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!

5 Ways to Support Pride for Parents

by Katie Delp

Even if you’re a person who refuses to listen to “O Holy Night” one day before November 27, you can’t help but notice that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. In Atlanta, that rarely means snow, but it does mean giant yard inflatables surrounded by wet leaves.

At FCS, we must admit we’re already preparing for Christmas. Our annual Pride for Parents neighborhood store is an exciting time around here, and we’ve already started making plans! We’d love for you to join in the joy of the season by being a part of our Pride for Parents campaign. Here are 5 ways you can get involved:

#1 Shop ‘til you drop.

Actually, no dropping is required. We’ve made shopping easy with a handy Amazon Wish List of some of our most requested toys. We’d love for you to select and purchase a gift for a child in our neighborhood this year!

#2 Come and volunteer.

We can always use volunteers to help set up the store, decorate, price items, gift wrap, and more. If you or your church group is interested in volunteering, please reach out to Katie Delp (katie[at]fcsministries[dot]org).

#3 Host a toy party!

Already planning a small group Christmas gathering or a neighborhood party? Why not ask guests to bring an unwrapped toy instead of a hostess gift or Secret Santa exchange? You can donate the gifts to Pride for Parents. We’d love to help you plan a toy drive for your church or organization as well!

#4 Donate to the cause.   

We rely on generous donations to help cover all the costs of running our Christmas Store. Thank you for giving to support our staff and neighbors this Christmas. You can donate here.

#5 Share about Pride for Parents.

We’d love for you to invite others to participate in Pride for Parents, too! Consider sharing our Amazon Wish List on Facebook or passing along our information to a few friends you know would love to participate in a different type of Christmas gift drive this year.

Thank you so much to all who support our Pride for Parents program. We can’t do it without you, and we’re so excited for another year of supporting parents who want to buy gifts for their kids this Christmas. For more details about getting involved, take a look at our Action Kit.

Alright, back to your previously scheduled Thanksgiving programming!

When You’re Afraid Of Being Toxic

by Shawn Duncan

What do we do if someone knocks on our church door asking for lunch? What if a new immigrant family in our congregation needs a crib and baby clothes? What if a neighbor asks for help getting Christmas gifts for her kids?

Should we help? Should we give? Should we “empower”? What does that mean? What does it look like to support creative, “non-toxic” acts of charity in my real life?

Toxic Charity, in many ways, is a book about the unintended negative consequences of our best efforts to do good. Since it was published in 2012, we have learned, interestingly enough, that Toxic Charity has itself had some unintended negative consequences. One is what I like to call "Compassion Paralysis."

Compassion Paralysis

Our desire to do good "the right way" can have a paralyzing effect on practitioners. Once a person becomes aware of how well-intentioned charity can actually do more harm than good, they can get stuck not knowing if what they are doing is right or wrong.  

The fear of being “toxic” can become overwhelming. And the unfortunate result may be that they do nothing at all. Their genuine compassion gets paralyzed by the fear of doing harm.

Acts of Compassion

At FCS, we want to encourage people to make room for honest, everyday acts of compassion. Taking time to respond to someone who is hurting or in need is a good and faithful thing to do. Compassion is part of what makes us God’s image bearers. Squashing that in the name of “getting it right” is not the goal!

We need to make room to practice and celebrate acts of compassion. Acts of compassion are amazing because they are simple ways neighbors can care for neighbors as a way of building relationships and creating a community of mutual support.

Toxicity, on the other hand, enters when we turn acts of compassion into a programmatic effort to treat poverty’s symptoms rather than its causes. Our compassion becomes damaging when we try to programmatically address chronic poverty with crisis interventions.

It is one thing to share a meal with a person experiencing homelessness, sharing your story with each other, praying together, and allowing a mutual blessing to occur. It is another thing to decide to create a nonprofit that hands out free lunches every day on a street corner with claims to be addressing the hunger crisis among the homeless in your city.

See acts of compassion as a way to build new relationships. Find ways to make the mutual rather than one-way. And if you sense a call to address the root issue creating this need, make sure you implement the principles of responsible charity.


