Archive for category Mission Year

Relationship Builders: Twilight

Never did I think that seeing all the Twilight movies and reading the books would come to my advantage when building relationships with people in our neighborhood. In January a girl in middle school that I have gotten to know had come over to our place, and we sat there playing games silently with a few words shared between the two of us. When it was time for me to walk her home it had become extremely foggy outside, and directly across the street from our place is park that was filled with the rolling in fog. Rickayla looked at me and stated that the park looked like a scene from one of the Twilight movies, and for the rest of the walk we discussed the Twilight Saga.

Up until this point every time we would hang out I was usually asking endless questions getting very few responses back, and Rickayla usually just wanted to play games or just come over and hang around. Since our Twilight conversation our relationship has changed. She has become much more willing to talk and answer my questions, and she has even been willing to bring up topics of conversations with me. Sometimes the conversations are simply about how the week has been going and what is happening at school, but than other times they have been deeper.

Recently Rickayla and her family moved from the house they were living in right down the street from us to an apartment complex several blocks away. Determined to maintain the relationship that I have built her and that Josh and I have built with the family, we make a point to walk to their place every week to hang out, chat, and see how everyone is doing. It took me by surprise the first time we did this and Rickayla and her two siblings were shocked that we would actually be willing to walk to see them. As I talked more with Rickayla it became evident that she was worried that by them moving further away that we wouldn’t see each other.

This past weekend, the conversation of church and God came up. Rickayla stated that she believes in God and all but she doesn’t go to church because she doesn’t have the correct clothing. When I asked her further what she meant, she told me that you should dress up in your Sunday best when you go to church because you need to look and be respectful at church and before God. I didn’t know how to respond. On one side she’s right, and that is a message I’ve heard my entire life. However, on the other side I have come to know that God will accept you exactly how you are. He takes us in all of our brokenness and shows us how much he loves us.

The result of our conversation was me saying that she is always welcome at church no matter what she’s wearing and that she is welcome to come to youth group on Sunday afternoons. But I know that just as it took me walking to see her at her new place it is going to take more than a simple invitation.

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Lent: A Call to Fast

On Sunday night our team was sitting around eating dinner, and we began discussing what our schedules looked like for the week. Amidst the normality’s of the week, the discussion of our church’s Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and Ash Wednesday events came up. Seamlessly we began talking about what we had all given up, sacrificed, or taken on in past Lents, and the question emerged, “what are we each doing for Lent this year?”

One year ago, I remember sitting at my computer making the decision to stop playing all Facebook games because they were taking up to much of my time. I would find myself sitting on my days off, still in my pajamas until 1 or 2 pm in the afternoon playing these games. Instead I choose to spend that time reading, reflecting, and spending more time with God. I also made the decision to begin blogging daily my thoughts that developed from this time. As I sit here today on Ash Wednesday, my world then seems a far off reality to my life now.

Lent is a time to grow, reflect, and sacrifice in a way that brings you to a realization of your shortcomings and need to draw closer to God. The call to fasting comes from the need to recognize our own brokenness and humble ourselves before God, the one who provides us with the ultimate forgiveness. But God has called us to more than bending a knee and recognizing our own sins, he has called us to a fast that removes us from our comfort zones, pushes us to see the injustice that is abound, and beckons us into a life of love for all.

In Isaiah 58 the people of Israel cry out to God in frustration and in desperation, yearning for him to see and notice their eagerness for his presence. They proclaim,

“Why have we fasted….and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” (verse 3)

Looking upon his people, God simply answers Israel’s cry by stating that these actions have become merely actions. The meaning and purpose behind the call to fast has been lost and it has become purely an obligation that must be met. And what strikes me most is how relevant that is for us today. How many of us choose to fast from something during Lent and treat it more like a New Year’s resolution or do so because our Christian culture says we should.

What we’re missing is God’s call for more. He proceeds to call out to Israel,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

To loose the chains of injustice

And untie the cords of the yoke,

To set the oppressed free

And break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –

When you see the naked, to clothe them,

And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (verse 6,7)

God calls to Israel as he calls out to us, the desire to see us fast in a way the removes anger and bitterness, breaks down oppression, and draws us to a life of love. Only then, when we move past our brokenness and closer to the life he has called us to will we truly know his presence. For,

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (verse 9)

So this Lenten season, I challenge you to look deep within and find the walls that you have built that keep you from the unending love of God. To fast from the areas of life that keep you apart from his amazing grace. And to move forward knowing the life God has called you to live.

