5 Ways To Love Your Neighbor

Valentine's Day is around the corner, and it's the perfect time to show some extra love to your neighbors. Whether you opt for grand gestures or small moments of kindness, your acts of love can bless those around you. Here's 7 ideas to get you started, but feel free to share your own ideas about how you can love your neighbors well!

#1 - Throw a Party!

It can be as formal as you want or as casual as you need, but invite some people over! Dust off the board games, pop in a crowd-pleasing movie, or enjoy some Wii bowling. Share some food or ask folks to bring a dish to contribute. The event itself is not the main purpose. The event is simply an excuse to spend time together!

#2 - Offer To Help

Does a teen on your block need assistance with a science project? Could you offer to babysit for new parents who need a night out? Maybe a senior could use some help hooking up her computer. Acts of service can be welcome opportunities to show love to those around you.

#3 - Send A Card

How fun is it to receive mail? In the midst of grocery fliers and power bills, it's always a joyful surprise to discover a hand addressed note. Coupled with words of affirmation and care, this card could be a shining moment in your neighbor's day. Too often, we don't tell people how much they mean to us. Leverage Valentine's Day to tell someone you love them.

#4 - Drop Off Goodies

It doesn't have to be a large gift to make an impact. Have your kids make Valentine's for the neighbors. Or bake some cookies to share. In the winter months, many of us stay inside more than normal, so a small treat lets neighbors know you're thinking of them. You can even hand deliver your gifts and say hi!

#5 - Gift Your Time

In our fast-paced days, the gift of time can be the most valuable. Take a moment to listen to a kid tell you that very detailed story of what happened last week at school. Sit with a senior and spend time getting to know him. Help someone complete a yard task or other odd job. It's not about the activity or the agenda, but the time spent together building a relationship.

We love our community. We hope these ideas will spur your creativity and give you ideas how to show love to your neighbors this month. What other ways do you have? Let us know!

5 Reasons To Visit FCS This March

It's so fun to welcome guests to FCS! Several times a year, we host an Open House for ministry pastors, nonprofit leaders, students, and community developers to see behind-the-scenes at FCS. We seek to provide honest and practical insight into our work. We share things we've done that worked well and things that didn't. And we open up about the lessons we're learning as we continue to serve our neighbors in Atlanta.

Our first 2016 Open House is coming up March 7-8. Here's five reasons to join us!

1. Hear Bob Lupton Speak

Dr. Bob Lupton has been challenging charity paradigms for years. He's authored many ground-breaking books that push the envelope on how we think about serving the poor. At our Open House, you will hear him share from 40 years of urban ministry experience. You'll have the opportunity to hear his challenging message and to ask questions.

2. Get Practical Help For Your Ministries

If you've wondered how to strengthen your work and maintain the dignity of those you serve, you'll benefit from our workshop with FCS Director of Training and Education, Dr. Shawn Duncan. He will lead you through interactive and dynamic training to equip you to lead responsibility models of charity where you are.

3. See Our Ministries In Action

We won’t only talk about the theories and philosophy behind our work. We will walk you through our neighborhood and introduce you to our on-the-ground programs. You'll be able to check out Community Grounds, our South Atlanta Bike Shop, and our latest initiative, Carver Neighborhood Market. You’ll also be able to see local housing we're developing through Charis Community Housing.

4. Meet Other Practitioners

Share meals and conversations with other leaders serving all over the country. We are always encouraged by and learning from those who attend our Open House events. You can begin building valuable relationships with others who are doing similar work and understand your challenges and joys. 

5. Ask Your Questions

Our Open House events are intentionally small because we wanted to create an interactive event. You will have opportunity to ask questions of FCS leadership, as well as our local program directors. Get behind the stories and down to the nitty gritty of launching and supporting innovative community programs.

Come join us this March! We always have a terrific time of connection and mutual encouragement. We'd love to see you there. For details and registration, CLICK HERE.

Can’t make these dates?  We have additional 2016 Open Houses scheduled for July 14-15 and October 20-21. Mark your calendars and send us an email to let us know you're interested!

Homeowner Profile: Tanisha

A home is essential to a family’s health and success. Charis Community Housing has been creating mixed-income housing opportunities for almost 30 years. And we want to introduce you to some of the people and families that have joined our community through the work of Charis. Today we're interviewing Tanisha.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

My name is Tanisha Corporal, and I am a single mom to twelve year old Khairi. I'm originally from Pennsylvania but have lived in Atlanta for 16 years.  

When did you purchase your home in South Atlanta?

I purchased my home in January of 2009. I had previously rented a duplex from Charis for two years in the Grant Park neighborhood. I am a second generation Charis home owner. My mother purchased a Charis home in Summerhill in 1997 while I was attending college in Florida.  She has since satisfied her mortgage! I can't wait for the day I can say that!

What is your favorite thing about living in South Atlanta?

I especially enjoy the sense of community. My neighbors have become my close friends and supporters. Two weeks after I bought my home, I lost my job and Community Grounds became my third place. So many meaningful conversations and connections were made there over coffee. I even briefly led a story time for kids there. Also, the neighborhood Pride for Parents program has been tremendous help,

How do you hope to see the community change in the next ten years?

