3 Lessons We Learn on the Bike Trail

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by Andrej Ciho

Youth bike trips at the South Atlanta Bike Shop are a yearly highlight! Kids look forward to these trips, and we’ve been encouraged by the participation of youth and their families over the years.

A few weeks ago, we hosted our first bike ride for the Fall season. Thirteen youth and six adults met one Sunday for a ride on South River Trail. We had a great time and covered twelve miles! Each time we do these bike trips, I am reminded of some of the benefits for our youth and their parents:

#1 Preparedness

Many of the youth come during the week and have learned a great deal about bike maintenance and repair. Our rides give them a practical opportunity to use their critical thinking skills and consider mishaps that might occur on the ride and how to be prepared.

Our youth learn to think ahead and problem solve, packing extra tire tubes, snacks, and other needed supplies. Our youth know the value of having a well-functioning bike for the trip, and they make a plan to keep it that way!

#2 Teamwork

Our bike trips are open to youth age 8-18 and their parents, and we have a range of abilities and skill levels on these trips. One of our core principles is that we look out for each other on the trail. We invite our older or more skilled riders to encourage and stay near someone else who may not yet be as comfortable on their bike.

The youth learn the value of comradery and working together. Since we’re not competing, there is no winning or losing team. We’re all outside and enjoying the ride together.

#3 Connection to Nature

Georgia can be stunning this time of year. And we’re happy to encourage families to get outside and enjoy it! On this past trip, I was riding next to a couple boys when we noticed the fragrant smell of some yellow flowers. A few minutes later, the boys noticed we were passing the same flowers (and smell) again!

We began to discuss the flowers we saw along the trail, laughing at the funny ones with red stalks and pointing out the purple ones. The boys asked me about the flower names, and I realized I may need to study up before our next trip!

A lot of what we do at the South Atlanta Bike Shop is preparing and training young leaders to bring change to their community by learning real-life job skills inside the shop. However, we also know getting youth to be active outside is one way to help them put their skills into action, build teamwork, and hopefully make a meaningful connection with nature. Check back here for more info on our next youth bike trip.


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3 Steps to Launching Initiatives

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by Katie Delp

In 2015, FCS launched Carver Neighborhood Market, a “right-sized” retail grocery store in our target community of Historic South Atlanta. It was a neighborhood that had been routinely overlooked by traditional grocery chains and seen as too challenging to make a profit.

This scenario happens over and over again in distressed communities. Needed services and goods are not available to a population that often already has transportation limitations. It’s the perfect opportunity for innovative nonprofits to step into the gap and facilitate access for residents. Flourishing communities need groceries, and it was an industry we decided to learn and implement in our neighborhood.

The first year and a half has been a wild ride and has surprised us with small and large successes. Carver Market has also received a lot of attention - locally and even nationally. This exposure has brought others to FCS, asking how they, too, can start a market.

While we are thrilled to see more people invested in the idea of right-sized retail and urban markets, we also recognize that Carver Market did not emerge as an isolated experiment. It was a needed program implemented as part of a broader, long-term strategic community development effort.

Much of the success of Carver Market can be attributed to activities that happened before the first gallon of milk was ever scanned. For others considering how to launch a grocery store, or really any innovative solution to urban challenges, I encourage you to consider these steps as laying the groundwork for the specifics of your amazing projects.

#1 - Consider your model

If your organization has been involved in the community, but all your programs rely on a giveaway model, these areas may be a good place to start. After years of handing out backpacks, canned goods, and used clothes, it may be startling for the neighborhood if you suddenly open a store where everything is priced at or around market norms.

First, consider how you might shift your current programs to include more opportunities for mutual exchange. You might launch a Christmas Store with dignity or facilitate a food co-op instead of a food pantry.

This transition will also help your creative juices to start flowing around larger initiatives - like a grocery store - that will move fully away from donated items and start working with smaller distributors and local farmers.

#2 -  Build Trust

FCS had been working in South Atlanta for 15 years before opening Carver Market. A significant number of our staff team have lived in the community for many years as well. Neighbors recognized FCS and knew the people behind Carver Market. Our lived experience in the neighborhood all these years had been building trust and got more community buy-in from the start.

Our coffee shop, Community Grounds, had been in the neighborhood - and sharing space with where the grocery would eventually be - for years. It was a known gathering spot in the community, and neighbors were comfortable in the space This relational equity and trust invited neighbors to start asking us, “What about a grocery store?”

