Neighborhood Business Interview: PRoKansas

Neighborhood Business Interview: PRoKansas

Local businesses are important assets to any neighborhood. At the Neighboring Movement we connect with a local business using an interview guide to discover the gifts, assets, and focus of their work. If you'd like to interview a business in your neighborhood feel free to use this format.  You can download our interview guide here.

PRoKansas

I've never thought about a recycling center as a place for joyful rejuvenation, but I have to admit, just like their sign says, I did feel better after visiting the PRoKansas nonprofit recycling center. 

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ABCD Institute Conference: Connectors

One of the topics that really inspired me at the ABCD conference in Chicago this week was "Connectors." Like many of the key ideas of Asset Based Community Development, it is appealing because it is all about working with the gifts that are already in the neighborhood. When it comes to Connectors, that means finding those people who are well-connected in the neighborhood, who are able to see people as gifted, and who are trusted.

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Asset Based Community Development Training Event!

Matt is getting ready for the national training for Asset Based Community Developers! It will be a chance to meet many of the people who have inspired our work. With travel and registration this training will cost about $1500. Would you help sponsor this trip? Click HERE to donate now and help us continue our education in the center of it all!

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Welcoming the Newest SoCe Life Employee!

Welcoming the Newest SoCe Life Employee!

I’m excited to be introducing the newest member of our team. Mark is a neighbor on our street and has been hired to work 10 hours a week for SoCe Life. Mark will be paid with money from the Wichita Community Foundation and the Knight Foundation Grant...

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Discovering a Good and Beautiful World Pt. 1

Discovering a Good and Beautiful World Pt. 1

Our work at SoCe Life can sound pretty exciting at times. When we start knocking on doors, there is no telling what might happen. However, we don’t think of ourselves as adventurers, and we don’t think what we are doing can only be done by us. In fact, we really believe the opposite: we believe anyone, anywhere can be doing the work that we are about. 

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Food Outreach in Reverse...

From Catherine…

In SoCe, we have the good fortune of being able to partner with other organizations, such as the SCNA (South Central Neighborhood Association), the SCIA (South Central Improvement Alliance), and Legacy Ministries. Legacy has a branch called Garden Works.  I have been working with Garden Works since January of this year to do food outreach in SoCe.

As I reflect on what food outreach has come to mean in SoCe, I am looking back on the goals that were on the food outreach job description: respond to the needs and desires of our neighbors and to implement programs for the ongoing food empowerment of SoCe.  We perceived the food concerns in our neighborhood to be the food desert (since our neighborhood grocery store closed in the summer of 2014), financial constraints, lack of transportation, and lack of culinary knowledge or exposure. We went door-to-door and asked for input from neighbors. They were not too concerned about the food desert, but seemed interested in getting together for some cooking events. We decided to host gatherings such as potlucks, make & take cooking nights, and spice tasting opportunities. These evenings were fun and we met new people and learned of some amazing cooks in the neighborhood. However, there seemed to be some missing element, something else we should be pursuing.

In recent months, since blending Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) with food outreach, I have learned that the outreach I am being led to cultivate is actually to facilitate ways for neighbors to reach out with their amazing culinary skills! This means finding ways for one neighbor to utilize her wonderful cookie-baking skills, for a high school student to share her love of baking cupcakes, or for my new friend one street over to be able to cater some SoCe Life events to share and showcase her delicious Cuban cooking. It also means sharing with her that my dream for her is to host Cuban cooking lessons. She was so excited to make my dream come true – we have the first cooking lesson date and menu set! ABCD strikes again! Food outreach in SoCe is about uncovering the culinary passions that are already here among my neighbors and helping them to share those passions.

The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 3

From Matt...

I’ve been presenting the value of honoring and welcoming the strangers, which is a key concept of asset-based community development. I want to end this series of posts with a parable from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. In that story, Jesus is separating people into two groups: sheep and goats. What determines their place is how they responded to the “strangers” in their own community. Here is what is said to the sheep:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Of key importance is noting that the entire list of those who were served: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, are all examples of the “stranger” in our own communities, AND we could certainly add more descriptions to that list.

At SoCe Life, we are practicing ABCD in the SoCe neighborhood because we care about our neighbors and because it feels like a wonderful way to honor the commandment of Jesus in this text and live out our faith. And I genuinely believe that when we strive to hear the marginalized in our community, we really could hear the voice of Christ (even though we probably won’t know it). And probably Jesus will challenge our assumptions about life, faith and who God is! I think I’ve experienced this, and it is completely worth it!  

The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 2

From Matt...