I hope for continued growth for youth. Khairi has participated in bike shop and youth group. I love that we have a YMCA nearby and will soon have a public library. I also would love to see a sit down family restaurant. Khairi and I love pizza on Friday nights, and it would be cool to be able to get that in our own neighborhood. 

What has home ownership meant to you?  

After living in Atlanta for a few years, I starting looking into home ownership. I took a few first time home ownership classes, reserved down payment assistance, and applied for a traditional mortgage. But after several unsuccessful attempts, I started feeling discouraged about accomplishing that dream. I reached out to Charis and was told I could apply for their Strategic Neighbor program if I committed to being involved in my community. Well, that was a perfect fit as I had experience working in a nearby neighborhood and was involved in local community organizations. 

It was scary at first, moving into a new home with my then five year old. But I can say that fear turned into the fire that fueled my desire to stay involved. Since living in South Atlanta, I feel like our family is connected to people, a place, and a purpose. Home ownership has meant connection and courage.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I used to find myself traveling outside of the neighborhood for social activities. But these days, I spend more time doing things with neighbors. From ladies night to kickball to progressive dinner! It's a connectedness I don't think I would find anywhere else. I like to tell people that we have a small community feel in the big city!

Interested in joining our small community in the big city? Check out our current houses for sale!

One Simple Way To Be A Good Neighbor

What if there were one simple way you could encourage your neighbors, strengthen your community, and make your streets safer? Well, guess what? We're here to say there is!

In 2016, the South Atlanta Civic League launched a very simple initiative, The Wave Campaign. Short and sweet. They are asking residents to commit to waving at neighbors whenever they are out.

Why is this important? Well, first of all, The Wave Campaign creates a contagious environment of welcome and hospitality. Waving is friendly, and it encourages friendship. You may be surprised to discover the encounters that could begin with a simple wave.

Secondly, waving builds a safer community. If there are individuals walking by your home who may be looking for trouble, a simple wave could redirect those actions. They recognize that they've been seen and acknowledged. It could be the action that encourages them to keep walking. 

Those of us at FCS who live in South Atlanta are excited to join The Wave Campaign! And we encourage you to join in wherever you are. Let's all wave at our neighbors this year! 

Guardian Of A Vision

It has been a roller-coaster ride, this front-line urban ministry journey. I have known both breath-taking victories and crushing disappointments. The experiences I have amassed over forty-plus years fill volumes. But one event stands out above all the rest – a vision so full of drama and excitement that it captivated the entire city. It was the conversion of an abandoned civil war era prison known as the Atlanta Stockade.  

By 1900 the Stockade had become infamous for the gross inhumanity it inflicted upon its inmates, most of whom were poor and black. Growing public pressure eventually forced its closing and for most of a century the Stockade sat vacant, an ugly reminder of a darker chapter in the city’s history. Abandoned and overgrown with vines, it became a pit of debauchery, a blight on the surrounding community.  

And then a most remarkable thing happened. The God who shapes history implanted a vision in the spirits of two nearby neighbors – a vision to transform this symbol of darkness into place of hope and hospitality for the poor. I was one of those neighbors.  

A local priest and I became the vision-casters for this transformation. An amazing cast of players spontaneously responded. Architects, contractors, suppliers, interior designers, churches, and a dizzying array of highly talented others were drawn into the vision. The conversion process was astonishing. The back-breaking work of cutting through three-foot-thick concrete walls, the cost of installing modern electrical and heating/cooling systems in the cavernous structure, the task of converting cold prison walls into an atmosphere of warmth and home – these were no easy challenges. But people by the hundreds rose to the occasion and in eleven months converted the Stockade into GlenCastle – 67 beautifully furnished loft apartments for the working poor. With no debt and tax-abatement granted by the city, the rents became the most affordable in town.  The Stockade became a “castle of hope” for families struggling to make ends meet.

That was thirty years ago. A lot can happen in thirty years. It certainly has in our community. What was once a crime-ridden, inner-city ghetto has become a gentrified, upscale, intown neighborhood. Property values have skyrocketed and the poor have moved on. Unfortunately, we learned too late about the negative impact that gentrification can have on the poor when there is no plan in place to preserve affordability in the neighborhood. Consequently, our ministry has shifted focus to a neglected adjacent community. This time our work includes a plan to insure permanent belonging for lower income residents.  

So now what do we do with GlenCastle? It has become a very valuable piece of real estate sitting in the middle of an affluent section of town. After thirty years of hard use, it is in need of a major upgrade that will cost $5.5 million. Is this the best use of $5.5 million ministry dollars, dollars that we would have to raise through donations? Or should we sell the property and reinvest the proceeds to leverage the creation of many more affordable housing opportunities for neighbors in a community of need?  

Certainly, there is value in historic preservation. The old Stockade is one of a handful of vanishing landmarks of a past era. It should be preserved, I am convinced of that. But just as its dark image was transformed into GlenCastle at a time when homelessness was epidemic in the city, even so can its visible presence remain an historic connection for vibrant twenty-first century urban life.

