Grapes and Plums: Juicy Street Talk

by FCS Ministries on

By Jeff Delp  

I rarely drive to work. I live four blocks from Carver Neighborhood Market, so I typically ride my bike.

 

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And sometimes people talk to me.

 

Or rather, after 15 years in South Atlanta, I’m used to people shouting at me. Pedestrians, drivers, and other bikers often holler above the noisy streets anything from “hey” to more colorful language I won’t go into here.

 

But more recently, I had a surprising conversation with a man who was also a Carver Market customer.

 

While at the store, he had expressed some concern about our new method of packaging grapes. He was hesitant to purchase without being able to taste the produce.

 

So when I saw him walking down the sidewalk during my bike ride, I stopped and asked him how the grapes had been. He assured me they were just fine, and I rode off.

 

I was a half block away when he shouted, “Mr. Jeff… and those plums! They were AMAZING! Best plums I’ve ever had!”

 

I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve had a conversation in the community about the quality of produce at a local store. Neighbors in South Atlanta now have something new to talk about as they pass in the streets: delicious plums! That’s a food oasis!

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5 Tips for Partnering with Your Local School

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

Working with local schools is a valuable way to engage your community. After all, it’s where local kids spend the majority of their day, and it affects families, employees, and so many others in your neighborhood.

One of the most rewarding things for me in community work is seeing how churches and schools can come together. Currently, I serve on the Family Engagement Parent Advisory Council and the Interfaith Leaders Coalition for the Dekalb County School District.  

A key distinction for me in this work is the idea of partnering with schools, not adopting them. Maybe I am nitpicking words here, but adopting can come with the all-too-common assumption that the church has the resources and the school simply has needs. Your schools are filled with amazing people, abundant resources, and incredible ideas. Come with a posture that embraces the dignity of the school.

I want to share 5 tips you can use to develop healthy church-school partnerships in your community.

TIP #1: Don’t misinterpret a lack of response.

I’ve watched churches get discouraged when attempts to reach out to a school are not responded to warmly or at all. The assumption is that the school does not need help, has some bias against faith groups, or simply does not care enough to respond.

From my experience, these have never been the actual reasons. Most often the slow (or no) response is evidence that an authentic relationship between the church and school has yet to be established.

TIP #2: Leverage networks to connect to schools.

Cold calls (or emails) don’t work. Relationships do. I tried and tried to get a meeting with one principal because I was told how eager she was for community partnerships. It did not happen, though, until a ministry partner of mine who knows her personally called her, told her about me and set a meeting for the three of us to talk.

All of my assumptions about why she never responded were false. She’s amazing! But she is also beyond capacity trying to run a school, and she could only trust me when someone she trusted trusted me (got that?).

TIP #3: Be patient because it will be messy.

Even if you have the right relationships, practice asset-based models, and exhibit the right posture, there is no short-cut to effective partnership with a school. If a school had a full-time community liaison on staff, maybe (maybe!) it would go more smoothly. But they don’t, so it won’t.

If you are looking for something simple, clean, and easy, partnering with a school is not for you. However, if you are seeking a long-term relationship that can have a transformative impact on your community, partnering with a school is right up your alley.

TIP #4: Adjust focus to the school’s objectives. (Not your outreach needs.)

Sometimes churches reach out to schools because the church itself has a need they are trying to meet - like getting another site added to their service project event they’ve been promoting for months. Or they’ve got too many volunteers and not enough things to do. So they reach out to “help” the local school.

This is one example (of many) of how attempts to “serve” schools can have more to do with the needs of the church than the objectives of the school. Take time to learn what the school cares about, and align yourself with that agenda. Be honest about your own needs and motives. When you are ready to learn about and support the school’s objectives, then you are ready for partnership.

TIP #5: Make the school the hero!

When you do develop relationships, understand their objectives, and create asset-based partnerships, you are sure (eventually) to see meaningful results. These stories need to be told and celebrated! When you do, though, make sure the school, administration, teachers, and the students and their families take center stage, not your ministry.

Education is a vital component of healthy community development, and it’s a perfect way for churches to engage their community.  If you are interested in learning more or consulting with your church about school partnerships, please contact me at shawn {at} fcsministries {dot} org.

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What Does It Mean To Be An Intentional Neighbor?

by FCS Ministries on

One of the core tenets of FCS and our housing ministry, Charis Community Housing, is the value of neighboring. We practice local living, believing that everyone needs each other. There is beauty in doing life together and raising families together.  