Christmas Again!

by Bob Lupton

"Christmas again. Damn!” His words are barely audible, but his wife knows his feelings well.  She sees the hurt in his eyes when the kids come home from school talking about what they want for Christmas. It is the same expression she sees on the faces of other unemployed fathers around the ’hood.

She knows this year will be no different from the last. All her husband’s hustle, his day-labor jobs, his pickup work will not be enough to put presents under the tree. They will do well to keep the heat on. His confident, promising deceptions allow the children the luxury of their dreams a while longer. She will cover for him again because she knows he is a good man. His lies are his wishes, his flawed attempts to shield his children from discovering what the older ones know but never admit: the gifts are not from Daddy.

He will not go with her to stand in the “free toy” lines with all the others. He cannot bring himself to do it. It is too stark a reminder of his own impotence. And if their home is blessed again this year with a visit from a Christian family bearing beautifully wrapped presents for the kids, he will stay in the bedroom until they are gone. He will leave the smiling and the graciousness to his wife. His joy for the children will be genuine. But so is the heavy ache in his stomach as his image of himself as a provider is dealt another blow.

Christmas. That wonderful, awful time when giving hearts glow warm while the fading embers of a poor man's pride are doused cold.

I wrote this reflection just after the first Christmas we had moved into the inner-city. And just after I had spent a lot of energy matching up generous friends from around the city with needy kids that would not be getting anything for Christmas. “Adopt-a-family” I called it. “Adopting” families would go shopping and then deliver their beautifully wrapped presents to the homes of children in my inner-city neighborhood. I had organized this program for several Christmases and felt very good about it. Until, for the first time as a neighbor, I was actually present in the homes of some of the recipient families when the gift-bearing families arrived. That’s when I saw the hurt in the eyes of parents who were unable to provide for their own children. That was also the last Christmas we ever did our “Adopt-a-family” program.

The following Christmas we initiated “Dignity for Dads” (that later became “Pride for Parents”). Instead of giving toys to the children (which exposed their parent’s impotence), we opened The Christmas Store where their parents could purchase the toys they knew would delight their children at greatly reduced prices. Then on Christmas morning, parents in our community could experience the same delight that most parents in our society enjoy – seeing their children open gifts they selected and purchased through the efforts of their own hands.

And there was dignity in the process of exchange. If need, unemployed parents could work in the store to earn money to buy gifts for their children. This arrangement meant everyone could enjoy the excitement of finding and purchasing bargains. The proceeds from toy sales then went to create an employment training program to enable unemployed parents to enter the job market.

“Pride for Parents” has become the highlight of the Christmas season in our community. It is not only a joyful, dignity-enhancing experience for our neighbors. It is also an opportunity for our supportive friends to participate in the richness of Christmas sharing with the assurance that their giving is strengthening, rather than undermining, struggling parents. I invite you to join with us in the celebration.

With warm and grateful wishes,

Bob Lupton

Image credit: Shutter Fotos

How To Develop Your Local Pride for Parents [NEW E-BOOK]

We have been hosting our Pride for Parents Toy Sale for many years. We've had the opportunity to talk with groups around the nation hoping to launch similar Christmas stores. As the requests have grown, we wanted to get creative about supporting organizations to run their own Pride for Parents programs.

We are delighted to introduce you to our new, all-in-one resource guide for developing a Pride for Parents Toy Store in your community. Inside this beautiful e-book, you'll find everything you need, including:

  • The philosophy behind Pride for Parents
  • 4 unexpected benefits of changing your model
  • The nitty gritty behind donations, pricing, volunteers, payments, and more
  • 3 case studies of other programs in unique contexts
  • and more!

We are proud to offer you this resource for only $12 in our online store. Get your copy today! 

3 Real-Life Skills the Bike Shop Teaches

by Andrej Ciho

Successful transition from youth to adulthood requires maturing in multiple areas of life. There is intellectual growth, emotional growth, character growth and not to forget physical growth. At the South Atlanta Bike Shop we we wanted to make sure we help prepare our youth for the future in all of these areas.