Several friends have asked me if I view GlenCastle as an important part of my legacy, if selling it would represent a significant personal loss. I appreciate the sensitivity but I guess I have more of a real estate developer’s personality than that of a romantic. One of the cardinal rules of the successful developer is: “Don’t fall in love with your development.” Turning real estate is key to growth. So, no, the sale and re-purposing of GlenCastle would not represent personal loss to me, especially since the property would continue to be an asset to the community while the proceeds are leveraged to create affordable homes for hundreds more families.   

But what about the divinely authored vision? Are we not its guardians, charged with responsibility of stewarding a tangible symbol of God’s intervention in history? Are we abandoning it, yielding it to the rising tide of market forces that has no conscience, no place for the poor? This is a criticism that we will doubtless face if we decide to sell the property. It begs the question: is a vision to be preserved indefinitely or is it given for a season?

These are some of the weighty issues that our board has been wrestling through over the past several months, trying to discern our responsibility as stewards of this important asset. Finally, after many months  of discussion and much deliberation, we have come to a decision. The Atlanta Stockade will be sold to a developer who will preserve its historic exterior and retrofit the interior into attractive, market-rate apartments. The proceeds of the sale will be re-invested in affordable housing and other real estate assets that will enhance the mission of FCS “to create healthy places in the city where families flourish and the Shalom of God is present.”     

The vision lives on!

"This Changes Everything" - Pride for Parents 2015

We had so much fun at our Pride for Parents Christmas store in December. We've had a chance to catch our breath after the festivities and wanted to share an update with you. We put together this infographic with some of the data highlights, as well as some of our favorite stories. Take a look!

Thanks again to everyone who partnered with us to make Pride for Parents such a wonder experience this year!

P.S. Interested in running your own toy store next Christmas? Start planning now with a copy of our e-book, "How to Develop Your Local Pride for Parents." You can download your copy here

When You’re Plagued By Practitioner’s Guilt

Any good idea, or revolutionary paradigm can have unintended consequences. When Bob Lupton wrote Toxic Charityhe hoped to ignite a transformation in the way charity was performed around the country and maybe even the globe. While his ideas resonated with many on-the-ground practitioners, there were unintended responses to the message. I wrote before about compassion paralysis, but today I’m exploring practitioner's guilt.

I have had the opportunity to meet so many people who give of their whole selves, working long hours and making significant sacrifices in response to a call to love and walk alongside the materially poor. Day in and and day out, they listen to, serve, and care for communities of people society often ignores.

These are courageous, amazing people.

Some of these heroes of mine read Toxic Charity and agreed right away that traditional charity paradigms are not working. In fact, the message was not altogether surprising as they moved through the unfolding argument.

They knew charity was falling short. And they know this because they’ve seen it - up close and personal. They’ve watched as a one-time gift soon developed into an ongoing expectation. They’ve seen programs intended to come alongside parents unintentionally undermine and demotivate their efforts. They’ve witnessed local, grassroots businesses and services go by the wayside once charity steps in.

As the problems and pitfalls were defined, these readers became aware of this inconsistency with what charity intends versus what it actualizes. And some found themselves experiencing significant guilt.

They looked back over their past work through a new lens and worried about how much damage they may have done, about their contributions to toxic charity. They wondered whether or not what they have done has made any difference at all. And they questioned themselves and all they have labored so diligently to accomplish.

There are two words of encouragement that we offer to those facing practitioner’s guilt. First, remember that Jesus promised that every “cup of cold water” we give in his name will be seen and celebrated (Mt 10:42). Our gifts will always be incomplete, our love imperfect and our best efforts insufficient. But God is faithful to receive our cups of water and build his Kingdom with them.

Second, instead of hearing a word of condemnationembrace this message as God’s own invitation to you to join God in more redemptive work. Paul tells us that we can have confidence every good work God has begun in us will be carried on to completion in Jesus Christ (Phlp 1:6)! So, we invite you to hear this message as evidence that God sees and honors your work and is lovingly inviting you to follow into deeper waters.

Lupton’s book is a call to those heroic people out there, like you, to continue in their call to walk alongside the materially poor. His description of the challenges facing charities is not a cease and desist order. Rather, it is a call to serve in innovate and exciting new ways so the communities practitioners love so much can flourish like never before!

Have you found yourself feeling guilty about past service when you consider its potential effects? How do feel about seeing this as God’s personal invitation to innovation and creativity instead?

Post by Shawn Duncan, Director of Education & Training

Breaking New Ground: How FCS’s History will Shape the Future

An Exciting New Division at FCS

FCS has been on the forefront of innovative work in under-resourced neighborhoods for almost 40 years. Through our groundbreaking initiatives, the books by our Founder, Bob Lupton, and the impact we have had in our neighborhoods, FCS has emerged as a leader in the fields of responsible charity and community development.

One of the key results from FCS’s strategic visioning process in 2014 was the decision to create, as one of our core areas of impact, an entity that distills this history, message, and competencies into dynamic training resources that equip individuals, churches, and organizations for healthy community development and responsible charity.

So, in July of 2015 we brought onto staff Dr. Shawn Duncan to be the Director of our brand new Training and Education division. He has been hard at work crafting its vision, creating resources, and establishing a network of support for this emerging center for training.