When FCS began work in the neighborhood of East Lake many years ago, we included a Strategic Neighbor Program. This program established an official structure for individuals who desired to move to a low-income neighborhood, motivated by their Christian faith and their commitment to reconciliation, restoration, and redistribution.

 

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Strategic Neighbors received rental assistance and stipends to support their work in the community. They also attended regular meetings with other Strategic Neighbors. This programming worked well during our time in East Lake, and the program remained in East Lake even as FCS’ focus shifted to South Atlanta.

 

We did not establish a similar Strategic Neighbor program in South Atlanta. Instead, we began to consider historical residents in the community who had invited us to join their commitment to the neighborhood. Their faith had encouraged them to live purposefully on their streets and in the overall community. Each of these residents held a great deal of spiritual and communal wisdom to share with others.

 

We began to question the term “Strategic Neighbor” and why it would apply to new neighbors any more than these long-time residents. We recognized that without an official program in place, we also needed a new, more inclusive term to talk about those working for transformation of the community.

 

A great deal of thought and debating resulted in the phrase “intentional neighboring” to describe the on-the-ground community work happening in South Atlanta. This wording is more of a verb than a noun. It’s not a job description, nor a checklist of what to do or not to do. Rather, it describes purposeful living in whatever place God has called you.

 

We encourage others who are moving into distressed communities to partner with the residents already working for good. We emphasize neighborhood leadership and a commitment to mixed-income housing development. We believe this partnership strategy builds into the neighborhood’s social, spiritual, and economic vitality. Together, intentional neighbors can and do have a big impact on their community.

 

This post was originally posted on the Charis Community Housing blog. 

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Watch Our Story on PBS!

by FCS Ministries on

We recently had the honor to share our story on PBS. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured Bob Lupton and FCS in July 2015. It was a joy to work with their team and to share an inside peak into our community, businesses, and housing programs.  

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If you missed the live version, check out the video below!

 

 

If you'd like to hear more from Bob Lupton, check out his new book: Charity Detox.

To support the work of FCS, please consider a donation. You can give here.

 

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9 Jobs You Can Hire Out to Neighbor Teens this Summer

by FCS Ministries on

It’s fun to sleep til noon, spend the afternoon at the pool, and then eat ice cream and play basketball until well after sunset. Being a teenager in summer can be awesome. But summer jobs are also a valuable part of those months between school years.  

One consequence of communities that do not have many businesses and services is the lack of employment available. In particular, car-less teens may find it especially difficult to land summer jobs.

One way local neighbors can support youth and help them develop valuable job skills is hiring them! You may not be able to provide work for a full - or even part - time job, but you can help them earn some spending money.

And who knows? They may learn some entrepreneur skills and start offering their services to other neighbors to expand their income. Here are 9 ideas for hiring local teens this summer.

#1 - Lawn Care

This is an easy one. And it’s not uncommon to find young men knocking on doors in Atlanta, offering to mow your lawn. They may ask to borrow your mower (which means you should pay them less), but with hot days and grass that grows at the speed of light, this is the perfect job to hire out.

#2 - Maintenance Assisting

You may not want to hand over your car or your shower head to a teen who swears he knows what he’s doing. But you may want to hire her as a helper for projects around your home this summer. This arrangement makes it natural to teach a teen a new skill, get to know them better, and get some help to boot!

#3 - Laundry/Light Cleaning

Whether you send them off to the local laundrymat or have them run your washer, teens can be great at laundry tasks! Outsource your washing and folding to a local youth wanting to earn some summer spending money. You may also want to hire teens for dishes, washing yard toys, or other light cleaning tasks you need done.

#4 - Pet Care

Youth can be great at caring for pets. Need a summer dog walker? Teens can give Fido that exercise, and hey, it helps them get out and moving as well! Bathing is another great pet task to hire out to a teen. And if you have a reliable youth who can pet sit for you while on vacation, that’s a win-win!

#5 - House Sitting

You definitely need a teen you can trust as this job requires managing a house key, locking up properly, and possibly dealing with alarm codes. However, house sitting can be a perfect job to make sure your mail gets inside, your plants are watered, and that someone is checking in regularly on your house while you're away.

#6 - Airport Rides

Need a ride before you jet off for your summer vacation? Skip the fun of asking a friend to pick your family up at 5 am and hire a teen driver. The right kid will take this job so seriously, and you’re going to spend less than a taxi or Uber ride.

#7 - Car Wash

There’s no better job in summer than washing cars. Hand neighbor kids a bucket and some sponges, and pay them to wash your car the old-fashioned way. Don’t forget to have them clean out the inside and vacuum all your mats and seats!