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Jesus and the Disinherited

At the brink of the Civil Rights Movement, pastor and writer Howard Thurman released the book Jesus and the Disinherited. Prevalent then and now, the book provides a foundation of reasoning for the need for non-violent movements to fight the oppressive systems that exist. Thurman’s book focuses primarily on the disinherited state of African-Americans at that time in the United States, where segregation was the norm, Jim Crow laws existed, and people’s rights were being disregarded.

Using Jesus as the ultimate example, Thurman discusses how to overcome, in a peaceful manner, the frustration and pain that can develop from being oppressed. Jesus life provides endless examples of how to react to oppressive and controlling systems. He himself was part of a minority group within the Roman Empire, a large dominant and controlling group, and not only was he part of the Jewish minority, he also came from a poor upbringing.  However through his disinherited state, Jesus found ways to peacefully battle the systems that were in place, emphasizing highly on the peace that can come from within.

Through Jesus, Thurman shows how people can move beyond the common feelings of fear, deception, and hate that can develop when oppressed, and most importantly, he focuses on how people can do it peacefully and within non-violent means. Upon overcoming fear through the development of self-worth and dignity, a person can push forward through the oppressive systems and pursue their dreams because they know they are a child of God. This same person can remove the layers of deception that can develop to fit within the “norm” of society, and they can follow after Christ, pursuing a sincere and honest life where they peacefully speak out against injustice. And through all of this they can move past the feelings of hatred and frustration that have grown deep within from being constantly kicked down and told they aren’t good enough.

Upon removing these feelings, a person can then move unto a state of love and forgiveness, where reconciliation is the goal. They can recognize that all people are their neighbor, meaning they are called to love all people. But Thurman challenges that this is not an easy path to take. By recognizing who has become the oppressors, people must work to remove the label of “enemy” and break down the wall that prevents true and authentic relationships from developing. Both sides must be freed and provided with mutual worth and value. Only then can actual reconciliation occur.

 

 

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Free Clinic Experience

My career choices and my current lifestyle are built around the idea of serving others. Rarely do I find myself on the receiving end of these services. Over the past week I have had the humbling experience to be in that spot.

Two weeks ago I found myself with a horrible toothache. Due to the limited coverage of the insurance offered through Mission Year, I found myself last week looking for dental clinics that would take uninsured patients. After calling around to all the clinics I know that take cash payments, most didn’t have appointments until March or April. Finally I got into a clinic last week, which took me 1.5 hours to get to on public transportation. The appointment itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and I left feeling very frustrated. After taking films, the dentist came into my room for all of maybe 2 minutes, didn’t even look in my mouth, and told me I needed a root canal, which meant coming back in and paying them several hundred dollars for the procedure.

Determined to get a better opinion I started all over again making phone calls to the clinics seeing if there was any way I could get in sooner. Finally I realized that my best choice was a free clinic located in downtown Atlanta called St. Joseph’s Mercy Care. On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s they have a walk in emergency dental clinic, and people start lining up around 6:30 to 7 am to be seen when the clinic opens at 8:30 am. As with many free clinics, you must prove that you are a Georgia resident and that you cannot afford to pay for the services on your own, so I spent Monday night making sure I had all the right documents to take.

I arrived at the clinic at 6:50 am and I was the fourth person in line. At 7 am they let us inside to sign-in and sit and wait until the clinic opened. At 8:30 am they announced that the dentist was running late and wouldn’t be in until 9:30 am. After sitting there for 3 hours, at 10 am they called me to the window and told me that I wouldn’t be seen until 1 pm so if I wanted to I could leave, get some food, and come back. Opting for this choice I left.

Arriving back at the clinic around 12:45 pm, I was called back at 1 pm. The dental assistant and dentist were very friendly and talked with me about what was going on. They took some films; the dentist actually looked in my mouth and talked with me about my options. The cavity looked like it was close to the nerve, but she offered to go and attempt the filling. If it seemed to close to the nerve she would put in temporary filling and I would be referred to another clinic for a root canal. Thankfully the cavity was smaller, and they were able to place a filling. I walked out of the clinic by 2 pm.