The last seven months have been a flurry of activity, and Shawn and the staff at FCS can’t wait to share some big and exciting news with you about what the Training and Education Division has been working on! But...not just yet...so stay tuned!

Current Training Opportunities:

There are a whole host of resources in the development stage that we can’t wait to share with you in the near future. For now, however, there are 3 ways you and your networks can take advantage of the dynamic training offered by FCS.

VISIT US: Open HouseThree times a year FCS welcomes leaders, innovators and practitioners from all over the country who come for two-days to learn about our model for community development. Participants learn from Founder Dr. Bob Lupton, President Jim Wehner, and Executive Director Katie Delp, along with various FCS neighbors and staff. At Open House, participants also get to experience historic South Atlanta, the neighborhood where FCS is currently working.

SEMINAR: Reimagine Charity - This seminar introduces groups to the basic concepts of toxic and responsible charity. It is an interactive 2 or 3 hour event that invites groups to consider why traditional charity paradigms are not working and to envision a new and better way forward. By looking a real life examples, participating in thought-provoking exercises and being exposed to compelling teaching, participants come away ready to chart a new course for more responsible charity.

WORKSHOP: Changing the Charity Paradigm - This workshop is a dynamic, research-based and practical half-day event. It has been built for groups that have read Bob Lupton’s books, participated in the Reimagine Charity Seminar or are simply ready to start changing the way charity is practiced. It is truly a workshop in that participants will work on real-life initiatives and will come away prepared to take the next, best steps in their charity.

We have led and are planning events now all over the country. If you want to learn more or schedule a training, please contact Shawn Duncan, shawn(@)fcsministries.org. 

A Look Ahead: 2016 at FCS

by Jim Wehner, President of FCS 

Welcome to 2016! I am so encouraged by the start of a new year. A clean slate to fill and new goals to pursue. As I think and pray into this coming year, I find my heart encouraged by the words of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6:

“Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Another translation says, “If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that,or whether both will do equally well.”

Several nuggets of encouragement and truth resonate with me as I read this passage.

  • Sow generously. Spread your resources with wisdom. Don’t hold back. Don’t focus solely upon the place that gives you the biggest return. You do not know what the year ahead holds for your investments. So, invest with Kingdom-oriented generosity in mind. And enjoy doing it! Trust that God, who calls you to be faithful toward others, will be faithful to you as well.
  • Sow faithfully. Planting is hard work. But don’t hold back and don’t stop! If you fail to plant, there will be no harvest at the end of the season.  It is tempting to focus on the harvest - the end that want to see and experience.  But I am reminded of how many times the end has been a let down because I did not remain faithful in the planting phase.

  • Maintain your focus. Spend less time focusing on obstacles that you cannot change. The tree fell where it fell, move on. The clouds will drop some rain, keep working. Friction is the source of traction, embrace the resistance. Setbacks are part of the process, but you live in light of a God that provides faithfully. Tomorrow holds great promise because of Him.

  • Trust God! Do not let the worries and cares of the day stop you from doing what is best and needed. Don’t let fear and worry rule your actions.

What does it look like for FCS to sow generously and faithfully, focus, and trust God in 2016? For starters, it means we will complete twelve houses this year. That means twelve families moving into formerly vacant places, being neighbors in our community and making a difference on their block! If you are a Real Estate professional, you know first hand the mountains we are moving to provide wholesome and viable housing in this neighborhood. We need courageous investors to join with us on this work!

We will continue working hard to bring vitality to the neighborhood by providing affordable and healthy foods at Carver Market, a friendly and light-filled meeting space at Community Grounds Cafe, and a training space to our neighborhood youth at our bike shop. We have hopes of adding a restaurant to the neighborhood. We’re dreaming of a pizza joint where neighbors can grab a slice or families can take home a whole pie. If that vision excites you, we should talk!

We will continue to support neighborhood leaders serving in the South Atlanta Civic League, our neighborhood food co-op, and after school partnership serving local children. Next December, we look forward to another joyful Pride for Parents Christmas store.

None of this work is flashy. Just consistent (and hard!) work in a positive direction, producing spectacular results in our community. And we are excited to the core when lives and neighbors are impacted in positive, life-giving, and Jesus-glorifying ways.

I was talking with a good friend and fellow non-profit leader this week. We are both in vision-casting mode for the coming year. We were discussing what a daunting task it can be to think about the transformations we are working towards  in our focus communities. I imagine you can relate as you think about your dreams and making ends meet this year.

As I read this passage in Ecclesiastes, I am reminded and encouraged that the little things we do along the way are powerful. Small, consistent (even persistent) tasks lay the groundwork for big God-inspired returns. I hope you find encouragement in your work this year, and we invite you to be a part of the ongoing work of FCS in 2016.  

5 New Year's Resolutions for Community Builders

Community work is filled with ups and downs, celebrations and challenges. If we’ve been involved in our neighborhood for several years, we may find our calendars full of meetings with leaders with ideas and people who want to get involved. We may be working hard on valuable projects and launching exciting new initiatives.