So, is this idea of welcoming and valuing the perspective and contributions of strangers (those who have been marginalized and labelled) a new radical concept? Not if you’ve grown up reading the Bible--ha! In the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah, we learn how Abraham welcomed unknown visitors and received an unexpected blessing. Here is the beginning of the story from Genesis 18:

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as [Abraham] sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

At this point in the story, Abraham does not know who the three guests are, he is simply practicing ancient middle-Eastern hospitality. However, as the story unfolds, the three visitors turn out to be the Lord! And the Lord informs the elderly (and childless) Abraham and Sarah that in due season they will have a son. The news is so unbelievable that Sarah laughs! And of course, in due season, Abraham and Sarah do have a son, and they name him Isaac.

What does this have to do with SoCe Life and Asset-Based Community Development?

Let me answer that question with a few questions to ponder:

  • Is it possible that God still speaks through strangers?
  • Is it possible that the hope we need in our communities could be heard in the voices of the marginalized?

I believe the answer is yes!

Up next, one more illustration…

The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 1

From Matt...

One of the first (if not THE first) books about Asset-Based Community Development was written by John McKnight and John Kretzmann and is called “Building Communities from the Inside Out.” It is an excellent textbook for exploring their ideas. It also reveals just how counter-intuitive, even subversive this approach to community development can be. One example of this comes from their attitude toward the “strangers” in the community. The “strangers” are people who may be marginalized because they are too young, too old, or they have been labelled in some way.

Unfortunately, the common cultural view of such people is that they are either 1) not able to contribute to the community/neighborhood (think of youth or the elderly) or even worse 2) they are a problem that needs to be fixed or removed (think of those with a criminal record). But ABCD turns that upside down because the belief of ABCD is that everyone, EVERYONE has something to contribute to the good of the community.

And so they write, “Who are the ‘strangers’ in this community? A community which pays particular attention to locating and mobilizing the gifts of the strangers in its midst is one which clearly welcomes the contributions of all its members to the community building process. ...the fact that they too are involved not as clients or recipients but as citizens and contributors can help to define this path as one which everyone can travel.” [p.347]

That is a major shift in thinking. I’ll stop there so you can think about the implications and challenges of their approach. Up next, I’ll draw in a few other sources to support this approach.

The Longing to Give

From Matt...

(The names in this blog have been changed to honor their privacy.)

During the immersion week one of our teams interviewed Sharon and learned that she recently had a pacemaker put in and is no longer able to mow her own lawn. She was very disappointed about this because she loves to be outdoors (and she has quite the green thumb). After the interview, our roving listeners brought back the info and we started to look for a connection. Right away we thought of Tom (my neighbor). He is currently looking for a job and enjoys helping out others. We asked him if he was interested and he said yes! We asked Sharon if she was okay with that and she said yes!

And so, this morning, I introduced Tom to Sharon and they made arrangements for mowing her lawn. The conversation was simple, kind and genuine. Sharon shared about her health limitations and disappointments, Tom shared about the struggle to find a job, and we talked about the lovely flowers in Sharon’s yard.

As we were getting ready to leave Sharon said, “I love to be active, and I’m sad that I can’t mow any more. If there is anything I can do for someone else, please let me know.” I promised her I would do that (and I will--I already have an idea!).

Through these interviews and conversations, I’m learning that Sharon is not unique. People genuinely want to be connected with the people around them and they want to contribute to the overall good of their community. In fact, I’m starting to believe that the American dream of ‘bigger, better, and more’ is not a path to happiness, but instead it leads to dissatisfaction. In contrast, what if happiness came, not so much from what we consumed, but instead from what we could give for the greater good? And if this is true, does the size, value, or impressiveness of the gift matter? I don’t think so; it is the giving--just like the Widow’s Offering from the gospel of Luke 21:1-4. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+21%3A1-4&version=NRSV

Immersion Wrap-Up!

From Matt...

On Thursday morning we concluded the immersion experience and brought this first experiment in intentional community and ABCD to an end. The morning was mostly spent on reflections and feedback from the students regarding the immersion, but we did also manage to fit in an hour of Elaine’s teaching, which was fantastic! She talked about the steps a person can take to form an intentional community and a house church, based on her own experiences as well as the work of her students. The model of church she is seeing emerge is not like the model most of us grew up with (the model of having a full-time pastor with staff who are producing programs for the church members to consume) but instead the model she is seeing involves shared leadership among lay-people and clergy, whereby everyone involved is able to learn and grow together as apprentices of Jesus while serving one another. You can learn more about this model by reading the book she co-authored with Larry Duggins entitled, Missional. Monastic. Mainline.

I mentioned that we spent most of the morning reflecting on the week, and once again the students did great work. They were able to give us insight into the elements of the week that were most helpful to them as well as the aspects of the week that were most challenging (and beneficial), not to mention a few changes that would be very helpful.

