It is really demoralizing to speak for 45 minutes to a group of pastors about your ministry and then get asked, “What do you do again?” Even worse is to have people come up and tell me about the great furniture they have to give me for a furniture bank I have not run for more than two years. I guess it is just human nature for people to gravitate toward the tangible things and to have trouble grasping the concept of development focused ministry.
In our materialistic American culture, far too many of our responses to poverty involve “giving fish” and far too few of our responses go to the level of “teaching people to fish.” Even fewer of our responses get to the root causes of why some communities have no fish or “the condition of the pond.”
I want to thank Jay Van Groningen of Communities First Association for sharing this “fishing” analogy with me. Jay coaches dozens of community development professionals across the country and apparently I am not the only person doing this work who finds it challenging to articulate the process in a way that others can easily grasp.
So here is yet another attempt to articulate what Embrace Richmond does. We teach people to fish (individual development) by empowering them to address the lack of fish in their community (giving fish) and together we address the systemic issues that have eroded the relational, economic and spiritual fabric of impoverished communities (condition of the pond).
Still clueless? Maybe a couple of stories will help.
Two years ago I met Antionette Morell (3rd person from right above). She is a resident of Hillside Court who shared that she did not know her neighbors and felt isolated and lonely. We invited her to come to our listening conversations and we learned that Antionette had a dreamed of making Hillside court a friendlier more connected place. She had a dream of welcoming new residents with welcome baskets, getting to know her neighbors, getting the residents together for fellowship events. For a year Antionette has served as a key volunteer in Hillside Court doing all the above.
Last week we brought Antionette on as an AmeriCorps member. As an AmeriCorps member, she will be trained as a community organizer. Antionette will meet the needs of her neighbors (giving fish), she mentors other residents in how to be good neighbors through our block captain program (teaching fish). Most importantly Antionette will be breaking down the isolation so often present in resource poor communities. Antionette is changing the condition of the pond by helping her neighbors build social capital. It has been proven that individuals with strong social networks are better equipped to advance economically. In her own small way, Antionette is breaking the strong hold of poverty in her community.
Still don’t get it. Let’s try one more.
I met John (3rd person from left above) last summer when he was selected to receive furnishings through our “welcome home” project. On the day we furnished John’s Hillside home, Antionette gave him a welcome basket and I invited him to come to our community gatherings which he gladly did. We learned that John felt strongly that everyone should have access to enough food. You might remember John from the post Jesus brought Sweet Potatoes. For more than six months, John has been a faithful volunteer on our health and safety team and two weeks ago he joined our AmeriCorps team as our “Food Security” project coordinator.
Like Antionette, John will be trained as a community organizer. John will be coordinating our monthly trips to the grocery store, will lead our mobile food pantry project as well as our community garden partnership with Shalom Farms. John will recruit his fellow residents to help him and in so doing, he will break down the walls of isolation, depression and fear that separate people in the Hillside community. It is these walls of isolation that is allowing people to kill one another with no one calling the cops. By breaking through the isolation, the residents will discover “the power of we” that is essential to stopping the violence. In his own small way, John is saving lives by feeding the hungry in his community.
Please join me in praying for Antionette and John’s ministry to the Hillside Community. They are truly missionaries and street saints in one of the most challenging communities in our city.
So what does Embrace Richmond do? We find amazing people like Antionette and John and we pour all our resources into helping them achieve the dreams they have for their neighbors.
So, did I do it? Did I explain what we do in a way that people will stop offering me their furniture and instead join me in supporting Antionette and John’s dreams?
Antionette and John are only two of our ten Community Focused AmeriCorps members who have mobilized dozens of Hillside residents. There are dozens more amazing stories I have yet to share. So, subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss any of our great stories! And please feel free to share your own amazing stories.