So what does it mean to step back in the New Year and dream big? Here are a few resolution ideas for community builders as we turn the page on the calendar.

#1 - Listen to what your neighbors are saying.

For most of us, this was how we got started in community work. We heard neighbors complain about an ongoing issue or we discovered ideas residents had to make their community stronger. We listened to neighbors and moved forward together.

Sometimes as we get engaged in these projects - even those led by community members - we have less space to simply listen. To hear what neighbors are talking about, rather than moving forward with our plans. Take time this new year to listen again. You may be surprised what you hear!

#2 -  Walk places.

As our schedules fill up, it’s often easier to jump in a car (especially if you’re in Atlanta) than to walk or even take public transit. But these alternate forms of transportation connect us to our neighborhood in different ways.

For a fresh perspective, take a walk in your community. You may meet new neighbors that have moved in or discover some hidden gems along the way. Walking is a great way to stay present in the place where you live.

#3 - Engage someone new in your work.

Stop and think who else would make a great addition to your project. You might immediately think of an outside partner who could get very excited about a specific initiative. Or a local resident with potential to be a great leader may come to mind.

Whoever you’re thinking of, set aside the time to share with them the vision and scope of your work and invite them to be a part. Sometimes it feels more efficient to follow-through on things by ourselves or with our core team, but new participants can breathe fresh air into the project and help shoulder the workload.

#4 - Involve youth.

Many of us already do this. But if you’re not tapping into the youth resource in your neighborhood, it’s the perfect resolution for the New Year. Of course it’s great to have activities and educational opportunities for youth. But also brainstorm ways they can contribute to the positive activities happening in the neighborhood.

Youth are full of ideas, energy, and spunk. Consider ways to partner with youth workers to find ways they can join the community building efforts in your neighborhood.

#5 - Create space to hang out.

Feeling busy, rushed, or overwhelmed? If we spend too much time “building community” and not enough time “enjoying community,” we can forget why we started this work in the first place. Burnout can quickly follow.

Rework your schedule so that you have opportunities to spend time in your neighborhood without an agenda. Attend a local event. Or pass some time at a neighborhood meeting space. (For us, that’s likely Community Grounds.) See what happens when you are simply present and enjoy the refreshment relationships can bring!

We love building community! What are your ideas for strengthening your work this year? What are your resolutions for community builders?

The Generous Whisper of Hope

FCS staff is sharing thoughts on Hope this Advent season as we await the birth of the Christ child. This final reflection is by Executive Director Katie Delp.

I was driving down Peachtree Street after picking up toys for Pride for Parents. On each block in Midtown, I recognized a church or business that had contributed toys to this year’s drive. I was overwhelmed by the generosity I’ve witnessed this season. So many have shared gifts in order to create a joyous Christmas for our South Atlanta families.

 

When I returned to the Carver Market and our Christmas store, I visited with a customer browsing toys. She was shopping for a friend she met in our South Atlanta food co-op. Her friend recently gained custody of three great-granddaughters when their mother tragically died this year. This customer lovingly selected gifts for each girl and gave out of her own meager income to help her friend’s family have a joyful Christmas. I was overwhelmed by her generosity.

 

At FCS, we share about how Pride for Parents supports dignity and empowerment for families. And it certainly does that. It is beautiful to watch parents find the perfect toy for their kids and make the purchase themselves.

 

But I’m discovering another side of Pride for Parents this year. It is a program of overwhelming generosity.

 

Generous donors across the city provide thousands of toys for our little store. Volunteers generously give of their time to wrap gifts and sort toys during this busiest of seasons. And the store is busy with families buying presents to give generously to their children and others Christmas morning.

 

As we prepare for Christ’s birth during this time of Advent, I can think of no better way to prepare than to participate in this extravagant generosity. It gives me hope.

 

We are so often reminded of the brokenness of this world, of the fallenness of humankind. But working Pride for Parents this year has been a window into the generosity of God’s heart expressed through people. I am reminded of all the ways God is at work in the world, and I am hopeful as we wait for Christ’s arrival.

Hope is a Wednesday Night in South Atlanta

FCS staff is sharing thoughts on Hope this Advent season as we await the birth of the Christ child. This week's reflection is from Jeff Delp, Director of Economic Development.

If you ever drive through our neighborhood at night, it can be a very dark place.

So many houses are unoccupied and unlit. (Although, thanks to Charis, this number is decreasing.) Many street lights in the neighborhood no longer work, though neighbors are working to change this situation. And now that winter is near, darkness falls before many people even make it home from work.

But if you drive by 1297 Jonesboro Road on a Wednesday night, you’ll see light shining – both literally and figuratively.

At this time, every part of our building is lit up! South Atlanta Bike Shop kids are working away with tools and wrenches and air pumps. Our neighborhood youth group is meeting in the gym with wild group games and spiritual conversations. Community Grounds is serving coffee while customers shop for fresh groceries at Carver Market.

Our building literally shines with all of the lights on.

But the light at 1297 Jonesboro Road is more than just physical. Hope is spilling out of every window and crack on Wednesday nights.

