To Build Community, Give Youth A Chance to Explore

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“Gross, I will never swim in that lake,” one camper said. The other campers from Historic South Atlanta nodded. Despite the campers’ differing ages, personalities, and experiences, they all agreed the lake was vile. 

Each year, we team up with Remerge to take the South Atlanta Youth group to a sleepaway camp outside of Macon, Camp Grace. Each year, they face the unfamiliar head-on, like a lake of dubious swim-ability. For many of the kids, it’s their first time away from home, and the first time away from their phones. As youth group leader, Michelle Witherspoon, reflects, “It takes a lot of courage to leave what you know and try something new.” 

Two years ago, the New York Times ran an article entitled, “The Families That Can’t Afford Summer.” Much of the heart of the piece rings true for families in our target community, Historic South Atlanta. Neighborhood youth leader Michelle Witherspoon acknowledges the challenges for many youths, saying, “Summer is often a more vulnerable time. Kids are home alone while parents are away at work. Still, coming to camp is a giant leap of faith. It’s a huge amount of trust from parents to send their kids with me, but I’m honored to be the one who gets to walk with them. And it strengthens my relationship with the parents. Few things are more powerful relationally than having someone love on your kids.”

The campers spend the week receiving love from adults like Michelle, but the time away gives them a chance to learn what it looks like to love each other in a new way, too. “We have a circle space where we gather every day and practice giving encouraging words,” Michelle shares. The sharing time gives campers a chance to see gifts in each other and affirm them. 

The power of that affirmation doubles given the unfamiliar surroundings. “I celebrate the way this shared experience deepens the way we know one another,” Michelle muses, “the kids hug each other differently when we get back.” She notes how vulnerable the space is socially, and yet how the campers consistently surprise themselves by rising to challenges like ziplines, ropes courses, and making new friends. “Many of the kids are building friendships that cross socioeconomic and ethnic lines,” Michelle points out, “it’s a huge emotional risk for them, and they do it to create real bonds.” In this way, the chance to go to camp lays the groundwork for our younger neighbors to see their own gifts, the gifts of others, and to practice what weaving a diverse, unified community entails. 

As for the lake? The one they had each vowed to themselves to avoid? Each and every camper ended up going in, marveling at the sensation of fish nibbling at their toes. 

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From Staff: 5 Podcasts for Community Developers & Neighbors

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At Focused Community Strategies, we stay creative in our community development work by feeding our minds. Our work in Historic South Atlanta combines both the heart and the head, and we nurture both parts in ourselves. As we enjoy the summer, our staff shared some of their top buffets-for-thought: podcasts on topics ranging from faith, wealth, and community. As a friend, neighbor, or donor on the journey with us, take a peek at the shows that motivate and teach us. They’re great listens for a quiet summer afternoon!

#1 This is Community - Katie Delp

A production of Purpose Built Communities, this podcast tackles our country’s vast history of discrimination. The current season focuses on historic racial discrimination and how the consequences ripple out into communities today. The first season detailed the economic discrimination in our country, and how it pushes the American Dream out of the grasp of millions of neighbors. Compelling and complex, this podcast highlights research on the real-life phenomena that affect communities like ours. 

#2 “Community Organizing as Spiritual Practice” from On Being - Donell Woodson

Lupton Center’s Donell Woodson plucked this particular episode out of the On Being series for its direct application to our work in South Atlanta and for its hopeful tone. Community organizers Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson speak with host, Krista Tippett, about love. They refer to love as “the most reliable muscle of human transformation,” and an engine for public good. Both guests work to foment genuine connection in our age of division, believing that restoring our cities and nations requires getting “proximate to pain.” It offers a powerful and heartfelt vision from two practitioners of holistic restoration. 

#3 Redefining Wealth - Kaci Palmore

Patrice Washington exhorts her audience to chase purpose, not money. She features guests each week to explore a different aspect of well-being. When she doesn’t have a guest, Washington offers personal insights from her own journey as a personal finance expert and as a person. Washington talks about faith, self-confidence, authenticity, and making space for emotional experiences in life. If you’re looking for a fresh and relatable podcast, this is a great one! 

#4 Radio Lab - Monica Evans

This quirky podcasts features a duo, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, as they “investigate a strange world.” In each episode, the hosts probe a scientific concept through stories, conversations with experts, and almost always lots of laughs! Their topics have ranged from immensely broad ones, like beauty and morality, to singularly specific questions, like whether we could have spoken to neanderthals in a common language. For anyone who likes to learn with a dash of whimsy, this podcast serves as a great opportunity. 

#5 Relevant Podcast - Jim Wehner

An off-shoot of Relevant Magazine, this podcast offers a potpourri of faith-adjacent content. Some episodes engage thought-leaders, like the late Rachel Held Evans, others discuss a band’s latest album with them. Whomever the guest, the roughly one-hour episodes feel both casual and jovial, as if the listener were sitting on the couch in a circle with the other members. 

It takes a village of gifts to weave the fabric of a place. In the same way, it takes a variety of material to help weave a creative and well-informed mind. We hope you enjoyed our staff’s picks for their top podcasts. What would you add to the list? 




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We're One of the 50 On Fire!

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We are so honored to be one of Atlanta Inno’s 50 on Fire for 2019! Atlanta Inno is an organization the recognizes excellence and innovation across Atlanta. Some dear friends were kind enough to nominate us in the non-profit field, and we won! We’re so proud to be among the amazing other 49 organizations named.

Together, we’re truly lighting up Atlanta. We’re glad you’re on the journey with us. Together we’re making a more equitable, mixed-income community city-wide.

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