Yesterday I escaped to our cabin in rural Virginia for much needed personal retreat. I was lying on the picnic table studying the barren branches of the red oak tree above me, which appeared at first glance to be in its winter dormant state. As I focused in on the branches, I realized there were tiny buds that were barely visible from where I was laying. I climbed on top of the picnic table and got a closer look. Sure enough, little buds which will soon be beautiful colored leaves were starting to appear at the tips of the branches. With the ground still frozen, mother nature was preparing for the next season.
Like that tree, our ministry at Embrace is preparing to bring forth an abundance of new growth. For the past year we have planted seeds, watered them, and waited. Some of this new growth will be seen in the form of new projects like our partnership with Shalom Farms, the Food Bank Mobile Food Pantry, a new youth focused creative arts program with Oak Grove Elementary School CIS, health programs in partnership with MCV and the Health Department’s resource centers, a new computer lab and employment program at Hillside Court as well as a comprehensive block by block neighborhood care strategy just to mention a few.
However the more exciting growth is happening in a way few can see. Slowly but surely people in our Hillside Court community are breaking free of the bonds of isolation that has held them captive in fear, loneliness and depression. We are seeing not only new ministries take root and blossom but we are seeing people come alive, grow and bear fruit in the form of love for their neighbors.
While most people would never drive through Hillside and see what I see, those with eyes to see who are willing to be still, get up close, and really focus will see the buds of something beautiful developing. In about six weeks my barren little red oak tree will burst forth with color, growth and promise. Likewise, within six weeks the Hillside Court community will do the same. The Recreation Center will no long sit empty most of the day but will become a hub of activity as our AmeriCorps members launch their new projects with zeal and excitement over what God has done in and through the residents of Hillside Court.
The newspapers are filled with stories of the death, violence and the utter despair of this community – death and destruction sales newspapers. Will the TV camera’s still be around in six weeks? Will anyone care to record the positive life- giving efforts of a few brave souls who have chosen not to live in fear but instead have gotten on the solution side of the issue? I have been approached by several media personalities about doing stories about the recent murders in the community. I have declined them all. I believe a community will become what it focuses on. If we put the focus on people being victims, then that is how they will see themselves. I think my friends in Hillside have the power of God on their side and they are more than conquerors. They will use what the enemy intended for harm and turn it into good.
While the enemy in Hillside carries semi-automatic weapons and thrives in a culture of terror and fear, the greatest enemy to this fragile community is not the killer on the corner – it is the arrogant in Washington DC. All this new growth and development in Hillside court was made possible by funding from AmeriCorps. Through these funds we have mobilized the residents to reclaim their community. We have created opportunities for people to earn a living, learn new skills and get a college education. In an effort to keep campaign promises and win political clout, congress is poised with an ax at the root of our fragile little community as they threaten to completely eliminate the AmeriCorps program.
Howard Liebers writes the following regarding these proposed cuts:
AmeriCorps is a national service program which offers opportunities to millions of people from a variety of backgrounds to give back to their communities. They volunteer, some full time, for a very small living stipend and an education award. Among the recommendations from the House Appropriations Committee was a complete elimination of the AmeriCorps State and National Program to save $373 million. But the cuts translate to much more, impacting thousands of Americans who serve and more than 1,840 national and local non-profit and community groups.
Let’s take a look at the return on investment from AmeriCorps since 1994:
AmeriCorps Fast Facts:
§ 637,000: Number of people who have served as AmeriCorps members since 1994.
§ 774 Million: Total number of hours served by AmeriCorps members.
§ $1.77 Billion: Total amount of Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards earned by AmeriCorps members since 1994.
§ 2.4 Million: Number of community volunteers managed or mobilized by AmeriCorps members in 2008.
§ 3,300: Number of nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations served by AmeriCorps members last year.
§ $6.3 Billion: Amount of AmeriCorps funds invested in nonprofit, community, educational, and faith-based community groups since 1994.
Pray God intervenes and protects not only the community of Hillside court but thousands of other non-profits like Embrace Richmond that will be impacted as well as the thousands of communities and hundreds of thousands who receive goods and services because of the work of AmeriCorps members serving across this nation.