The earn-a-bike program at the bike shop affords us an environment rich with learning opportunities. We have specific areas in which we guide the youth with the belief that if you do something often enough it becomes a habit and good habits are what helps us navigate life successfully. Here are three examples:

#1 Excellence

Bicycle repair requires attention to detail and through observation we can identify how healthy or unhealthy different components and systems are. Completing a repair with excellence brings joy to the young mechanic and the bicycle owner alike. Consistently delivering excellent work is a highly desired trait in the job marketplace.

#2 Critical Thinking

Yes, addressing a flat tire necessitates mechanical expertise. But it also requires critical thinking skills, which are applicable across all industries and careers. Youth must diagnose what caused the tire to go flat, assess if all systems that protect the inner tube are healthy, and decide if components should be repaired or replaced. If replacement is necessary, they have to think through if they have everything they need to follow the proper sequence for repair. Finally, our teens consider how to educate the owner on bicycle maintenance to prevent future issues.

#3 Communication

We go out of our way to make sure that what we say (or write) is clear, complete, professional, and kind. We teach the youth to be aware of how they communicate, observe how the recipient experiences their communication, and make adjustments to improve.

Youth at the South Atlanta Bike Shop have fun working on bikes together. Learning while having fun is the best kind of learning, and we believe it will benefit them long after they outgrow the bicycle they earned.

A Documentary For Your Must-Watch List

We're always on the lookout for great resources that can help think critically about missions and charity and addressing poverty where we live and work. We were recently informed about this documentary, which looks at the role of global aid. Check out the trailer below!

Several of our team are looking forward to checking out this documentary and thought others would find it intriguing as well. To learn about or organize a local screening, visit the film's website here

What documentaries have helped you process and understand poverty in our world? We're always open to recommendations! Feel free to share in the comments. 

How Local Businesses Can Serve Diverse Customers

by Jeff Delp

You see the signs popping up in September.  You hear folks murmur, ”I can’t believe it’s out already.” People line up with eager anticipation.

No, I’m not talking about Christmas shopping. It’s the Pumpkin Spice Latte!

The hot drink has become as synonymous with fall as riding with your dad on a scenic, mountain drive to see the leaves change. As familiar as watching UGA beat their first three opponents.

The major coffee companies have marketed the pumpkin spice latte so well, it has become almost as much of a part of fall culture as Halloween and Thanksgiving. 

Well, in certain circles. The PSL has a reputation for being the signature drink of white women, and its price point puts it out of range for many coffee drinkers. So what do we do at our neighborhood coffee shop that serves a variety of customers from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds?

Marketing at both Community Grounds Café and Carver Market can be challenging due to the diversity of our customer base. We’ve sold plenty of pumpkin spice lattes this fall, but they don’t drive our seasonal sales like larger companies may experience.

In order for our stores to work, we need to and want to serve the unique, cross-section of people within two miles of our store.  If you look at our demographics, 30% of our population makes $15,000 or less in a year. And yet, within those same two miles, 10% of people make over $100,000 a year.

Our philosophy in product selection is simple: try to stock a variety where there’s something for everyone. Sure, we offer a $4 PSL, but we’ll sell a $1 cup of coffee just as happily. In Carver Market, we display locally sourced bread at $5, while we also carry generic brands. Almond Butter and Jiffy sit side-by-side, and Granola lives just below Captain Crunch. We sell Smart Water, and we sell Kool-Aid.

We’ve witnessed urban pioneer markets that opened selling all natural and organic items in a neighborhood that couldn’t sustain it. And we continue to see local, longtime businesses that haven’t updated their product mix for decades. They stick with what makes money, even if the food isn’t great for our community or our bodies.

We want our businesses to offer something different. We want our store to serve all of those around us. And we hope that a variety of options will also introduce all neighbors to new selections outside their comfort zones.

And we wonder if other stories are navigating a similar product mix. So here’s a challenge for you!

Find another store in the United States where you can buy both a Pumpkin Spice Latte & a Pick 5 deal, and we’ll give you a $50 gift card to the store!

