by Jim Wehner
“You have taken chocolate chip cookies and turned them into broccoli.” It is a statement that immediately stood out to me, and one that I haven’t forgotten. We were in a board meeting, and I was describing a tool FCS has developed to measure the health of a neighborhood. The tool is complicated just as neighborhood change is intricate and multifaceted. The more complex my description of the tool became, the less "tasty" it was becoming to my board. Of course, I know that's not the whole story as these are trusted advisers and warriors who have remained strong for seventeen years in our focus neighborhood, bringing innovative and holistic change!
In fact, we're looking at a great 2018 ahead! We will bring twelve more families into the neighborhood, reducing the number of vacant homes to less than 100. Lower than it’s been in twenty years! We will also double our rental capacity by adding another fifteen single-family units to our rental inventory.
Healthy businesses and jobs make a neighborhood even more attractive, and we are excited to add another twenty jobs to the neighborhood by opening another business on our McDonough corridor. Our neighborhood engagement programs, such as our food co-op and Pride for Parents Christmas Store will directly impact more than 250 neighbors in 2018. As we continue to teach others, we will train 500 people in more than twenty-five cities this year on our model of community development. In addition, we will help four to six other neighborhoods produce housing and businesses through our Community Development Cohorts.
Like any healthy organization, we cannot do all of this work by surviving on chocolate chip cookies. We need a healthy dose of strategy and tactics. We need strong leaders on our staff and board that are committed to life in the margins. The margins are where Christ spent his time, and that’s where we want to be, too.
The Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom. The leader becomes the servant of all and the disciples pick up crosses daily in order to pave the way forward. Love for neighbor includes giving up of self.
Under-resourced neighborhoods are not changed by accident. Most of the neighborhoods where we have served or where we are training others have been on a long trajectory of decline that is pervasive. Powerful, gravitational forces mean that change is only attained through intentional, long-term deep dives. Or a healthy helping of broccoli, you might say. It takes time to gain ground and see change in a community, but the consistent, healthy work will get us there!