#8 - In-Home Organizing

If there’s an area of your house you just can’t seem to manage, why not hire a youth to organize it? The right candidate could make your life so much easier. Some ideas might be organizing kids’ closets, a playroom, kitchen cabinets, or, if you’re brave, maybe even a home office.

#9 - Babysitting

This one is a typical teen job, but what if the youth in your life aren’t quite ready to take on the responsibility? One way to ease younger teens into babysitting is to have them stay at your house after the kids are in bed. Or consider having them watch the kids while you're still at home working in another room. It’s a great way to get started.

Bored teenagers are not a new phenomenon, but a summer job can be a valuable way to spend the lazy, hazy days of summer. What other creative ways have you utilized teen talent and energy? We can all learn from each other as we seek to support and develop teenagers this summer!

Image credit: UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences

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Neighborhood Clean-ups: Residents or Outside Volunteers?

by FCS Ministries on

Sometimes urban communities can collect their fair share (or more) of litter and trash. Keeping the neighborhood picked up and clean is a valuable service that can make a real difference in the way the community appears to outsiders and even how those living there feel about their streets. There are several ways to address neighborhood clean-ups, including local organizing and volunteer groups.  

Chris McCord, a resident of our local South Atlanta Neighborhood and community leader, has been organizing neighborhood clean-ups for years. South Atlanta has gone through different seasons - sometimes welcoming outside help in the clean-ups and sometimes declining outside offers for help - and Chris has navigated these relationships with diplomacy and proactive communication.

 

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Chris had been coordinating volunteer groups to participate in some clean-ups in the neighborhood when he received a complaint from a local resident, saying she had no idea a clean-up was happening. She was concerned about the unfamiliar faces and the image these activities portrayed of the neighborhood. Acknowledging some resistance from a few community members, Chris decided to shift planning efforts towards using fellow neighbors.

 

He scheduled regular neighborhood clean-ups, communicated them to the residents, secured dumpsters in strategic neighborhood placements, and led the events. Community-led clean-ups certainly offer benefits, such as local pride and neighbor bonding. An annual highlight of South Atlanta has become our infamous tire clean up. Thanks to City Council Representative Carla Smith’s tire amnesty on Earth Day, the neighbors have rounded up more than 4700 tires in the last six years!

 

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After some time passed (and a few clean-ups received less-than-stellar turnout), Chris approached community members at a civic league meeting to discuss the possibility of including outside volunteers again. It was overwhelmingly supported. "You can act and ask for forgiveness later," says Chris. "But my philosophy is to try when you can to catch it on the front-end. In the end, it's a great stress reducer."

 

So Chris has been working to include outside volunteers in a way that is dignifying to the community and that helps in tangible ways. One strategy he has used is to choose projects that benefit neighbors directly. For example, he shared about one senior whose view from her porch was an empty lot that had been used as a dumping site. When a group of volunteers cleared it, she was grateful for the change of scenery, and she had the opportunity to interact with the volunteers and share with them the deep history of South Atlanta.

 

Ideally, it would be great to organize clean-ups that include a mix of local and outside volunteers. So far, though, Chris admits it's been a challenge to match the scheduling of what works for both groups. But that is something he is working to organize.

 

Regarding potential complaints in the future, Chris says, "People may not realize how much work actually goes into organizing clean-ups. What I say to those who complain is to judge my work, rather than their perception. If there's a complaint about the work, let's talk about that."

 

How does your community spruce up? Do you work with local or outside volunteers, a mix or both separately? 

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That Rare and Beautiful Moment

by katiedelp on

by Katie Delp  

FCS Urban Ministries partners with under-served neighborhoods to provide innovative and holistic development that produces flourishing communities where God’s Shalom is present.

 

That’s our mission statement. And, to be honest, there are moments when those ideals feel lofty and intangible. What all is included in holistic development? And how will we know when a community is flourishing?

 

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But there are other moments - sacred moments - when all of the principles and ideals we hold dear materialize in a real-life interaction. For me, that happened on Mother’s Day.

 

There was a knock on my door in the afternoon. Jessica and Jonathan* were standing on our porch. Their mom was at work, and they asked to borrow some craft supplies to make her a Mother’s Day card. In minutes, my front porch was covered with glue, glitter, and scraps of paper as their creations came to life.

 

Soon after, their older brother Curtis* joined in the crafting as well. I was inside when I overheard him and my husband Jeff talking on the porch. Jeff had offered Curtis an opportunity to earn a few dollars. Curtis quickly completed the project, and Jeff took all three siblings to our local grocery, Carver Market, where they used the money to buy flowers for their mom.