Where Is The Gospel?

By Jim Wehner

I spent nine years prior to coming to FCS as a pastor with the Evangelical Free Church of America. We had four core values at the church, the first of which was "mission is why the church exists." It was our reason to be. 

"Mission" fed into our understanding of who God wanted us to be as a community of believers. This core value was built not solely from the Great Commission, but certainly this charge that Christ gave to his followers before his death had huge implications to the church and to me personally as a pastor. 

I had dedicated my life to it and saw my calling through the lens of those words, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV). ”

I sincerely attempted to shape everything that we did as a church around this idea of mission. It is, after all, why the church exists. "Mission" was illustrated by many practices for the church: outreaches, overseas service trips, small groups, etc. Anyone having even a minor understanding of what activities churches do would recognize these practices. 

When I came to work at Focused Community Strategies (FCS) as the director of housing in 2008, I met Richy (named changed). Richy was in his 30’s and was a kind, gentle man. He was overweight and had congestive heart failure so he went everywhere on a motorized scooter. I really mean everywhere. I would see him miles away from home.

His 20 year old nephew lived with him. He had dropped out of college to help Richy take care of two sons and to get around. Time after time I would see his nephew pushing Richy and his scooter down the street because it had run out of juice on the way back from a trip to McDonalds or to the convenience store for some groceries.

You see my mission right? Richy (and his nephew) needed housing, but they really needed Jesus. Eternity hangs in the balance. And while I was at it, he could be making all sorts of better choices that would make for a more healthy life on this side of eternity.

Then there was the nephew. At 20 years old, he ought to be back in school. A college education will go a long way to breaking the pattern of generational poverty.

I appreciated that he was helping Richy, but it was seriously impacting his own future. Every time I saw his nephew pushing him home from McDonald's, I would think, “There is a devastating future cost to his nephew that no one is calculating."

I prayed faithfully for Richy and his family. I looked for opportunities to talk with him and when appropriate, to share with him the good news. This was the basics of mission that I had taught for so many years as a pastor. What good does it do to provide for material needs (housing, food, or clothing) without providing for their souls?

Then things began to get turned around. Richy's nephew was a believer. It took me a moment to catch on to this because he is a quiet young man and truth be told, I wasn’t really listening.

As I learned about this commitment and gained an understanding, I began to get a clearer view of mission. Ricky’s nephew knew something about incarnational mission that my church culture has forgotten. Or worse yet, has intentionally left out of its definition of mission because of its ramifications. Richy’s nephew sacrificed for three years in order to help Richy in a way that I saw as negative until I began to balance it in my Bible.

Through this experience (and many others) at FCS, I began to learn that it wasn’t that the poor needed my gospel. It is that I have forgotten key parts of the gospel message.  

I cannot get to the great commission without going through the great commandment - Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself - Matthew 22:17-40.

I came to understand that If I boil down mission to a proclamational message that is void of incarnational love, then my mission is skewed. God came in the flesh. If God did not come in the flesh, I am sunk.

Richy passed away early this year. He had moved from our apartments and we had lost touch. I was saddened by the news. He was young. I never found out where his faith stood. That feels something like a failure to the pastor in me.

I can honestly say that we showed him a great amount of love by the way we served his family at FCS. That love included provision for material needs as well as a clear message of good news. It certainly wasn’t all a cakewalk.

Housing ministry is fraught with complications. But I learned a lot about my faith and my God through him and through his nephew who is now back in school.

My core values regarding the mission of the church have not changed. But how that mission is walked out is much more robust. I actually state it this way now: “Mission is why the church exists and the context of all mission is love."

Image credit: Mike Apsey 

How To Celebrate Community Creativity

"Creativity takes courage." - Henri Matisse

What does creativity look like in a neighborhood? Interestingly, Halloween is a holiday that can open the door for kids and teens in your community to display their wild creations. Whether they go with traditional standbys like superheroes or princesses, or surprise us with their take on Where’s Waldo or foosball players, October 31 can uncover the creativity among us.

