The Secret Sauce of Neighborhood Ministry

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by Katie Delp

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I love when visitors come to South Atlanta. It’s a joy to hear about the work they’re doing in other parts of the country and to let them see our ministries in action. Often folks have questions, and these can spark valuable conversations about neighborhoods, ministry, life, and transformation.

Sometimes visitors want to know what’s the secret sauce? What ministry hack did we employ to get Community Grounds and Carver Market up and running? How have we gotten so many neighbors invested in programs like our food co-op, Pride for Parents, or affordable housing? How have we been able to stay committed to this community for more than fifteen years?

It’s simple. We live here.

About half of our staff, including our leadership, lives in South Atlanta where we work and serve. I moved into the neighborhood when FCS began its work here in 2001. South Atlanta is where I met my husband, where both of my children were born, and where I own my home. The longer we at FCS stay in this work, the more we recognize that true transformation does not happen unless there are folks willing to move in and invest.

Of course, there are reasons not to move in. And when I talk with people, I usually hear from the list of valid excuses: I’m too old, I have kids, my wife won’t do it, I’ve never even thought about it, the schools, we live close by, etc. While I am empathetic to the difficulty of this decision for many ministry leaders, I also suspect that what many people are saying is simply, “I don’t want to.” Or maybe, “It’s just too hard.”  

I respect everyone’s unique circumstances and the decisions they’ve made regarding their life and ministry. However, when I’m asked what makes FCS tick, I will still say it’s because we live here.

We live in solidarity with our neighbors. When the local schools are failing, we’re all exploring our options to make it better together. When there was no grocery store, we were all traveling in the search for fresh food. When the power is out, we’re all sitting in the dark.

But this proximity yields creativity, passion, and teamwork. One year during a snowstorm, most of the neighborhood - including my home - was without power. But the FCS offices still had lights. Texts were flying through the streets of South Atlanta as we discussed a neighborhood potluck and slumber party! Thankfully, we got our power back quickly. But it’s that kind of community that creates successful programs.

We all want better schools. So through my work at FCS, we’re able to partner with Purpose Built Schools to see change in our neighborhood schools. Neighbors wanted a grocery store, so we were able to transform one of FCS’ spaces into a local market.

Our programs have emerged from our relationships as neighbors. And I am passionate about their success and accessibility because I am a neighbor. Most of the time, when I’m engaged in community activities, I can’t tell you whether I’m involved because I’m the Executive Director of FCS or because I’m a resident. I also know that when people in the community come to me with questions or challenges, they don’t approach me because of my role at a local nonprofit. They come to me as a friend and neighbor.

It’s a gift to me to live in South Atlanta. And I believe that our staff’s commitment to the neighborhood as residents is a driving force behind our programs and our community development work. It’s the secret sauce!

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Homeowner Profile: Lolita Anderson

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“I had a contract fall through on another house, and I was devastated,” Lolita shares, thinking back to her experiences more than a decade ago.

Originally from Detroit, Lolita moved to Atlanta from New York. She is mom to two daughters who are now adults, but she remembers the stress of that season when they were young and their housing plan fell apart.

Lolita was working at the Ritz Carlton, and she and her girls had been able to live temporarily in some of their properties. But they were looking for something more stable. “My church was a huge support,” Lolita says. Her pastor, Dr. Bishop Kent Branch of Pilgrim Cathedral of Atlanta, suggested Lolita consider the Ruth and Naomi house, a ministry for women and children needing transitional housing.

It was not what Lolita had expected. “I hadn’t had a roommate since college,” she says. “But the experience broke down some barriers for me that helped me to move forward.”

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Her friend Stephanie worked for Charis Community Housing, a ministry of FCS. She approached Lolita and said she might qualify to purchase a Charis home.  

Sure enough, Lolita pursued Charis and moved into her own home ten years ago. “We’ve painted the walls in that house. We’ve had graduations there. Both my girls are now in college. It feels like yesterday this all happened.”

She credits her home with creating normalcy and stability in her family’s life. She was also surprised when her new home ended up being larger than the original house she had tried to purchase. She feels God had a plan all along.  

Lolita also expresses gratitude for the way Charis and FCS have worked with her over the years. She has appreciated the non-traditional financing that has no interest. And she Charis’ flexibility at times has been a benefit as she is non-traditionally employed. “Because Charis understands people as individuals and not addresses, they worked with me to accommodated my contract payments.”

As a ten-year resident in the neighborhood, Lolita has seen the ongoing influence of Charis in South Atlanta. “Charis has been instrumental in creating diversity,” Lolita says. From her years living in New York, she says she appreciates the growing multicultural presence in the community.

She has also translated her own experiences into her current work as a tenant placement specialist with HUD (Housing and Urban Development). “I work with folks in desperate situations,” she says. “I understand their struggles and the discipline required to own a home.” She believes her experience helps her serve her clients with compassion and insight.

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Who Can Host a Pride for Parents Drive?

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Each year at Christmas, we set up a modest store where neighborhood parents can purchase gifts for their children at drastically reduced prices. This program - called Pride for Parents - started with one simple belief - that families would prefer to provide for themselves at Christmas than receive a handout.

We have seen the delight as parents, grandparents, and even older siblings, have selected and purchased the perfect gift for their loved ones. It’s a joy to see families we serve throughout the year have the opportunity to be generous and celebrate together.

We also have the privilege of seeing Atlantans from many walks of life enjoy being generous as they host Toy Drives and collect Legos, books, basketballs, and Doc McStuffins dolls for parents to purchase. We rely on the generosity of local groups to stock and prepare our store for the busy holiday season.

Are you interested in getting involved? Are you wondering what types of groups can host Toy Drives? Here are 5 examples of groups who’ve generously collected donations for Pride for Parents:

  1. Churches - We are grateful for amazing church partners who set out donation bins in the church lobby or collect toys at Christmas events.

  2. Businesses - The holiday season is a wonderful time for businesses to get their employees involved in giving, and we’re so glad to have such terrific businesses who support Pride for Parents.

  3. Scout Troops - Is there anything cuter than a group of kids being generous? And who better to shop for the latest toys than your troop or club or other kids’ group?

  4. Schools - One effective way to engage young people has been working with schools. We’ve enjoyed connecting with civic clubs from local schools and seeing those students happily deliver gifts to our store!

  5. Sunday School Classes or Departments - Some churches or businesses may feel too large to coordinate a Toy Drive, but Sunday School classes or individual departments can host their own collections as well.


As you can see, anyone can host a Toy Drive for Pride for Parents! And we’d love to add your organization to our list this year! For information regarding Toy Drives, please check out our Action Kit or reach out to FCS Executive Director Katie Delp.  

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