 

Within one hour, I witnessed FCS’ core values in action. First, the power of neighboring. Because our family lives across the street from Jessica, Jonathan, and Curtis, we were able to be a part of their Mother’s Day preparations. Secondly, I saw empowerment. We could have given Curtis the cash to buy flowers, but instead, he was able to earn his own money and choose a gift for his mother.

 

Finally, I was reminded of the power of local business and access. The fact that Carver Market was right down the street made an impact in this experience. We would likely not have driven the fifteen or twenty minutes to another store for flowers. But having a thriving economic opportunity in our community allows residents to make meaningful purchases.

 

I’m grateful for these glimpses of success. We know the work of community development is slow and long-term. This Sunday afternoon was a gift to me as I witnessed the presence of neighboring, empowerment, and dignity. It was a rare and beautiful moment to see our ideals working together to bring a family joy and celebration on Mother’s Day.

 

*all names have been changed

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How Do You Transform a Street?

by FCS Ministries on

By Jim Wehner  

“How do you transform a street?”

 

There are literally dozens of ways to answer this question. At FCS, we think there is really one core principle that stands out: neighboring. Populating empty homes pushes out blight and builds positive energy that lets a street get its groove on!

 

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In South Atlanta, the neighborhood where we currently serve, the issue of vacancy makes a street vulnerable to all sorts of negative urban realities. But when we begin to put neighbors back in houses, streets come alive again.

 

Take Thayer Avenue for instance. Two years ago, there was a block and a half section of this street with 12 houses. Nine of them were vacant. This tiny section of our neighborhood was rough, and the 75% vacancy wasn’t helping.

 

FCS had three families living there, two of them are staff. Nine of the homes on this block were built in 2006 and investor owned. An epidemic of mortgage fraud meant majority vacancy by 2009.

 

One of the program staff walked into my office and asked if there was anything FCS could do on that block through Charis Community Housing, our housing program. We went to work.

 

It took Charis almost 18 months to complete the acquisition and sale of 6 houses on this block - two affordable and four market-rate. Simultaneously, two investors (not connected to our work) bought properties and rehabbed them for rentals.

 

When we came to closing on these houses, we provided resource manuals for the new residents, discussed important ideas around “intentional neighboring,” and introduced the new homeowners to our neighborhood Civic League to encourage their participation in the community. Ownership and involvement go a long way to seeing streets transform.

 

Now, a mere 24 months later, this section of Thayer Avenue is alive and well. Of course, it’s not perfect. Neighbors have differences, but that goes for even the most healthy streets.

 

Property crime continues to be an issue, albeit much less than two years ago. And residents on the street came together to get more street lights from the city to help.

 

Recently we learned that one of the neighbors on Thayer is moving. But while we will miss her, one of the signs that this street is transforming is the very fact that she was able to market and sell her home is less than 30 days. Thayer is a great street to live on!

 

How do you transform a street? It is the people on the block, participating in the life of their street, valuing the diversity of the urban landscape, and investing in healthy neighboring relationships.

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5 Creative Neighborhood Events

by FCS Ministries on

In our target neighborhood of Historic South Atlanta, we take our fun seriously. Our active neighborhood association has collaborated with residents, local businesses, and other groups to put on some incredible community events. We thought we’d share a few and hope they will inspire your neighborhood activities this year. 

And we’d love to hear your ideas in the comments. There’s always room for more creativity and more community events! Here’s our list:

#1 Pancake Breakfast & Saturday Morning Cartoons

This event is exactly what it sounds like, and we just enjoyed our 2nd Annual Pancake Breakfast & Saturday Morning Cartoons last month. The tables will full of pancake flippers and crockpots of grits (this is a Southern breakfast, y’all!). Kids over-served their own whipped cream and laughed at classic cartoons. Just a fun Saturday in the neighborhood!

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#2 Southern Fried Kickin’ Kickball Tournament

The trash talking for this annual event is legendary. Everyone wants to win that rubber ball spray painted gold and, of course, the bragging rights. Team captains gather folks on their streets. Local businesses register teams. We’ve found that kickball is a sport that can cross cultures, genders, and ages. It’s a truly fun and active event for all!

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#3 Neighborhood Clean Up

Our neighborhood has been known to have more discarded tires than residents. Rather than let that fact get us down, community members have bonded slinging muddy tires into the back of pick-up trucks as we clean up the neighborhood together. Even better? Our annual tire toll is decreasing as visiting dumpers realize we don’t put up with trash in our streets. 