In South Atlanta, neighbors are hosting our 6th Annual Treat Street celebration. This fall carnival emerged out of a desire to nurture more creativity in our neighborhood. Sometimes, in urban communities, creativity may be undervalued.

Residents began to notice that local kids would knock on the doors at Halloween, hold out a bag, and expect candy. In an effort to encourage more costumes and more active participation, as well as to provide a safe and fun space, Treat Street was born.

After five years, Treat Street has become a neighborhood expectation. Candy donations are solicited from the community Civic League. Volunteers create and run simple carnival games, like ring toss, fishing for candy, cornhole, tic tac toe, and more. Many years, neighborhood youth enter the “haunted woods” where other teens and willing adults try to scare them with delight. We’ve also offered crafts, face painting, and group dancing various years.

So much of our dreams for our neighborhood include creating places of beauty, peace, and justice. Housing, jobs, and education are all important for a strong community. But celebrations and neighborhood fun also speak to the redeeming power of our Lord. We approach October 31st not as a day of darkness, but as an opportunity for community, fun, joy, and creativity. Treat Street offers a beautiful, alternative picture of how our community can look.

How does your neighborhood celebrate creativity?

What's The Biggest Change in 15 Years?

by Katie Delp

Early in my ministry career, I heard a veteran urban pastor say, “If you don’t have fifteen years to give to a neighborhood, don’t even start.” My 23-year old self couldn’t hardly wrap my mind around that statement, yet is resonated with me.

This month marks 15 years of living on Atlanta’s south side for me, and I’ve been reflecting on my time in South Atlanta. Most of the people I started this journey with have since moved on. And there are others who have joined in the good work over the years. My husband and I often joke that we are either committed or crazy for having stayed so long. I think it’s a bit of both.

When people learn how long I’ve lived in the neighborhood, they often ask, “How has the neighborhood changed since you started?” It’s easy to focus on the strides of our programs and ministries over the year. I can point them to the 120 homes constructed in our neighborhood. I can give them tours of the businesses we’ve started. Or I can introduce them to dozens of residents who choose to live an intentional life as neighbors in South Atlanta. While we are proud of the hard work transforming our community, the changes I’ve witnessed have been more than programmatic.

I met Joel and Devron when they were about 7 years old. Both where the youngest sons of friends who were living as intentional neighbors. I worked with, worshiped with, and spent hours upon hours with their families.

Joel and Devron both attended the after-school program we led in the early years of our work. I’ve had the privilege of watching both of these young men grow up in our summer camps, after-school programs, and youth groups. They have both worked at Community Grounds, and now they are both thriving college students.

My 8-year old son, Sam, recently attended our neighborhood youth group for the first time. He was thrilled to finally be old enough to attend with other kids on our block. Sam came home all smiles with stories of rowdy group games and youthful Bible study. He told me right away that Joel was there, leading the group.

Last month, Devron sat in my office, sharing his heart to lead our summer camp programs. We strategized together ways for him to take on more leadership of this program that impacted him as a child. I know he will be great because Devron is my own first text message when I need a babysitter. My kids absolutely adore him. (Their affection is only partially explained by his willingness to play video games for much longer than me.)

So what is the biggest change in my fifteen years of ministry? The change is that the kids I once led are now leading my kids. Those sweet 8-year old boys of fifteen years ago are now role models for my 8-year old. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Listening to that veteran pastor, I had no idea what a 15 year commitment entailed. And walking alongside one neighborhood for over a decade hasn’t been without its challenges. But there is nothing more encouraging than the gift of watching a new generation take the lead. Years of time spent tutoring math, dreaming of a grocery store, and laughing around the table at church potlucks has blossomed into a beautiful present.

And I am glad I am here to see it.

What Pride for Parents Is Not

by Sarah Quezada

More than a decade ago, a neighborhood mom invited me to join her picking up Christmas gifts for her son. I had met this precious duo a few months earlier when she approached me to “tutor” her 11-year old son. (Really we just spent a lot of time visiting and talking.)

I accepted her Christmas invitation with gratitude. On the designated morning, we walked to the local ministry organization in the biting December chill. Mothers lined the sidewalk, gripping paperwork, and eager to pick up gifts a stranger had purchased for their children that year.