While this was a first time experience for me, I realized that this process is exactly what many of the people I work with go through when I write them healthcare referrals to the various clinics around the city. I was humbled and have grown a deeper appreciation for the patience some of these people can have with this entire process. This experience also confirmed why I want to go back to school to be a nurse practitioner and work in similar clinics. There is a strong need for these free clinics and the healthcare professionals to staff them.

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Fighting Hunger

Since switching churches to the Emmaus House Chapel I have had the opportunity to help teach Sunday school to the kids. This past Sunday the lesson was based on Mark 1:40-45 where a man with leprosy is healed by Jesus. Even though Jesus tells him not to tell anyone who healed him, the man goes into town so excited and thankful about what has happened that he tells everyone. I had the kids share about stories where they were told secrets and were so excited they accidently told other people. After the discussion, all the kids filled out little pieces of paper stating what they are thankful to God for and want everyone to know, and they taped them up on a poster board.

Unsure of how the kids would respond to the activity I was surprised to see how much thought they put into it. In particular, one boy who I’ve gotten to know put a lot of thought into what he wrote. He quietly got up, taped his paper up, and looked at what everyone else was putting up. Then one of the other kids blurted out, while laughing, “who wrote they were thankful for food stamps!?” This boy looked at the group of kids and simply said, “I did…you know some of us wouldn’t have anything to eat without them.” And he walked off. While some of the kids continued to laugh, there seemed to be a sense of understanding amongst others.

This boy spoke a truth that not only he faces, or his friends may face, but what millions of people across this country face every day. In my neighborhood, Peoplestown, it is an issue I see daily. The Senior’s discussing the need for more money because food is expensive, writing constant referrals to various food banks around the city, Emmaus House’s own food pantry on Friday’s, and the number of kids I know on free or reduced-price meals at school.

In 2010, 14.5 percent of households (17.2 million households, 48.8 million Americans) were considered food insecure. Also, 5.4 percent of households (6.4 million households) experienced very low food security. Food security is defined as access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. 16.9 percent of households in Georgia experienced low food security from 2008-2010.

Here are some national hunger and poverty statistics:

  • 46.2 million Americans (15.1 percent) are now living in poverty according to the latest report released by the US Census Bureau American Communities Survey profile in September 2011 – up by 3.3 million people from the 42.9 million reported in last year’s report. (U.S. Census Bureau American Communities Survey Profile2010. Data released Sept. 2011)
  • In 2010, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
  • In 2010, 59.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs –Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Here are some more hunger and poverty statistics for Georgia:

  • Nearly 1.7 million Georgians (17.9%) are living in poverty according to the latest US Census Bureau American Community Survey report released in September 2011. This is up from 1.6 million (16.5%) in 2009, and represents an increase of 100,000 people in poverty. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey Profile. 2010. Data released Sept. 2011)
  • An estimated 1.4 million different Georgians receive emergency food from partner agencies of Georgia food banks. (Feeding America “Hunger in America 2010” Study)
  • The number of Georgia households receiving food stamps jumped from 581,709 total households in July of 2009 to 716,749 households in July of 2010 – an increase of 23.2% in just one year.  (USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Data and Statistics Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Number of Households Participating, released Oct. 2010)
  •  When the Federal minimum wage rate went from $6.55 to $7.25/hour in July of 2009, Georgia once again did not increase its minimum wage rate. (It remains at $5.15/hour.) Georgia is currently one of only five states with minimum wage rates lower than the Federal minimum wage rate. (U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment Standards Admin. 2009)

Check out feedingamerica.org to get more information. Also, get involved and learn more about the issues of hunger in your area. Food banks nationwide need donations, both food and monetary.

 

 

 

Statistics were from:

Atlanta Community Food Bank

 Feeding America

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Community Dinner

Prayer is extremely powerful. When you pray sincerely to God and what you are asking for matches up with His desires for your life, amazing things can happen.

Over the past couple of weeks, our team has been praying for direction and help when it comes to the community dinner we’re supposed to have on Saturday nights. Since we got back from the holidays, we’ve received a lot of “no’s” when we asked people if they wanted to come over for dinner. After some reflection as a team, we realized that many times we would ask the parents of kids we know and often times they would say no, but the kids were usually sitting there asking to still come over. Then the idea struck us, what if we see if the kids can come to dinner and we’ll offer to walk them home afterwards.

This past week we began putting this idea before God and praying for an answer, and God definitely decided to provide us with an answer.