#4 Progressive Dinner

This event can take a bit more planning than some of the others, but our neighborhood has enjoyed a late summer progressive dinner the last few years. The meal is divided into courses: appetizers, drinks, salads, main course, dessert. Volunteers agree to open their home for each course, and nearby residents potluck based on their assigned course. Then, yep, you guessed it! Together we walk through the neighborhood, visiting the different homes and eating more than we should. Last year’s them was Caribbean food, and everyone went away full and happy!

#5 South Atlanta Treat Street

Over the years, our small and simple carnival has become a neighborhood staple on Halloween. Kids (and adults!) whip up their best costumes, the haunted woods is set up behind one of our businesses, and candy abounds for all! We’ve found this safe and friendly festival has brought neighbors together in a positive way on a night that could be not-so-positive. 

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These are a few fun ideas we’ve enjoyed in our neighborhood. It’s your turn!

What community events have been a hit in your neck of the woods? Which one of our ideas would you like to try?

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5 Loaves and 25 Tons of Food

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp Jesus feeds the five thousand. It’s a story I’ve known almost my whole life. Five loaves. Two fishes. Yet Jesus instructs the disciples to distribute the food among the large crowd until everyone is fed. The math doesn’t compute, but God is able to work miracles with one boy’s generosity.

 

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As our pastor preached on this story last Sunday, he encouraged us to reflect on times when we have see God miraculously transform a situation beyond expectations. Maybe beyond rationality. My mind immediately remembered our South Atlanta food co-operative.

 

A couple of years ago, I realized through some interactions with neighbors that some families in my community were struggling to put food on the table every night. I was not alone. Some fellow co-laborers in the neighborhood were hearing the same message. We were concerned and wanted to help.

 

Few folks know how to offer people access to food while maintaining their dignity better than our friends at Urban Recipe. I love their food co-operative model that allows a group of families to pay into a pot and receive needed food in return. Co-op members have responsibilities and roles, and donations subsidize the cost of the food.

 

Together, our small band of concerned neighbors was able to quietly raise the funds to start the food co-op in our community. Two years later, fifty low-income families from South Atlanta meet twice a month to receive food and stock their shelves.

 

I love the food co-operative program and the dignity it maintains for recipients as they become food secure. But there was another miracle of God tucked away behind the scenes. I have constantly been amazed that while only five households of modest income give to the food co-op, there is always enough each year to provide over twenty-five tons of food for these fifty families.

 

The math just doesn’t add up. Still, like Christ’s feeding of the five thousand, God is able to work miracles beyond our expectations. In our “five loaves and two fishes” generosity, there is always enough for everyone.

 

Will you join FCS as we watch God provide resources, dignity, and transformation in our community? Your generosity is always appreciated and goes further than you can ever imagine.

 

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Image credit: the justified sinner

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Cause or Community?

by FCS Ministries on

By Bob Lupton The following presentation was made by Bob Lupton at the January 2015 board meeting of the Christian Community Development Association. The Ferguson racial eruption was fresh on the minds of board members, especially minority members for whom the pain was acute and very personal.  Immigration also stirred passionate debate, since many on the board (including our Hispanic CEO) were actively engaged in government policy discussions.  Lupton, a founding board member of CCDA, challenges the organization’s drift toward advocacy and away from its roots as a movement of reconciliation.

 

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There are many worthy causes that good people embrace – pro-life, gay marriage, immigration, to name a few. Causes stir passion, often in defense of vulnerable victims (like an aborted infant or an undocumented family torn apart).  A cause usually has protagonists and antagonists who take opposing sides of an issue. A cause has winners and losers, both claiming to occupy the high ground. Each side creates disparaging labels for the other, painting their opponent as heartless, immoral, or ignorant. Compromise feels like defeat, leaving both sides frustrated and dissatisfied.

 

Community is very different.  Community is about relationships, about sharing the same space, about learning to get along. A community may have great diversity of people and opinions, but the need for interdependency can take precedence over divisive issues. A community learns how to give and take. A community learns how to tolerate beliefs and behaviors of neighbors who don’t fit the norm. A community may well embrace a cause, particularly one that threatens their space (like a planned highway to cut through their neighborhood or a proposed closure of a neighborhood school).  Such issues tend to unify a community rather than divide it. Even divisive issues, that may cause temporary disharmony among neighbors, over time become absorbed into the tolerant fabric of the community. If a community is to survive (let alone thrive), neighbors must get along.

 

But causes – even divisive ones – are clearly important.  They can correct an injustice. They can change the course of history. But unlike community, their objective is to mobilize, to exert pressure, not to unify. Their aim is to win. Consequently causes often leave deep tares in the social fabric that may take generations to mend.  And sometimes this is necessary.

