Celebrating with our High School Youth

As our five high school staff members head back to school I find myself feeling so grateful for all of their hard work and companionship. A few of them are done working with us for the time being. I will miss their smiles, jokes, and company in general. 

This summer has been a great success in too many ways to count. We have managed to knock on 400-odd houses each week for 10 weeks now. In the midst of the knocking one of our high schoolers organized a neighborhood get-together. Another high schooler visited most, if not all, of the Spanish speaking households and had meaningful, deep conversations about belonging. One of the kids started his own small scale version of the 8 Front Doors challenge in his neighborhood. This past week another high schooler gave a presentation about his experiences door knocking to several community members. All of them have made many people laugh. They have all been very enthusiastic about our new TikTok account.

As a team we were able to collect 100 completed surveys from the neighborhood as a part of a research initiative conducted by the Social Work department at WSU. We had discussions as a team about relationship, abundance, and joy. 

Although the focus of the project was on the neighborhood at large, I found myself thankful time and time again for the perspective of the people I was working with. The way that each of them approach challenges as simple as heat or negative attitudes and as big as systemic injustices like poverty, surprised and encouraged me. 

This summer has also challenged us in many ways. 

We wrote a letter with the intention to update the 400 or so households about our collective progress. While writing the letter we stumbled across a fairly large failure on our part. We realized that, as much as we believe and seem to understand the principles of asset-based community development, we have been approaching this summer from a different perspective. 

We viewed our neighbors as disconnected from one another – as if they were living in a world of relational scarcity instead of abundance. We had not asked about the neighboring culture that was already alive and well in our neighborhood.

It took maybe a couple weeks to realize that many of the neighbors could list several names of the people they were living around. Even if they couldn’t list names, they were aware of where their neighbors worked or who they lived with. People were looking out for each other.

It took us a while to evaluate our own approach so in the letter we took the chance to apologize and ask a new question. We wrote, If we could start over, we would not say “meet your neighbors” but instead, we would ask, “what does it mean to you to be a good neighbor?” 

As we continue to move forward with this initiative we want to give ourselves and others the freedom to fail. I mention this failure not to discredit the project or the work done and the relationships formed over the summer but to reassure and remind others that the work of relationship building and community development is messy. 

We have many successes to celebrate and many relationships to be present with as this project rolls on. 

As the high school kids begin their new school year I hope they remember and celebrate the relationships they made this summer. I hope they remember this summer as one of challenge and growth. I hope that they give themselves enough grace to fail and to start again within their own relationships. I hope they look at their lives and see their own abundance of opportunity. I hope they find joy in all that they do.  

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