Residents of South Atlanta have new hope of a job in their community. There’s hope of providing food for your family with your own money in your own neighborhood. There’s joy and delight of an evening spent with friends. There’s hope in relationships, and there’s hope that the neighborhood - as well as each of us - can change and grow and be a light.

What if you don’t just drive by? If you spend time getting to know our kids, our staff, and our neighbors, you’ll see the light shining. The evidence of hope will encourage your heart.

Of course, it’s not supposed to be like this. A neighborhood like ours isn’t supposed to have hope, isn’t supposed to have a grocery store or a youth group or a bike shop.

But that’s the beauty of our Savior, right? He enters the scene in the places least expected with the people on the margins, and He brings hope. As I wait for Christmas this year, I am expectant of the hope my Savior brings. And though I know I don’t deserve it, I am thankful beyond measure for the grace my Christ brings.

Let us all celebrate light in our lives, in South Atlanta, and in the world this season!

Thankful for 2015

by Jim Wehner, FCS President

Hard to believe that we are staring down the close of 2015! The list of things to be thankful for this year is pretty long at FCS. 

January started with a rush of activity for our housing team. We had seven houses in stock that needed renovation. By the end of the year, we will have renovated and sold all seven. (That's seven new families in the neighborhood!) Beyond that, we will have acquired and renovated another five properties (total of 12!), three of which are under contract to sell in December!  This was made possible by the visionary investment of a group of donors in a “rotational capital fund” in 2014.

In May, after more than a year of planning, we opened a small grocery store in our focus neighborhood. This idea was vetted and supported by a strong group of professionals that set our budgets, helped us plan store layout, and raised initial capital for the program.  Since the day it opened, it has been like holding a tiger-by-the-tail! We have received great press coverage that we never expected and are not always sure how to receive. At the same time, we became owners of a small business, and we live and die monthly by our financial statements. We have provided 12 part-time jobs to residents of our neighborhood and connected the neighborhood to a bigger, regional food-service economy. The neighborhood impact has been humbling to see!

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As we look forward to 2016, we find ourselves thankful for partners like you that find value in what we are doing. Your regular support encourages and challenges us to keep moving forward. It reminds us we can make a difference when we work together! 

As you look towards the close of 2015, I hope you can find encouragement that spurs you into 2016 with a thankful heart! 

How To Help in 2016

We are excited about the work we do. It’s a joy to share with you the events and milestones of our 2015. As we celebrate, we are reminded at every turn that we do not stand alone. You are a valuable part of the community development and transformation happening in Historic South Atlanta.

We invite you to join hands with us as we enter 2016 with fresh energy and an eager outlook on the year ahead. Here are 7 ways you can get involved with FCS this new year!

#1 - Move into South Atlanta!

Let’s kick off the list with our biggest invitation. Come be a part of our family! Charis Community Housing has several newly renovated homes on the market, and we’d love to have you as a neighbor in South Atlanta.

#2 - Shop at Carver Market and Community Grounds.

We are working hard to create sustainable, needed businesses in the community. We hope to provide local jobs in the neighborhood for the long haul. We need committed customers who help us reach these important goals.

#3 - Become a monthly donor.

We can’t say thank you enough to all the givers who support our work in the neighborhood. Join us in 2016 by committing to a monthly gift. Would you? We are so grateful for your generosity.

#4 - Bring a group to our Open House.

Want to see our work on the ground? Want to introduce others to FCS? Interested in community development best practices for your own neighborhood? We love to share what we’re learning, and we welcome guests during our Open Houses.

#5 - Host a Pride for Parents toy drive.

It’s exciting to watch new partners catch a vision for our Pride for Parents Christmas Drive as an opportunity to love neighbors with dignity. Go ahead and let us know if you’re interested in hosting a toy drive in 2016, and we’ll contact you next fall!

#6 - Follow and engage with us on social media.

We’re out there on the Internet! You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’d love to connect with you online, and we appreciate you sharing about what’s happening at FCS with your friends and followers!

#7 - Pray for us!

Last, but certainly not least, we are grateful for your prayers that sustain us as staff and neighbors and that remember our work in the community. Thank you so much for praying for FCS and Historic South Atlanta.

Thank you for stepping with us into a brand, new year. We welcome 2016!

The Hope of God’s Completion

FCS staff is sharing thoughts on Hope this Advent season as we await the birth of the Christ child. Our Week 2 reflection is from President Jim Wehner.

I have been following Scripture readings for Advent this year. This week, I read Philippians 1:3-11. The Apostle Paul writes, “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to the completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine).

I have been thinking about my need for His work of completion in my life.  

I stopped for gas on my way to work. While waiting for the tank to fill, I stood by my car, looking at my phone and reading through multiple emails in multiple email accounts. I had a busy day ahead and even though it was just after 6 a.m., my mind was already on the demands of the day. I was startled from my mental planning when I suddenly realized someone was standing next to me.

The man - who had walked up without me seeing - was trying to catch my attention. He quickly apologized for startling me and intruding on my space. He had a rough exterior, but soft approach. I recognized that it was chilly and I could tell he was cold - he had most likely been outside all night.

He started with a story about being from out of town and down on his luck. I wish I could tell you more, but the truth is, I wasn't really listening. I was just looking for an opportunity to break into his story to say “no.”