By lunch time on Saturday Josh had put out an invite to a family we know, the parents said no but they were more than willing to let their two boys come over. The two of them were extremely excited to help cook dinner. By mid-afternoon, after I got back from working at the clinic, I found myself walking back home with three more kids coming over for dinner. By the time dinner was ready, we had one more join us for dinner. In the end we had 6 kids/youth, varying from ages 5 to 16 over for dinner.

Josh and Javontae cooking dinner

 

At the end of the night I was exhausted. There was a point in the evening that Josh and I looked at each other in the kitchen, agreed that we loved having all these kids over, but we definitely didn’t want to have 6 kids of our own.

Grant and Shannon playing Sorry with some of the kids

The best was in youth group today when the 16 year-old stated to the group that the best thing that’s happened to him lately was coming over to our place last night for dinner. And it was great to share with him that dinner last night was one of our best moments lately too.

I am extremely thankful to God for answering prayers and providing us with needed direction. Even though at points yesterday evening things seemed crazy, I am more than happy to be a place where these kids can come and hang out, have fun, and be safe. I feel honored and blessed that their parents trust us enough to let their kids spend the evening with us. And I feel loved by a God who is there walking along side me every step of the way.

 

 

 

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Dreams

Senior year of high school the most common question a person receives is what their plans are after they graduate. If college is the answer, they’re most likely asked what college and what major. Upon reaching senior year of college, the same questions are heard again, except the questions are career focused. After spending two weeks visiting friends and family in Ohio, the most common question that Josh and I heard was what our plans are after our time with Mission Year.

For a person who would love to plan out my entire life, who would love to reach set goals by the age/time they’ve been set for, I have realized how open and unplanned life seems right now. And for the first time in a long time it feels great to be able to say so. Over the past couple months I have realized how important it is to be focused on the here and now if you ever want to reach the goals and the dreams that you have. If I am so focused on the end goal I miss the amazing opportunities all around me, the chances to truly live and love.

Over the past week I have been asked by multiple people in various ways what my dreams are for the rest of the year and beyond. While still trying to figure out exactly where I want to go with my career as a nurse, I have spent time reflecting and praying about what my dreams and hopes are for my time with Mission Year and beyond.

After much discussion and prayer, Josh and I have decided that we would like to stay in Atlanta, specifically Peoplestown, after our committed time. Amidst various transitions over the next year, like Josh becoming a full time student, we have thought about what would be best for us. Also, and most importantly, we want to have more time to develop the relationships that we are currently building in our neighborhood this year. Amongst so many unknowns with life right now, we both feel a strong calling to stay put and invest in our community. We also hope to build a strong support system for ourselves as we pursue this.

When I look over the past several months and forward to this year, I have realized a strong passion and desire to really dive in and dig deeper with some of the young teens I have gotten to know. I want to connect more with some of the young adults and provide them with a network of support so they can grow and develop into strong leaders for their community.

A collage I made this past week for Mission Year showing my dreams for this year and beyond

At many of the community meetings I have been to here, there is a common discussion about needing to get young adults more involved. Outside our team, most people that attend are in their 40’s and older. The issue of getting the young adults involved is the age gap. When I think about wanting to attend an event, I am more willing to if invited by a peer or a mentor just a little older versus someone who is several generations older. I would love and dream to see the young adults getting involved and influencing not only their peers but the younger teens and kids to get involved too.

At times this dream seems daunting; however, as abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

 

 

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Missional

Over the past several years and my multiple and very different experiences with missions, one thing I have learned is that many people expect to hear stories about the countless conversions and miracles encountered. If I have learned anything it is that missions can be anything but those moments. Missions can simply be the mundane daily interactions and scheduled events that occur. And honestly, I feel like that can be the point of missions, those simple moments where we can really share and show God’s love.

One thing I constantly remind myself is of what David J. Bosch (a missionary from the Dutch Reformed Church) said about mission. That it “is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love”

My first exposure to longer term missions than those one week or weekend trips was when I spent a summer in college in Namibia, southern Africa, traveling to schools providing HIV/AIDS education with a focus on abstinence with The Navigators international missions program. I spent another summer in The Gambia, in western Africa, as part of a school program that focused on working in health clinics. While these two experiences transformed my life, neither trip provided those big conversion and miracle stories people seemed to want to hear. I couldn’t provide numbers of people I brought to know Christ or the big miracles I saw or participated in. The stories I had were of simple ordinary people I met and talked with, the clinics I worked in, and my team members I traveled with and these stories are sometimes far from glamorous.