We, too, checked in at the registration table and soon received a garbage bag full of gifts with my friend’s son’s name written on it. We hauled the bag back through the streets and alleys until we snuggled into their one room apartment, the stove on to heat the space.

Without much fanfare, the boy tore open the bag and inspected his gifts. Within seconds, I witnessed disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment collide in his expression. He tossed the bag of presents aside. “These are girl toys,” he mumbled.

He soon left the apartment with only his worn basketball. His mom sighed. “This happens every year.” I nodded quietly. His name is more often given to girls than to boys, so the mistake was understandable, though unfortunate. “But this year,” she continued, “I wrote in big letters: HE A BOY. And still with the girl presents.”

There are families who cannot afford to buy Christmas presents, whether it’s a year of particular hardship or an ongoing challenge with poverty. And there have always been people and organizations who work hard to make sure no child goes without a Christmas gift. But whenever I see these programs, I remember my friend’s attempt at a workable solution and the resulting humiliation and disappointment.

But what can you do? For years afterwards, I wrestled with if or how to participate in Christmas gift charities. Then, in 2009, I moved into South Atlanta, where Pride for Parents takes place each year. 

The program is run by FCS, who collects toys and gifts and then sells them at a community store for below market prices. Parents with limited means are given the opportunity to shop for gifts at prices they can afford. I think back to my friend’s apartment and wonder how different that experience might have been if she had been given the opportunity to select and purchase gifts for her son.

I am grateful for the presence of Pride for Parents in my community. It is not a giveaway program that may charm or may accidentally humiliate. It is a creative, innovative Christmas drive that offers parents dignity and the power to choose gifts for their children. As a mom myself, I know how much delight I receive each year as I watch my kids oooh and ahhh over the presents I chose with them in mind. I want all my neighborhood moms to receive that same joyful gift this Christmas.


Image credit: Kris Mouser-Brown

The Hunger Game

by Bob Lupton

I was having lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill the other day when a post card size picture of an adorable two year old girl with big brown eyes and cute little pigtails caught my attention. She was holding a small milk carton and sipping on a straw.  Along the top of the picture in large red block letters were these words: 1 IN 5 KIDS IN AMERICA SUFFER FROM HUNGER.  The small print requested that I donate $5 to No Kid Hungry to help reach the goal of providing three million meals to hungry children. As an added incentive, I would receive a $5 discount on my next meal at Ted’s.  The slogan at the bottom of the card read: Dine out. Do good.

I flipped the card over to see the details on the back.  “Every $1 provides up to 10 meals to kids in need,” it said.  “Together we can end childhood hunger.”   I was intrigued enough to do a little web checking when I got home.  No Kid Hungry, I discovered, is a fund-raising initiative of Share Our Strength, Inc., a multi-million dollar non-profit based in Washington DC that does very effective fund-raising for hunger-related causes.  They have secured an impressive array of supporters, from well-known celebrities to Fortune 500 corporations.  

Their “let’s get to the root causes” marketing approach was very appealing. Their credentials appeared to be excellent – good ratings with the BBB, audited financials, reasonable transparency.  But I couldn’t find any data describing how they actually feed children.  

They started out originally as a fund-raising-grant-making initiative that primarily funded infrastructure for charitable organizations – new refrigeration units for food banks and new industrial ovens for soup kitchens, that sort of thing.  Their idea was to focus on long-term solutions rather than immediate hunger needs.  But this proved too slow a process, too hard to measure impact.  

So they embarked on a bold mission to end childhood hunger in the US by 2015.  Their strategy: get millions more kids signed up for free government meals.  Their accomplishments have been substantial: hundreds of millions of dollars raised and hundreds of thousands of children enrolled in public food and nutrition programs.  “Since summer 2011,” they claim, “we’ve helped connect children across the country to more than 28 million additional school breakfasts and 6 million additional summer meals."