The bottom line is that I don’t give handouts very often, especially if I do not have a relationship with the recipient. My one caveat to this guide is that I give handouts when I sense the Holy Spirit pushing me to respond, when compassion overrides my normal process.

As I drove off, I justified my decision with my personal rule: no handouts unless there is relationship. Relationship allows me to know the need is justified or even how the money might be used. Relationship also allows me to give in other ways. Maybe I can provide work. There is dignity for us both in that option. Maybe I can cover a meal or create a connection to resource providers who can address the deeper issues of need. My experience tells me this is the better way. 

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to the completion. We are all lacking. It does not matter whether we are in need or if we have resources to help others. We all share a need for the completing work of a Savior.

I am accustomed to listening to those in need and finding ways to help. And yet, it is tough to be in the process. I am not complete. I am distracted. I fall back on my self-created rules rather than listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the One who began a good work must also complete it. I am so thankful that Christ does not wait for us to perfect ourselves.

As I drove away, I was deeply convicted. I heard my rationalizations, but it is difficult to justify lack of compassion at this time of year. I felt God had a good work to complete. So I spun the car around and returned to the gas station.

Time To Grow Up

By Bob Lupton, Founder

I love visions. Some have called me a vision junkie. FCS has been the ideal place for me to hatch new ideas for addressing and alleviating poverty. Its open structure has fostered an environment of innovation that has been a magnet for other visionaries as well. A “Kingdom playground” I have described it – a place where God’s children can bring their favorite toys, tools and talents and create things of eternal value.  

Form has always raced to keep up with function. The creative chaos has driven our bookkeepers nearly mad. And so it has been for the past nearly four decades. Board members more like cheerleaders than directors, budgets always in flux, future plans as unpredictable as the wind of the Spirit. It has been wonderful!  Surprisingly, this churning energy has developed into a decent-sized organization that has produced some rather remarkable results.

In my maturing years, I have come to realize that visionaries are a bit like adolescents. We love to create, to initiate, to ignite, but our focus seems to stray when we have to administrate these visions. Fortunately, FCS has been blessed with capable management types who have been persistent and patient and flexible enough to responsibly steward good visions. And thus we have hop-scotched our way forward. 

But with the advent of fresh leadership (effected by my promotion to president emeritus), our new and very gifted President / CEO team have launched for the very first time a strategic planning process. A top notch consultant was engaged, a thorough analysis of our mission (our strengths as well as weaknesses) was conducted, board structure was evaluated, and a reorganization strategy was set in motion. Priorities have been established, goals have been set, and budgets have been refined. FCS is finally growing up!

So what happens to visionaries when an organization matures?  The good news is that a fresh, new generation of energetic visionaries has already emerged within FCS. They have opened a new grocery store in the “food desert” of South Atlanta, started a new urban academy to assist churches and charities in community transformation, launched plans for a state-of-the-art youth development center – to name just a few. With a well-managed organizational structure to support them, these new visions (as well as the mature ones) will flourish long into the future.  

The ancient prophet Joel foretold a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out upon humanity, a time when "...your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." Perhaps that time has arrived for FCS. As the “senior statesman” in the organization, I am much more effective these days at dreaming dreams than implementing visions.  

Launching visions takes boundless energy – the kind of renewable resource with which young people are abundantly blessed. New visions still excite me, but my energy reserves don’t match the demand. So telling stories that that inspire visions in others seems the more fitting role for me. Which makes me an ideal senior faculty member for our urban academy.

Old visionaries never die - they just become dreamers.  

When Hope is a Smoldering Wick

FCS staff is sharing reflections on Hope this Advent season as we await the birth of the Christ child. Our first piece is by Shawn Duncan, our Director of Education & Training. 

When I opened the email asking me to contribute a post for our Advent series on the theme of hope, my reactions was, well, not very positive. All I could think was, “Seriously? Could you pick a worse day and a worse person to ask to write about hope?!”

I confess to you that I am personally not in a place where “hope” characterizes my perspective on the world nor my attitude toward others. So what do I feel?

Doubt? That’s kind of close. Despair? Closer, but that’s still not quite it.

If I had to name my current state of being, the most accurate word I can come up with is powerlessness.

Why?

Within just the last week, I have faced the painful realities of - to name just a few - terrorism, the juvenile justice system, refugee resettlement, mass incarceration, the death penalty, immigration reform, systemic and interpersonal racism, education reform, homelessness…..I’ll stop there.

But here’s the thing, I don’t feel powerless simply because these problems exist. If there was agreement on the problems and a collective commitment to do something, my heart would be surging with hope. The problem is that I feel as if every meaningful attempt to respond redemptively is met either by deliberate resistance or an unwillingness to engage - both within the society at large and the church.

This is why I need Advent. When I say “need” here, I don’t mean it like the “I need a cup of coffee.” I need it in the way that a flower withers without the sun. My spirit needs the liturgies of Advent.

Here’s why.

God put on flesh and moved into a world that knew the violence of extremists, that saw grave social injustice, that wrongly imprisoned people, that rejected the healthcare needs of the economically disadvantaged, that justified xenophobic fears….I’ll stop there.