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Now at the end of three and a half months with Mission Year, I look back and realize that this still holds true. I can’t look back and pick out any story of me leading anyone to Christ or any big miracle moments; however, I can reflect on these months and think of all the relationships I have started to form. While there are a few people I have gotten to know very well, most of the people I interact with are on a surface level, and I am okay with that. I can reflect back on these months and think that some of my largest struggles have been the “mundane” daily events, which have also provided me with some of my most meaningful moments.

Relationship building is a hard task, especially when you are looking for deep and meaningful ones. You cannot force yourself or anyone else into a relationship, it must occur naturally. And this holds true for introducing Christ into the relationship. Through the variety of people I have met and the relationships I have been building, they are all based around a built trust that has formed over multiple interactions, attending same events, and close proximity.

I look forward to the next seven months of Mission Year, and I am excited to see how these relationships grow and change. I look forward to meeting more people, building new relationships, and getting involved with new things. I am thankful for changes to come and new journey’s to be taken. I expect challenges to come and stumbling to occur, but I constantly remember that God brought me here for a reason and will not let me fail.

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Peoplestown

Josh recently wrote a paper on the history of Peoplestown and current issues the neighborhood is facing. I’ve provided some of the excerpts from his paper (the whole paper is 11 pages, a little long for the blog) so people can have a better idea of where we are living.

Peoplestown: The Beginning

The story of Peoplestown began in the 1890’s.  The Peoples family, a Jewish immigrant family, owned over half of the developed land in the neighborhood.  They are reported to be the namesake of this Atlanta community.  In its infancy, lining the streets of Peoplestown were single-family Victorian style homes with small servants’ quarters hidden in the rear.  By the 1920’s the population of Peoplestown was comprised of African Americans, Whites, and Jewish immigrants.  The residential area continued to expand with the introduction of the street trolley system that transported residents to and from work in a growing downtown Atlanta.  As the neighborhood experienced continued growth it also became segregated by race with whites living on the west side of town and blacks on the east.  By the 1930’s and 40’s development slowed and many white residents began to move out of the neighborhood.  The large houses that were left vacant quickly became boarding houses and fell into disrepair.

With the conclusion of World War II, Peoplestown saw a revitalization of its once diverse community.  A large successful industrial area had developed that stretched from Peoplestown to the neighboring community of Mechanicsville.  “Schools, a library, post office, hospital, drug store, clothing stores and movie theaters were close enough to the neighborhood to provide employment and recreation, allowing for a convenient urban existence” (Neighborhoods Count NPU-V 2004).  As a result of all of this, many jobs were made available within walking distance.

During the 1950’s and 60’s, Peoplestown and surrounding areas experienced drastic changes.  Two of the biggest things to impact the community were the massive freeway and parking construction projects, and the Federal Housing Act of 1949. The housing act brought subsidized rental housing to the community, which inevitably decreased property values. It is said that the decline in property value was a root cause of “White Flight,” the rapid loss of affluent white residents and business people.

However, race and racism were also prevalent forces in the loss of nearly half the population of Peoplestown from the 1960’s to 2000.  In Atlanta, white business leaders met with other leaders in the surrounding African American communities to mediate issues surrounding violence.  During that time there was evidence of how hate and violence related to Jim Crow laws, desegregation in schools, and Civil Rights, were affecting the economic stability in Birmingham, Alabama.  However, Atlanta during this time was deemed “The City Too Busy to Hate”; in return individuals, most of whom were white, verbalized “other” financial reasons for their departure from Peoplestown.  The use of “financial reasons” allowed themselves to not have to focus on race relations or the true reason they were leaving Peoplestown.

These changes and attitudes, and the affects they had of Peoplestown, were also seen in other areas of Atlanta.  During this time there were several promises made via the Urban Renewal program that were not kept.  For example, the former Fulton County Stadium and its parking facilities were constructed on land in Summer Hill, a neighboring community, which was originally reserved for the rebuilding of homes that were destroyed because of the freeway systems.  In general, the Civil Rights movement greatly affected the city of Atlanta as a whole.