 

But community has a different goal. Community is about shalom.  Community is about mutual understanding, about listening, about allowing one’s self to be changed by the perspectives of others. Community is about valuing others, especially those who are vulnerable. Community is about the strong subordinating their strength to give room for the less-secure to emerge. Community succeeds when everyone wins.

 

So is the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) about causes or community?  Are we about taking a righteous, one-sided stand and let the chips fall where they may?  Are we about correcting the injustices that certain unscrupulous police perpetrate on minorities while casting aspersions on all the other men and women in blue?  Are we a cause-oriented organization that stakes out the “right” position on divisive complex social issues like immigration? Or are we a people who strive to see all sides?  Are we an association of reconcilers who listen to the diversity of voices and bring would-be enemies together in dialogue? Are we the place where passionate adversaries are invited into civil discourse and discover the goodness in those they have unfairly labeled?

 

Causes and community.  Both are important.  So do we follow the reconciling Prince of Peace or the Jesus who said he “came not to bring peace but a sword”? Both approaches are legitimate and necessary.  My question is this: Is the Christian Community Development Association primarily, at its core, about building reconciled communities or are we a cause-oriented advocacy group?

 

Image credit: Alex Naanou

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Turn a Snow Day into a Community Day

by FCS Ministries on

Whether you love snow or hate it, it can create some beautiful opportunities for community building. Parts of the country have been buried under the white stuff this winter. In Atlanta, we’ve been canceling school, but have yet to see even a light dusting. Still, the memories of last year’s Snowpocalypse are fresh on everyone’s mind. 

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When power disappeared in our Historic South Atlanta neighborhood last year, we quickly learned the community-building potential. We were thankful to discover our local businesses still had power, and quickly started communicating that the building would be open as long as there was power. While neighbors started planning crock pot meals for the masses and wondering if it’d be a legendary sleepover, the power returned. 

Snowed in this winter? Here’s some ideas to turn those snow days into community days!

Play together!

Sure, sledding and snowman building are quick go-tos for neighborhood kids, but take this opportunity to have some fun with adults in the community as well. Pull out the puzzles or board games, or host an epic Lord of the Rings marathon viewing. Whatever your choice, enjoy the chance to have some unscheduled fun with your neighbors.

Kid swap

Having kids home from school is great… until it isn’t anymore. Trade childcare with other parents to give everyone a little break, and even time to catch up on work from home, if possible. Don’t have kids? Offer to babysit for a neighbor and have a blast enjoying the snow with the enthusiasm of a child!

Potluck it up

Hopefully, you stocked up with milk and bread before the storm hit. But if you’re getting bored with your cupboard, this is a perfect time to coordinate with a few other folks to all bring your winter staples to the table. Hey, if nothing else, surely someone has some eggs, and you can dine on french toast!

Look out for one another

Shovel a driveway. Help someone with frozen pipes. Put chains on someone’s tires. We can all use a little help from our community when weather’s bad. Don’t forget to check in on elderly neighbors who live alone.

Have you been snowed in this winter? How are you enjoying your community on these snow days?

Image credit: carnagenyc

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To the Next Generation of Community Developers

by katiedelp on

By Katie Delp I knew during college that I wanted to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development. After graduating from Texas Tech with a degree in business degree, I had decided to spend a year working and living in Atlanta with Mission Year.

 

Even though that service program was only a year, I always knew I wanted to be in this for the long haul. Fifteen years later, I am still working and living in Atlanta, trying to pursue a life committed to service, justice, and community development.

 

Image credit: Doug

 

At FCS, I often hear from young adults with similar passions and eagerness that I had during college. As I reflect on the ways I joined in this life, I know there were a few things that have supported and sustained me throughout the years.

 

Move in with a community.

 

You’ll have insider knowledge into the assets and challenges of a community when you live there. However, moving into the city alone (or even with a few friends) can be challenging to sustain. Find a program or a group of people already living in the neighborhood to join in with for support and greater impact.

 

Participate in church.

 

Connecting to a faith community helps keep you rooted and can offer support and inspiration as you live out your values. There is no perfect church for all who move into the neighborhood, but it can be a valuable place to develop relationships and nurture your spirituality.

 

Develop your skills.

 

A desire to participate in developing stronger communities is a job requirement. And the work is multi-faceted, requiring skills from many different people. Find out where you are gifted and develop those skills with the neighborhood in mind.

 

I used a business degree to focus on nonprofit management. I have also seen neighbors offer skills of photography, legal advice, or youth mentorship to the neighborhood. Many of these folks brought their skills to the community outside of their day jobs.

 

Learn local culture.