I suppose that’s one way to end hunger – get the government to feed us.  But honestly, I’m not buying the claim that I in 5 children in our country is severely deprived of food.  It just doesn’t square with what I have seen in forty-plus years of inner-city work.  Sure, kids miss meals, sometimes they have to eat peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month, they eat way too much junk food, but I have never seen a child that was even close to starving.  

Just visit a public school cafeteria. When you see how much food kids throw away, it’s hard to believe that we have a widespread epidemic of food-deprivation.  The throw away waste of school meals tops $1 billion annually, according to some estimates.  One study in Boston found that 40% of school lunches were tossed into the waste can. Students in LA schools, the nation’s second largest school system which serves 650,000 meals a day, throw out at least $100,000 worth of food every day.  That amounts to $18 million a year by very conservative estimates.  This doesn’t sound like a nation of hungry children to me.  

That picture of the darling two-year old with the big brown eyes does touch a grandpa’s heart. It draws me in.  I would give the $5 (or more) in a heartbeat if I knew she was being deprived of nourishing food and I could personally help.  You bet I would.  But $5 to help a polished, well-funded non-profit (even a well-meaning one) to enlist a generation of young people into an entitlement system that would only deepen their dependency?  I don’t think so.

4 Reasons You’ll LOVE Our Open House

Three times a year, FCS opens our doors and invites folks in to see up close and personal what we do and how we do it. Our Open Houses are for pastors, nonprofit leaders, students, and community developers who want to understand what healthy charity and community develop look like in practice.

If you've heard of FCS and would like an honest, practical look at the work we’ve done, the lessons we’re learning, and the ongoing desire to serve and love our neighbors well, then Open House is for you!

We’ve still got a few spots remaining for October’s event. Here’s four reasons you won’t want to miss it

1. Hear Bob Lupton Speak

Dr. Bob Lupton has authored many ground-breaking books that are changing the charity paradigm for people all over the country. At Open House you will get to hear him speak about lessons learned from 40 years of urban ministry experience. It’s a challenging message that anyone seeking to love the poor needs to hear!

2. Get Practical Help in Changing Your Charity Paradigm

If you have read Bob’s books and are asking, “Now what?!” you won’t want to miss this follow-up workshop with FCS Director of Training and Education, Shawn Duncan. He will lead you through interactive and dynamic training to prepare you to change and/or establish responsibility models of charity in your context.

3. See Our Ministries Up Close

We not only will talk you through the why’s and the what’s of our community development model, we will walk you through our neighborhood and our ministries. We’ll introduce you to our local coffee shop, Community Grounds, the South Atlanta Bike Shop, and our brand-new grocery store, Carver Neighborhood Market. You’ll also be able to see housing diversity strategically developed by our housing division, Charis Community Housing.

4. Ask Your Questions

We keep our Open House events small to truly create an interactive event. You will have opportunity to ask questions of FCS leadership, as well as other on-the-ground ministry directors. Get behind the stories and down to the nitty gritty of launching and supporting innovative community programs.

Our Open Houses are always a time of great connection and mutual encouragement. It’s a joy to be in a room with so many people seeking shalom in the neighborhoods where they live and work. Come visit us in October!

Can’t make these dates? Be on the lookout for our 2016 Open Houses. They are scheduled for the following dates: March 10-11, July 14-15, and October 20-21. We’d love to see you!

Why All The Hustle?

by Jim Wehner

I arrived early at work on one day to find a tenant from our apartments sitting on the curb outside our corporate offices (across the parking lot from the apartments).  She was angry and highly agitated. The keycard system was under repair which meant she was unable to get into Glencastle through the closest door to her apartment.

So instead of walking to the front door where she still had access, she has been climbing in her first floor window to get into her apartment. This resident is 62(ish), thin as a rail, and spunky to say the least. She has COPD and struggles to gain her breath as she reaches the end of her anger and has talked herself out.

She was tired of telling property management about the problems. She let me know clearly that the property manager hates her and is trying to evict her even though she has caught up her rent. And while she had my ear, there were repairs needed in her apartment that we had not repaired in over two-years. 