The book, Who’s Who In Peoplestown, highlights a brief history of the community during the 1950’s until the late 1990’s.  In the book, community members described Peoplestown in the 1950’s before the freeway was contracted and built, and they discussed the area before the Fulton County Stadium that was then demolished and a new stadium was built for the 1996 Olympic Games.  Louise Phipps:

“After we got the gas and the street paved, and the school and the park, everything looked good. Most everybody owned their houses down in here…We used to do our shopping on Georgia Avenue. They had a big supermarket there. They had a chicken house there and they sold chicken and fish. And then they had a theater on the corner of Crew Street and Georgia Avenue. Then below that they had a shoe shop, a bakery and on the other side of the street they had Fritz’s Ice Cream. They used to have a grocery store up there at Violet and Haygood.”

Activist Ethel Mae Matthews (a dear friend of Father Austin Ford):

“Peoplestown was a people’s town. Rich Jews, poor blacks, rich, white, just mixed in together. We had drugstores, grocery stores, a theater” (Who’s Who In Peoplestown).

Peoplestown: Continued Change

The population of Peoplestown continued to drop from 5,598 in 1950 to 2,527 by 1990, and has continued to drop to approximately 2,096 as of 2010. This shift in population has continued due in part to the failed promises in 1970, and also the lack of resources, jobs, and recreational activities within Peoplestown. During the early 90’s after the city of Atlanta had  been given privilege of hosting the 1996 Olympic Games, several key community members in Peoplestown including Ethel Mae Matthews, Columbus Ward Jr., May Helen Johnson and others formed the Atlanta Neighborhoods United for Fairness (A’NUFF).  A’NUFF protested the stadium being built in the Peoplestown neighborhood. The plans for the stadium and subsequent parking areas were moved ¼ of a mile further from Peoplestown as a result of their dedication and activism.

At this time the Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation was formed by many of the same community members as A’NUFF. The Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation has a mission to create positive opportunities for community members related to recreation and housing.  Ms. May Helen Johnson is a member of several activist groups including Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation. In addition, she is one of the board members for Emmaus House, worked side by side with Father Ford, and has lived in the community for more than 40 years.  Ms. Johnson met with me to discuss her views of Peoplestown:

“There are no banks, drycleaners, post office, groceries, not even a Home Depot or anything like that for people to shop in and be able to feel productive and fix their own homes. There are no tax dollars coming into Peoplestown. The only good things we have here are families, the McDevitt Center, and Emmaus House. I want to see opportunities for people to have employment. I don’t know the answers, but I have always believed that; it may not change but you must make the effort to make it change. That is what I have been trying to do for almost 40 years here.”

When asked about her highlight over the time she has spent with Emmaus House Ms. Johnson replied:

“The highlight for me would be that when people come down here to Emmaus House in spite of what they read or know, they always leave with a good impression of what we do here. Our doors are always open, even until the last biscuit. I’m glad that all my work will pay off in the end and better the neighborhood instead of myself.”

Peoplestown: Present

Currently there are approximately 876 homes in Peoplestown and 300 of those are abandoned or have been boarded up by their respective owners. With the lack of inhabitants, crime and vandalism are rapidly becoming a more noticed issue. The current trend, however, in neighboring communities such as Grant Park is that young white business people are moving back into neighboring areas often gentrifying the poor there, while trying to boost the economic structure.

Emmaus House completed a community needs assessment in October 2011 highlighting the perception of residents in 251 of Peoplestown’s 876 occupied residences. The project focused on race, employment, education, homeownership, renting, length of time in the neighborhood, children, religion, health, crime, safety, recreational activities, quality of life, and services offered through Emmaus House. “Of the 251 participants, 69.7% were female and 30.3% were male. The majority (88.4%) identified themselves as Black/African American; 8% were White/Caucasian, and the remainder reported being Hispanic/Latino, Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islander, mixed heritage or other” (Emmaus House Community Needs Assessment). Of those surveyed one in four (25%) are between 25 and 34 years old and 62% have lived in Peoplestown for three or more years. The number of residents’ having a high school diploma/GED are 39.4%, and the percentage of those who completed college is 21.9%. Employment rates for Peoplestown are low.  Only 26.3% of those surveyed have full time employment, 17.5% have part time employment, and almost 55% of the residents surveyed in Peoplestown reported being unemployed. . Over half of the individuals have a place of worship, however less than half of those attend services in the Peoplestown neighborhood.