#3 -  Recognize why others aren’t doing it

There’s a reason traditional grocers by-pass our community. And one glaring issue was South Atlanta’s lack of density. Nine years ago, almost 30% of our neighborhood was vacant. We also have more single-family homes, which house less people than row houses or apartment complexes.

To launch a project without acknowledging and preparing for the real challenges would make it difficult to sustain. The momentum behind Carver Market has also been fueled by the housing work we’d been doing for years with Charis Community Housing. As we rehabbed houses and recruited new neighbors, we were also building a customer base for the grocery.

We need creative solutions to real problems plaguing struggling communities. But these efforts will be strongest when bolstered by an integrated, strategic plan that moves communities away from entitlement programs, builds trusts, and addresses challenges head-on with thoughtful planning and creativity.

If you’re interested in learning more about our program models and their implementation, consider joining us at an upcoming Open House.


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Calling vs Organization: Is It A Fight?

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by Jim Wehner

My mind is turning this morning. Not about mission or program. I am thinking about funding. Third quarter for FCS is always our most difficult quarter from a financial perspective. We have years of data showing an annual progression I have been unable to change. The summer months represent the low point of our year in terms of donations. So we enter the fourth quarter with cash flow levels that sometimes require difficult decisions in regard to staff and programs. These decisions are often the low point of leadership.

Organizational survival. It is the bane of the nonprofit leader’s existence. I do not know a strong nonprofit leader that doesn’t feel similar tensions on a recurring basis. An organization demands a certain amount of administration that too often feels like it takes away from the very calling we started out pursuing. However, I am beginning to see that this tension is a necessary part of our  development as leaders.

You do not have to read too far into the Scriptures to see a strong example emerge. In Genesis 12, we see the story of Abram’s calling. God told him, “Go to the land I will show you.” The rest of Abram’s story - all the highs and lows - flow from his first steps to obey that calling. After Abram, we see literally dozens of examples of individuals doing the same thing. Following a vague, but persistent, sense of calling into a new and textured future that connects them to something bigger and greater than themselves.

I wonder if Abram would have taken the first step of obedience if he understood what was coming? Another way of saying this is that without the sense of calling, he never would have endured the trials and distractions to be able to see the fulfillment of that calling. The journey is just too difficult.

In my role at FCS, I see this tension almost daily, whether I am interacting with someone on my team or a leader from another organization. Somehow, when we start on the journey, we do not realize the mission we are pursuing will have its share of challenges and distractions. These activities of organizational survival - accounting, marketing, HR, supporting staff, board development, fundraising, and on and on - are all crucial to following our calling well. But these tasks often just do not feel spiritual.

Might the best way to deal with this reality be to lean into it rather than avoid or lament the tension it causes? One of the ways we at FCS live into this tension is by connecting to our calling as neighbors, rather than only community development professionals. Years ago, our founder Bob Lupton made this decision to move into the neighborhood he was serving. It was his way of stepping more closely into the Great Command: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. This single decision has remained core to our DNA as an organization.

When I leave the office to head home, I travel eight blocks into the center of the neighborhood FCS serves. Our Executive Director and Director of Economic Development have lived in the neighborhood for years. Other staff have moved into the neighborhood as they’ve come to work at FCS, with some lived here already when they joined the team.

Being a neighbor and loving my neighbor as myself is at the very core of my faith. Living in South Atlanta changes the ways our staff work out our personal sense of calling to empower neighborhoods to thrive. We live there. And it is my role as a neighbor that keeps me grounded when the day-to-day challenges of organizational survival cause me to question my role as a nonprofit leader.

I was speaking with a staff member about a school board function she had attended. She commented that she did not know whether she was invited because of her leadership on a local charter school board, her position at FCS, or her role as a parent of two children in the neighborhood. We agreed it was her community and parenthood roles that drove her passion to attend, while her organizational connections gave her opportunity to leverage influence in the meeting on behalf of her neighbors. Our sense of call and our organizational roles can integrate in powerful ways. And in the end, we may not always be sure what brought us to the table.

Following my individual call through neighboring sustains me in the moments of nonprofit leadership that feel more focused on organizational survival. I know the work of FCS is having significant impact, and it thrives because of time and energy investment in the details of running an organization. But being a neighbor is not an add-on to my work, it is core to my sense of calling. These two key components work together to create significant impact.

If you lead a nonprofit, what things do you do to stay grounded in your sense of calling when the everyday details seem to pull you a different way?


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