 

As cities continue to grow in diversity, many involved in community development encounter cultures different from their own. Learn from others with backgrounds similar to those represented in your community to help you understand your context in new ways. Some starter ideas include reading different authors and bloggers, watching films, and attending cultural events.

 

Take it slow.

 

Community development is long-term work and does not happen overnight. There are benefits to listening first and waiting a year or more before jumping into action or taking on leadership responsibilities. You will earn the respect of neighbors and have a clarified lens through which to make decisions about where to invest your time and energy.

 

I love the excitement and fresh passion of young adults eager to participate in neighborhood change. In fact, we’d love to meet you and talk more about community transformation at our upcoming Open House.

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The Best Kind of Unintended Consequences

by FCS Ministries on

The South Atlanta Bike Shop has been investing our neighborhood youth since 2010, and it has had a big impact on the community. Youth work in the bike shop and earn “shop bucks” they can use to purchase bikes, accessories, parts, or registration fees for bike trips. The program enhances job readiness and teaches leadership and management skills in addition to helping kids earn bikes. (You can learn more about their program here.)  

bikeshop

 

Kids have earned over 100 bikes from the shop: first bikes, replacement bikes, bikes for siblings and cousins. And of course, some youth have collected multiple bicycles for themselves. Needless to say, there are a lot more kids riding bikes on the streets of South Atlanta these days.

 

The increase in bike riders was evident in our daily lives in the neighborhood. However, it became even more obvious recently when our local elementary school, Slater Elementary, called.

 

They explained that so many kids were now riding bikes to school, but the school had nowhere for kids to park them. Without an appropriate place to store and lock bikes, students often brought them into the classroom for the day. Teacher found this solution to be a distraction.

 

When alerted of this challenge, we reached out to the Atlanta Bike Coalition. They partnered with us to install three new bike racks for the front of the school. Those racks were installed just a few weeks ago!

 

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Warmer temperatures are on the way, and kids will soon begin using these bike racks in full force! We know they will also need locks for their bikes, so we are sponsoring a “Bike to School Day” in March. Any youths that bike to Slater Elementary that morning will receive a bike lock for free from the South Atlanta Bike Shop.

 

We’re delighted to be able to serve our community in this way. Partnerships between businesses and schools are important for the health and vitality of a community.  It’s a joy to connect with our local school in this small way.

 

Want to be a part of the fun?

 

If you’d like to help us provide bike locks for the kids or enable us install more bike racks at our shop (we currently have one), you can give here.

 

If you’d like to ride bikes with our young riders, you can join our monthly beginner bike rides here.

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God’s Love on the Streets

by katiedelp on

I was recently part of a conversation about inequalities in our communities with a group of leaders in our city. One participant turned towards me and another colleague who also lives on the south side of Atlanta. He said, “I mean, I want change. But I’m not willing to do what you all are doing.”  

It’s not an uncommon sentiment. I’ve often heard similar statements when I share my family’s decision to live and raise our kids in an under-resourced community. Still, my heart skips a beat anytime I hear this type of resistance, and I want to defend my neighborhood.

 

Our neighborhood has its share of challenges, to be sure. But it’s on the streets of South Atlanta I have come to understand God’s goodness and love in ways I have never experienced any other place.

 

Image credit: Sameer Vasta

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I have seen God’s provision as residents pool resources to create programs for fellow neighbors.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I experience community through unlikely friendships and gracious acceptance from those different than me.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I witness joyful giving as our friend who is homeless gives my daughter her last pennies for a birthday present.

 

It’s on the streets of South Atlanta I bask in grace and love on moon-drenched front porches while neighbors listen to my hopes, brokenness, and struggles of life.

 

It’s on the street of South Atlanta I see God’s redemption each spring as flowers relentlessly push through cracks in the sidewalks, reminding us of beauty in broken places.

 

I rarely feel brave or heroic for the life we live. But I do feel deeply loved by a community of neighbors and a God that is present and working in the hard places. God’s love on the streets of South Atlanta draws me closer to God’s heart.

 

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

 

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How Do We Know If Our Work is Working? Measuring Flourishing Neighborhoods

by FCS Ministries on

There are a couple questions we hear all the time in community-based work like ours. How do you know if your efforts are working? How do you know when you are finished in a community? How do you define success?  

We decided it was time to address these questions head-on. FCS needed a way to measure the effectiveness of our work in meaningful ways.

 

Flourishing Neighborhoods

We have partnered with the South Atlanta Civic League (SACL) in our target neighborhood of Historic South Atlanta. Together, we are working towards a thriving and flourishing community.