Not only that, Jesus stepped into a world where the people - both those within and outside of the people of God - were either actively engage in resisting change or simply disengaged from the problems.

If I were alive then I would have had wanted a join with a Jesus who took total and complete control of the world. Build a kingdom, establish the world’s greatest military. Vanquish quickly and resoundingly any and all threats to freedom. Protect the innocent. Care for every single sick and hungry person. Give every person opportunity to provide for their families and thrive. I would have wanted take part in a revolution led by a Jesus that would overthrow all governments and by force take control of the world to lead it in righteousness, freedom, justice, and peace. I would have jumped at the chance to help a Jesus who would purge the religious systems of their compromises and build a people who followed God in all faithfulness.

That is what I want now. And I am not getting it.

Bombs still go off in public places. Refugees are still rejected. The innocent still perish. Prisons are still outpacing schools. Racial biases still plague our communities. People - religious and nonreligious alike - still work against the implementation of solutions. People - religious and nonreligious alike - still refuse to get involved.

I feel powerless when our all-powerful God is not making all things new.

At least not in the way that I want God to do it.

This is why I need Advent. I need to be reminded that Jesus changes the world through sacrificial love, not retributive violence. I need to be reminded that Jesus changes the world through small acts of great love, not big displays of great power. I need to be reminded that hope is found in the transformative nature of yeast and mustard seeds, not in the destructive power of armies and kingdoms. I need to be reminded that the world - secular and religious alike - will always offer a cross to those that call for sacrificial love, justice for the oppressed, and the renewal of the world.

Advent restores my hope that one can enter the world in quiet, small ways and participate in God’s renewal.

My hope, today, is but a smoldering wick. I need the Advent narrative to gently breathe it back to flame, rekindling in me the hope of a Kingdom, though not yet fully here, that is coming and continues to come when we gently put flesh on love and let it walk around in our neighborhood.

Why I'm Thankful for South Atlanta

by Guest Writer Sarah Quezada

Sarah and her husband Billy moved into our target neighborhood, Historic South Atlanta, in 2009.  

A couple months ago, two people asked me in the same week if I live in a “good” neighborhood. I haven’t stopped thinking about that question since then. Can I acknowledge the challenges of my community? Sure. But that’s not my go-to when I am asked about where I live.

I actually think I’m a bit spoiled in South Atlanta. I’ve lived many places, and it is one of the strongest I’ve ever been in when it comes to developing community and creatively dreaming about how we can make it a better place to live.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I’ve been thinking about what I’m grateful for in my community. So here it is! My Thanksgivings for South Atlanta:

#1 - When I moved into the neighborhood six years ago, strangers showed up and unloaded our moving truck.

#2 - My next door neighbor never forgets to tell me how cute my kids are and remind me that this time is short.

#3 - I frequently work at Community Grounds, where the staff literally knows my name (and my favorite treats).

#4 - After more than a decade in urban ministry, I’d forgotten the blessing of a nearby grocery. Carver Market has changed my life this year.

#5 - My kids have grown up enjoying South Atlanta Treat Street every year, and I’m thankful they can celebrate safely together with neighbors.

#6 - People talk about “Atlanta traffic.” I have no idea what they’re talking about!

#7 - When tensions arose between the community and a local high school, real efforts were made to seek mediation, as well as posting signs in yards to support students.

#8 - I’m thankful for all the cross-cultural relationships that surround us (and our kids) as we get to know people with different life experiences.

#9 - Our neighborhood actually hosts an annual kickball tournament and a progressive dinner. I don’t feel like that’s all that common.

#10 - Charis Community Housing continues to renovate homes, making our neighborhood more beautiful and recruiting new, fun folks to move in.

I am truly grateful for South Atlanta. It’s been my home for the majority of my married life. Both of my kids were born here. It is our home. And we are grateful.

Chef Demos: New Initiative at Carver Market

by Jeff Delp

What do you do when you encounter a new food? How do you learn to eat it? Cook it? Does it remain an experiment or work its way into your regular eating routine?

One of our hopes when we opened Carver Neighborhood Market was to provide local, healthy produce and food options. But we also wanted to create opportunities to teach neighbors how to incorporate new foods into a balanced diet.

Thanks to Georgia Food Oasis and the The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, we’re excited to soon begin hosting Chef Demos at the market. The goal of this project is to introduce neighbors to new, local food options from urban farms. We will also promote healthier food choices by offering double EBT benefits.

Soon, you’ll be able to watch a chef demonstrate healthy and affordable cooking options right in the Carver Market! We are so delighted to be able to host this type of enrichment opportunity in our community. We hope this initiative will help get the word out about the store and promote healthier eating for residents in our neighborhood.

Interested in helping out? We will definitely share specifics on our Facebook and Twitter, and we invite you to come and participate. Please also let others know about these events! Finally, if you’re interested in volunteering, please contact jeff[at]fcsministries[dot]org about staffing a demo table.

The Carver Neighborhood Market has been an amazing food oasis in Historic South Atlanta. It’s exciting to engage the community around local food and healthy choices!