For the majority of individuals surveyed there were significant issues mentioned concerning: gang violence (31.5%), drug dealing (53.8%), violent crime (43.8%) and property crime (51.8%). Other challenges for the community include little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or even a grocery store, limited activities for teenagers, and educational attainment in Peoplestown is below average for the City of Atlanta. However, even in light of the concern, it was interesting to learn that over 68% of those surveyed feel that Peoplestown is a good place to live over all.

In relation to Emmaus House, and the services offered, 77.7% of individuals reported knowing about Emmaus House.  Of those people that had utilized the programs offered, most acknowledged they had positive feelings about the resources being offered at Emmaus House for the community.

Emmaus House, and the McDevitt Center, is actively involved in the daily life of the Peoplestown community. The community’s nine Christian churches and one Mosque seem to do little in the way of providing for the needs of individuals outside their congregations. On the fourth Thursday of each month Emmaus House hosts a free community dinner. During a recent special dinner held on November 10, 2011 discussions were taking place while waiting in line by several of my neighbors. They were discussing that it seems none of the other churches in the neighborhood are willing to provide assistance or an area for fellowship for Peoplestown community residents.

One may be tempted to focus on all of the negative that exists in Peoplestown and become disheartened and jaded that anything positive could thrive here.  But, daily I have been able to see positivity in my neighborhood. I see the guidance of mothers who want the best for their children. The smiles of children as they play in the field at Four Corners Park, or the new D.H. Stanton Park that will one day be part of a much more accessible public transportation network called the Belt Line. Peoplestown has grown up out of racism, industry, and segregation. But an old deeply rooted hope exists focused on reconciliation, justice, peace, and safety. What Peoplestown lacks in resources for employment and economic opportunity it makes up for in the attempts at increased education at D.H. Stanton Elementary School. Peoplestown has potential. Its community leaders are passionate, its neighbors are involved, and again there is hope for a successful future. This hope is the heart beat of many who feel that the “inner city” and Peoplestown is not lost.

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Cheating Kids

When I first learned that Josh and I were going to be moving to Atlanta for our time with Mission Year I decided it would be good to do some research on where we would be living. Beyond the typical online research about the history of the city, what it is like, and what there is to do, I decided to check out the news sources in Atlanta to see what the headlines were about. In July when I was doing this research the headlines were overwhelmed with all the information about the release of reports about the cheating scandals in the Atlanta Public School system on standardized tests.

Articles from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times all discussed that for several years teachers and principals changed answers on students tests across the system to increase their passing rates. An outline of the results from an extensive survey of the school system showed that 44 of the 56 schools examined (78.6%) were found cheating, and 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9%) were found to be responsible for, or directly involved in the cheating. Of these 44 schools, 178 teachers and principals were determined to have cheated (See Washington Post article). At the elementary school for our neighborhood 13 classrooms lead to cheating, which lead to the principal, test coordinator, and 4 teachers being implicated.

The knowledge of this information made me weary of what my interactions with the kids in the afterschool program at Emmaus house was going to be like. I was already nervous about tutoring the kids. While on some days the kids can wear me out, on most days I have a great time with them. The conversation about the cheating at their elementary school has come up, but most either don’t know much about it or don’t know the implications of the cheating scandal. And in my mind I think that is probably for the better. What they do know is that they have a new principal and multiple new teachers. What the community sees is a staff that is working to improve the kids education and pushing them to excel, which includes the teachers and principal providing extra tutoring and after school preparation for the standardized tests.

What I have struggled the most with out of all has been my question about the level of importance put on standardized tests, especially when federal funding is at stake. I question the fact that most of the homework I see the kids working on is focused on those tests, like the girl in 3rd grade that I work with every day. I think back to my days when I was in elementary school struggling with my reading and writing and how I didn’t qualify for the extra help because I passed those sections, even though I barely did. I think about the kids in the afterschool program and the areas they struggle in and wonder are they getting the help they need.

Out of all of this I look into the community and wonder about the importance put on education. I still remember playing the game Life with a single mom and her three kids and how she made them all take the college path not the career one because that was what they would be doing in real life. But then I think about the results from the community survey Emmaus House recently did that shows that most of the population here in Peoplestown have a high school diploma/ GED or less.

Out of all of these questions, I seem to find only more instead of finding answers, and right now I think that is okay. I am realizing that two and half months isn’t long enough to figure out the answers. What I do know is that I can continue to show up to the after school program with a positive attitude, instilling the importance of education in the kids I work with.

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