearing about a Solid House for girls in the works is so exciting. Soon these girls will be able to form some trust with each other.

It’s amazing how easily we complain about the bad instead of praise for the good.

Laurel Robertson

For more information on Solidarity visit their website:

Delhi’s Dream Park

I have the privilege of serving God in Delhi, CA in response to a call from Gateway Community Church. I am called to lead a missionary team in making new disciples into a multi ethnic church in this small central California town. A small group of people from Gateway began meeting for worship, teaching, prayer, service, and outreach in Delhi in January, 2007.

Our team has connected with the community through an Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July celebration, block parties with the sheriff and fire department, concerts for youth, video game tournaments, Christmas Eve worship service, coffee distribution to commuters and many more activities.

An opportunity arose several months ago to take on a more ambitious community development project – to build a new park. There is an obvious need for parks in Delhi. My wife was told to leave one of the only playgrounds in town because it is on the high school property. That leaves one lackluster playground available for community use.

That got me thinking and praying about the idea of building a new park here. When I found out the school district had plans to make a piece of a campus into some kind of park setting, I asked the superintendent if we could make this into a true community project and thereby make it bigger and better. A few meetings with community and county leaders identified what some of the hurdles would be, but we were encouraged to pursue the idea. A steering committee emerged as I talked about the idea in different venues.

We began asking Delhi residents what features they would like to have in a park and what skills they could contribute to the project. This built momentum for the project, as we saw that people are not just supportive of the concept, but eager to actually be involved. People began to volunteer all sorts of skills: electrician, construction, pressure washing, civil engineering, cooking, drawing, painting, music, and on an on. Every one of these abilities will help in some way. Over 20 people have volunteered just to help with fundraising.

The steering committee adopted the name “Building Delhi’s Dream Park.” A logo was selected from a competition and a local high-school age artist made the concept into a very professional-looking logo. Building a park will be nice, and it will certainly fill a void in Delhi, but the real goal is much deeper. We hope to build community. As people dream together, contribute their skills, and work alongside one another, a sense of community emerges. People connect with one another. They get to know one another. And they think about other things the community can do together. Opportunities to talk about our wonderful God arise. It is our hope and prayer that people come to faith, and that this project acts as a catalyst, sparking many more like it.

The more exciting aspects of the park project is on hold, as we wait for the details of a Memorandum of Understanding to be worked out with the school district, which owns the property that will soon be a park. But the team is ready for action as soon as the MOU is approved in a couple months. We hope to build the park in the fall of 2008.

The lull in the park project has allowed me to focus on some other community development projects. As a corollary to the park, I began looking into the possibility of improving the skate park, which sits on the site that will become a full blown park with playground, picnic tables, and potentially even a water play area (excitement for a water play area is huge, but the cost is tremendous.

I began asking the skaters if the skate park could be improved. The answer was a unanimous yes. I organized a few meetings with the skaters to pursue it. One high schooler volunteered to write a letter, and 20-some skaters signed copies and sent them to skate companies seeking donations. Although no money had come in, the posters and stickers that a few companies have sent have encouraged the skaters to keep at it.

A young man who works at a local grocery story suggested asking his store for candy that the group could sell as a fundraiser. The owner of the closest skateboard shop said he can get new equipment made. A non-profit organization called the Land of Plenty will be sending boards for them to skate and boards for them to paint and auction off as a fundraiser. People are calling their grandparents who have connections at a lumberyard, and their uncle who built a skate park in Ripon. The snowballing involvement of these young skaters demonstrates the beauty of the Community Development process.  Even more exciting is that two of these young skaters came by my office, asked to do Bible study, and said they want to be baptized!

As I wait for the park project to pick up steam again, I am taking advantage of the time to canvass a low-income apartment complex (almost always in Spanish), asking the questions suggested by Asset Based Community Development. I will arrange follow-up meetings with residents to discuss the issues they have identified, such as safety and security, recreational opportunities for youth, and commerce and job creation. Job creation is acutely needed in Delhi. Perhaps some kind of alliance between these working class residents, business owners, and county leadership could lead to some new venture. The manager of these apartments, by the way, has talked with me about reconnecting with God after many years of running.

A pastor said about his church recently, “We’re high on brilliance, but short on execution.” The danger of dreaming but not implementing is very real for us in Delhi. My response to challenges is often to say, “I want to do something about that” I say this so often that, I run the risk of making no long-term impact in any area because our efforts are too dispersed. Focus and persistence are keys. I am finding that fruitful ministry takes lots of hard work and lots of time. The bright spots seem to show up with people I have already spoken with a dozen times, not the first time conversations. On the other hand, sometimes a door opens that I wasn’t even looking for. I’m realizing how much of a challenge it is for many people to engage in the community and build relationships, but meaningful relationships are the building block of ministry. A few of us have also sensed spiritual resistance to our presence and work, as seen in discouragement, confusion, and lack of motivation.

As the challenges grow, I become more determined to see the Lord at work in Delhi. I have a conviction in my spirit that He is indeed at work here. Knowing my own pride and ego, however, I often ask God to move here in a way that makes it impossible for me to take the credit. “[God] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think – to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph 3:20-21).

Zeke Nelson

School Greenhouse

John Hoekwater, Director of Neighbors United in New Possibilities NFP and Pastor of Many Peoples Church in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, recently received an award for his community building efforts at a neighborhood gathering.  The award was presented for his work in conjunction with a number of volunteers in the neighborhood at a local public elementary school.

John and his group of hardworking volunteers saw an unused asset in the community – an almost “state of the art” greenhouse on the third floor of the Gale Academy school building.

The greenhouse was being used to store unused desks and other equipment. John and his volunteers decided to turn the space into a classroom for the students at the school by growing flowers and vegetables and offering them for sale to the community.

They busied themselves with building tables to hold the plants, constructing a water channeling system, and planting seeds that later they transplanted into plastic flats and hanging baskets.

More than 80 volunteers contributed their time and energy to the project, most of them parents and students who had never before planted and grown anything.  They proudly sold their flowers and vegetables in the late spring and early summer and earned more than $1800 which will be used to expand the project for next year.

They are partnering with Chicago Botanical Gardens staff to use the greenhouse as a classroom for every class in the school this year.  Eventually they hope the project will become financially self-sustaining and will even bring enough income to fund other special programs at the school.

Through these efforts Neighbors United in New Possibilities and Many Peoples Church are becoming known and trusted presences in Rogers Park and the Kingdom of God is being advanced through this community transformation.


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