 

We breakdown the components of a flourishing neighborhood as follows:

• Sense of Place

• Effective, Credible Community Leadership

• Neighborhood-focused Faith

• Meaningful Work and Opportunities

• Mixed-Income Housing Opportunities

• Sustainable Built Enviornment (parks and green spaces, road and walk ways)

• Youth, Families, and Education

• Neighborhood Connectivity

 

To capture useful data about need and areas for growth, FCS has been conducting surveys among neighborhood residents. Our two incredible interns from Georgia Tech, Brandon and Luke, have been interviewing community members covering the range of topics listed above.

 

Measuring Community Development Work

Follow-up surveys will be conducted annually to measure the impact of FCS and the SACL’s efforts and development. We are excited for the direction and measurement this survey process will offer as we continue to refine our models and practices for outstanding community development.

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A Beginner's Guide to Conversations About Race

by FCS Ministries on

Talking about race is something many people are unsure how to do. Even if we want to have open, honest dialogue, these conversations can bring unexpected emotions of hurt, anger, frustration, or shame. The emotional component can turn friendly conversations into heated arguments or hurtful accusations that make talking about the topic again even less likely. 10314223086_6944ddb2cc_z

Race in America is a subject that’s been in the public eye a great deal the last few months. Discussions on race and history and justice in this country are important. God’s shalom fosters communities where brokenness is restored and reconciliation is present. We desire to see God’s shalom present in our communities, our country, and our world.

Here are a few tips or reminders for all of us as we seek to talk about this important topic:

Consider the venue

For most people, Facebook or other social media is not the right place for civil discussion on race. It’s easy for participants to hide behind the impersonal nature of their computers and forgo any sense of listening with compassion and intelligence.

Social media venues that engage difficult conversations without a relational connection tend to lead people to choosing sides. Conversations devoid of relationship can promote a fortressing mindset that is less open to healthy dialogue and tends more toward a defensive posture. Additionally, even in person settings, require some attentiveness to appropriate time and place.

Consider the participants

Pay attention to diversity in your conversations. Not only should you be cognizant of who is participating, you ought to pursue conversations and relationships with people outside of your own context.

Be conscious of any single member of any race as they should not be expected to “speak for” or “listen for” their entire racial group. It’s also possible they will not feel comfortable sharing openly if they are alone in their background experience.

Be willing to do some reading

It can be difficult to fully articulate our perspectives clearly. Racial topics are quite complex, and reading from those who have experienced, studied and researched can be very beneficial. Reading can help provide you with words to express your understanding.

Books also offer opportunity to consider other viewpoints and experiences in a thoughtful manner. The subject of a specific story or book can provide a healthy conversation starter.

Be aware that most media sources are not in the business of presenting balanced and accurate viewpoints. They seek to draw viewers and readers to their material (especially on social media). Read beyond your Facebook feed. Put some legwork into learning before you engage in debate and are forced into opinions that you have not vetted well.

Listen without forming your sentences

This is common advice, but it is a real challenge nonetheless. When we feel strongly, it is difficult to listen to another’s words without planning our response.

Take a deep breath. Make eye contact. And truly listen to what others are contributing and sharing. It’s okay to take a moment after someone has concluded to gather your thoughts and consider your response.

Speak from experience

It can be tempting to try to force our opinion or “sound smart” by quoting books, citing statistics, or speaking in sweeping brushstrokes with a condescending tone. More often, sharing from your own racial identity and experiences will be more honest and meaningful.

A humble approach can help maintain relationships even in difficult conversations. It’s important to note that your future life experiences and relationships may also alter your perspective on these matters. Gaining closer proximity to the topic will likely cause your answers to certain questions to be different than when you viewed them from afar.

Validate others’ experiences

One of the most insulting messages you can communicate to another is that their experience doesn’t matter or the way the felt in a particular moment isn’t important. As you listen, even if you don’t agree, you can acknowledge another’s emotional experience.

Some examples of how to do this include: “I can hear that you felt very ______.” “It’s clear that encounter affected you deeply.” Even if you must challenge the conclusions of another’s experience, it’s crucial to acknowledge their emotional reality.

Borrow from marriage therapy

Avoid accusations or attacks by framing conversations with the familiar “I feel ______ when you ______.” This strategy in conversation can diffuse situations that could be particularly volatile. And when someone else uses this language with you, don’t be afraid to apologize.

Race conversations are not a “win/lose” competition. The hope is to have productive dialogue that moves us all towards a deeper understanding and mutual uplifting.

We believe in a God of reconciliation. As we pursue healing conversations on race, may these tips help us to love one another well.

Image credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

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