The Long and Boring Work of Community Transformation

by Jeff and Katie Delp on

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Our eleven-year-old will occasionally point out blight in our community and say something like, “Mom, if your job is to change the neighborhood, um….” We can only laugh at his insinuation that our life’s work is falling short. But we always value the ways he is seeing the long-term commitment that is required to make real impact.

In the course of a recent week, the kids heard that I (Katie) was headed downtown for a meeting with Parks and Recreation to discuss next steps for our neighborhood playground. I was hauling around printed hard copies of all our presentation materials to present at this government committee meeting. By the end of the night, the time I spent waiting to present far outstripped the four minutes it took to complete the presentation.

That same week, I (Jeff) took our nine-year-old daughter with me to a two hour meeting of a city licensing board. Our city councilperson had been organizing neighbors to show up and urge the board to suspend the liquor license of a very problematic neighborhood business. I spoke up on behalf of other neighborhood business owners, reminding the owner of this establishment that I would be ashamed to run Carver Market in the same negative way that he has allowed at his store.

It was a lengthy meeting, mostly listening to local restaurants, gyms, and package stores talk about their parking lot security, their knowledge of city laws, and their commitment to being good local businesses. My daughter worked on her homework, and her takeaway was that it was “boring.” (She was, however, pretty thrilled that her ponytail appeared on the news!)

We find ourselves telling our kids “this is what the Delps do.” We xerox presentations. We sit in boring meetings. We speak up. We worry about fundraising. We manage teams of people. We navigate hard conversations. We carpool neighborhood kids to youth group. And over time, almost twenty years, we see real change. It’s not glamorous work, but we believe deeply that it’s important.

And once in a while, we are reminded just how important it is. A neighborhood middle school student ran up to me (Katie) and told me, “We saw your husband on the news talking about that awful gas station. Thank you for helping!” And every time former neighbors return to South Atlanta for a visit, they are amazed at the ways the community has changed over time. So even if our son doesn’t notice it because he’s in and out of the neighborhood everyday, we know that change is happening. And we hope that our kids are learning alongside us how valuable (albeit sometimes boring) the work is.

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