I was stunned at her anger and the amount of repairs that we had failed to fix. Even so, my experience told me that the story wasn’t quite right. A 62 year old with COPD climbing in her window (which are not at ground level)? Two years worth of repairs left undone and this is the first time I am hearing about it?

My response? I ask to see the repairs first hand. She gladly walks with me over to her apartment and runs through a list of six significant needs. One of the repairs is a hole in her wall that she has covered with newspaper and a mixture of water, flour and toothpaste. The puzzling part is that the repair issues are real. A simple repair order would have fixed all of them.

I suggest we go see the property manager (the one that hates her) to discuss the issues. She refuses in a renewed burst of anger and begins to list a new set of problems (and she is now smoking a cigarette which only exacerbates the breathing issues). The bottom line...we are doing the hustle.  

My gut tells me all of these issues are smokescreens to something that I have yet to discover. So as she calms down I give her a choice; either we go speak with the property manager, or I go back to my office and act like nothing happened. She chooses (after another 5 minutes of ranting) to go to with me to meet with John. As we go, she suddenly holds my hand and becomes very sweet and grandmotherly as we walk to his office.

As we sit down with the property manager, we begin with the repair issues, which it turns out she has never reported. We have a box posted outside the office where residents can turn in work orders to have repairs done in their apartments. She has never filled one out for any of the issues. 

After going around on this for 15 minutes, she bends her head down and says, "Mr. Jim, I never finished school and I can't fill that damn thing out." THERE IT IS! The real issue! 

Our work order system did not help this resident. Instead it affirmed negative feelings and emotions in her life. In pride, she had dealt with living situations in her apartment instead of coming to the property manager. She had convinced herself that our property manager hated her because she was behind in her rent.

So we fixed the issue with the work orders so that she could get the repairs needed. We addressed the issue of her back rent in a way that both honored her effort to keep up with rent and give her accountability at the same time. More importantly, we addressed the issue of dignity by refuting the lie that we thought poorly of her, and we affirmed the reality that we were glad to have her in our apartments.

The hustle took 2 1/2 hours that Monday and a lot of listening. Time I would have gladly spent on other things.  But if we never work to beat the hustle, we miss opportunities to truly love people.

Letter from the President

We have a wonderful privilege at FCS. We are surrounded by a dynamic group of supporters and volunteers who believe in our work. We also have the opportunity to connect with organizations around the country who share our mission in their neighborhoods. With all these relationships, we’ve noticed two questions that we are often asked.

First, What does “FCS” stand for? If you go way back with FCS, you know Bob Lupton started the organization as Family Consultation Services. When he set up the official non-profit, though, the name had evolved into simply FCS Urban Ministries. As Bob has handed off leadership and mentored young leaders, the initials “FCS” have been reframed to provide a more holistic description of our work: with “Focused Community Strategies”.

The second question is, What does FCS do? We partner with under-served neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that produces flourishing communities where God’s Shalom is present. There are four areas of focus that allow us to accomplish this vision: Mixed-income Housing Development, Economic Development, Community Development and Training & Education. We align our programming within this four pillar structure.

FCS Logo RGB 72dpi.png

This month, we are rolling out a new logo that expresses our vision with an image demonstrating the strength of a pattern woven from our four areas of focus. Bob has used the idea of reweaving the fabric of community for years, and we are excited to incorporate that image as foundational to our brand. The logo also forms a cross, communicating a clear stance in regard to how our Christian faith motivates our work.

Our aim continues to be to reweave the fabric of communities through innovative and holistic development practices. We know the work requires commitment, creativity, and patience. Decades of work at FCS have shown tremendous impact in Atlanta neighborhoods.

Thank you for walking with us during this leadership transition over the last year. Our board and staff teams have dreamed big dreams about our direction and strategy for this next season in the life of FCS. We are energized by the strength of our four pillars and the engaging work going on in our current neighborhood of South Atlanta. FCS continues to be an innovator in the field of neighborhood-based community development. Thank you for your ongoing support that makes it possible for us to empower neighborhoods to thrive!

Jim Wehner
President, Focused Community Strategies

Ben Teague
Chair, Focused Community Strategies