We ended our time together with a time of worship and a blessing to send us from this place to serve in the world. As I looked around the room during that time of worship I was so grateful for these students, who had given up a week of their summer break to come and be a part of something that could hardly be described. They embraced all the uncertainty without flinching. They tolerated various inconveniences (like 6-12 people sharing one bathroom). And they faced their own fears, like knocking on the doors of total strangers and asking for an interview! I see tremendous faith in what they did this week, and their faithfulness encourages me as I consider the future.

While this is the end of the immersion, it is only the beginning of the work of SoCe Life. Stay tuned for more information as we continue to work inside the SoCe neighborhood and as we connect with folks from different organizations all around the country--it will be an adventure!

I will close with the words of blessing we offered one another during the closing worship. May they be true for us all:

As you go from this place,

May God the Creator bless you.

May God the Son walk with you.

May God the Spirit lead your life with love. Amen.

Yesterday was OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!!!

From Matt...

Day 3 of our immersion experience was so good in so many ways it is hard to put it into words, but I do want to at least tell you all about it.

We started the morning with prayer, communion and then breakfast. After breakfast we continued our brainstorming and connecting with ABCD which led to a series of action items for everyone to follow-up with. We made phone calls and walked to a few neighbors’ houses to see if they would be interested in assisting with various small jobs or connecting with different neighbors (to help with a project) or groups (like the nearby quilting club). It was exhilarating to take action and the response from our neighbors was all positive. (You can see a few pictures from Wed. on the previous blog.)

At 10:30 we met with Vicki Bond of the Raise My Head Foundation. Vicki is a long-time friend who has done an incredible job putting together this non-profit which plans to offer a two-year residential program for women who want to leave sex trafficking, homelessness, and/or drug addiction. Vicki is joyful and passionate about her work, which is contagious! We were able to tour the house they recently purchased and learn about their plans. Please take a moment to visit their site here: http://raisemyhead.org/

After being inspired by Vicki we returned to the house for lunch and naps or recreation. In the afternoon, we returned to Bethany UMC for another powerful time of teaching from Elaine Heath. This time was especially inspiring as Elaine shared with us various individuals and groups that she has connected with that are doing amazing, out-of-the-box ministry around the U.S. And yes, some of this type of ministry does not fit into the measuring metrics of those who want to keep the institutional church the way it has been for so long, but at the same time, these changes are anchored in the teachings and practices of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

By 5:30 we were all starting to get tired, but we couldn’t slow down because at 6:00 we were hosting a street party at the house. It was definitely stressful at moments, but between the focused energy of our immersion students and the conversation and laughter of arriving neighbors, the stress soon melted away. After eating lots of wonderful food, we sang a few folk songs, which eventually involved a few of the kids leading the singing and even dancing!

Many hands made light work of setting up for our block party. I think Prescott was inspecting the quality of Elaine's work. 

Many hands made light work of setting up for our block party. I think Prescott was inspecting the quality of Elaine's work. 

Sami, one of our immersion students, teaches a dance step to one of the neighborhood kids during the party. Who would have ever guessed there would be dancing happening in our front yard? 

Sami, one of our immersion students, teaches a dance step to one of the neighborhood kids during the party. Who would have ever guessed there would be dancing happening in our front yard? 

We ended the day by reflecting on the moments when we felt closest to and furthest away from God. I think it is safe to say the blessings of the day heavily outweighed the low points. Or as I like to say, the day was “OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING!”

This is so refreshing!

From Matt...

I remember being a kid and selling candy bars as a fundraiser for my marching band...I hated it! Going to the neighbors’ doors and asking them to buy something was fraught with opportunities for rejection.

That feeling returns to me when I start walking through SoCe to interview people for SoCe Life. I have a little seed of dread that is planted in the back of my mind. But then it all changes!

I just came back from interviewing a neighbor and it was fantastic! Myrna was with me and we asked the neighbor for about five minutes of her time. Then we started asking her about her work experiences and what she likes to do. Soon we had gone past 5 minutes because we were laughing and sharing stories and hopes for the future.

SoCe Life isn’t like selling candy bars! In fact, it is the opposite. It is refreshing and energizing. And here is why: we aren’t taking from people, we’re just asking them to talk about themselves--and people don’t actually get to do that very often. When we interview people, we aren’t using people to build up ourselves, we’re connecting with people because we care about them and our neighborhood. For me, this type of caring and this type of connecting and this type of encouraging is what the kingdom of God is all about! (Maybe the church needs to spend less time taking from people and spending more time just listening to them.)