Running On Empty

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by Jim Wehner

I haven’t run in the neighborhood for two weeks. I think about why as I sit on my couch pulling on my running shoes. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I have an internal sense of dread about running down Lakewood Avenue.

You might be thinking, “Duh, I feel that every time I exercise!” But that is not what is driving me. I’m one of those weird personalities that likes to run. I do some of my best thinking while I run.  

As I sit there, I think back to why I’m avoiding something I enjoy. I have run a number of times in the neighborhood since we moved into South Atlanta last March. Running in the city is definitely different than running in the suburbs. Sidewalks exist, but you have to keep your mind active to avoid tripping. If you’re on the road, you have to be much more aware of traffic. Somehow it seems less relaxing.

Two weeks ago, I went for a run on a Saturday morning. It was 7:45 am, and I was jogging down Lakewood Avenue. About a block ahead of me, a man across the street stumbled out of a house. He was in bad shape, still reeling from the previous night’s party. As I passed, he tottered into the middle of the street. I noticed he was carrying a can of beer. Then, all of the sudden, he chucked the can at me. Fortunately, his aim was impaired, and the beer landed off target before bursting open and spraying everywhere.

In the moment, I avoided confrontation and just kept running. It was not by willpower or maturity, but simple inability to respond to the anger of my neighbor. Later, I kept wishing I’d had the wherewithal to stop, pick up the can, take a drink, and say “Thanks!” But it didn’t happen.

Today, two weeks later, I realize I’m dealing with residual anger and fear. The experience has made me feel unsafe. I have a strong sense of being out of place. I’m wondering if I have made a mistake by moving into the neighborhood.

Not wanting to be shaped by fear, I push forward and head down the street. As I run, my mind clears a bit, and I think about the good things happening in the neighborhood. There are new neighbors on both sides of my house, and I’m enjoying meeting them. The person living behind our house has the most amazing backyard I’ve ever seen. He works to bring beauty to his corner of the neighborhood. And he’s really good at it!

We are receiving our first vegetable harvest from our garden, which has been a fun project. My neighbor across the street is a senior I love to talk with. She is always friendly and engaging. Last week, I ran into Mr. Haygood, another neighborhood senior, as he cleaned a vacant property on the corner of my block. Next time, I hope to join him in this effort.

These are the reasons we moved to the neighborhood. Over the years of working with FCS and meeting many people like these neighbors, we wanted to be part of the community. I was reminded as I ran how easy it is to get discouraged and off track. We let the worries of the world choke out the beauty of the day.

As I continue down the street, I find myself giving thanks for the opportunity to participate in this little neighborhood and for the experience which reminds me of the good God is already working here. This somehow seems to be the work of the Spirit changing me, not the neighborhood! I am no longer running on empty but have a sense of joy in the process.

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Balancing Success in Mission and Business

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 by Jeff Delp

People often ask me what makes South Atlanta so different. And I say two things : Jesus and the coffee shop! That might sound strange. After all, many neighborhoods have coffee shops (and Jesus), but Community Grounds’ impact on the neighborhood has been spectacular to witness.

It started seven years ago when we decided to relocate the shop (then operating one mile down the street) to the South Atlanta Marketplace, our thrift store iteration of the Family Store. Our main goal then was to create a third space in our neighborhood. A place where anyone could walk in and feel like home. A simple, yet ground-breaking, ministry for our community.

This “mission” focus brought enough value to the neighborhood, we felt, to justify the expense of running the coffee shop, which was not profitable in our low-income community. There are reasons that many traditional business by-pass our area, but we valued the ways Community Grounds was fostering connections in the neighborhood.

In 2013, we began to shift the coffee shop from being only about mission to being a business with a mission. Much like with Carver Market, we began investing in the infrastructure necessary to make the economics of the shop stronger. And we did this without losing the welcoming, community-centric third space we’d watched emerge.

Fast forward to today, and Community Grounds is on the cusp of having a positive Net Profit! In fact, we will plan and budget for Community Grounds to have a net profit in 2017. For all the wondering business folks out there, it’s true! You can run a successful - and positive - business in South Atlanta.

But the success of Community Grounds is much more than plus and minuses. While we will continue to work for a positive net profit, we’re not going to lose sight of why we are here in the first place: community, jobs, and Jesus.

In fact, as I sit in the coffee shop writing, I am watching our mission play out right in front of me. Two neighborhood seniors (morning regulars) are interacting with two toddlers  from two different families, one which just bought a house from Charis Community Housing. All are being served coffee and juice by an employee who lives on my street. We are all neighbors, and community is happening right in front of our eyes. This is ministry. Ministry with a whole lot of dignity.

So yes, we’re excited Community Grounds is approaching success from a business standpoint. But it’s been a success in the neighborhood since we opened our doors seven years ago.

Thank you for all your support over the years, and for your continued support as we launch new initiatives. And if you’ve never joined us for a cup of coffee, we invite you down!

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Renter Profile: The Hightower-Porter Family

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Our housing ministry provides a variety of housing opportunities, including single-family rental homes, in our target neighborhood. We believe a stable home is a essential to a family’s health and success, and we are thankful to create options for families in our community.

Today we’re delighted to introduce you to the Hightower-Porter family, renting from Charis Community Housing in in South Atlanta.

Please introduce yourself and your family.

My name is Tonika, and my husband is Nicholas Porter. We have a 15-year old son Christopher and a daughter named Heaven, who is ten.  

How did you get connected to Charis?

My mom had a Charis house built back in 1994, so I learned about Charis through her. She still lives in that house today! We have lived in our house with Charis for three years.

What is your favorite thing about living in South Atlanta?

I appreciate how quiet it is on my street. I’ve seen improvements in the community since I was younger, and I hope it keeps getting better. It’s a good neighborhood.

Your family is very civic minded. Can you share about your daughter’s community work?

Heaven Hightower is the founder of Heaven Help One Help All Foundation. She recently hosted a modeling and talent showcase that benefited special needs children. She presented a donation to the lead special needs teacher from her school, Wesley International Academy. This was her third event helping kids. Heaven Help One Help All Foundation has its 2nd Annual Back to School event coming up on Saturday, July 23, 2016 at the Villages of Carver YMCA. For more information, you can call 404-781-8680.   

FCS and Charis Community Housing is excited to see young leaders getting excited and activated to serve others. We’re glad to be a part of the Hightower-Porter family’s story! To learn more about Charis rentals, you can visit the Charis website.  

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