Intentional caring. It's a simple concept that packs enough punch to wipe out a complex problem worldwide.
Note: An in-depth look at how locals have banded together to embrace the Community Renewal concept –– an international good neighboring program –– and working to establish it in Shawnee.
It's a simple concept that packs enough punch to wipe out a complex problem worldwide.
About a month into operation locally, the program promoting restoration of relationships from within neighborhoods is getting organized and establishing a solid framework to build on.
After two years of planning, Community Renewal Shawnee recently held its kickoff banquet, showing many signs –– both physical and spiritual –– that residents do care.
Response was positive. About 350 attendees packed the house –– more than expected –– to hear keynote speaker Mack McCarter, founder/coordinator of Community Renewal International, share his message of restoration. McCarter has been championing the project for 22 years now.
But how did such a program manage to find support in Shawnee, America?
News of the project made its way to Shawnee through a conversation between two friends –– David Dodd, a consultant who works with FEMA, and Tim Burg, executive director of the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation –– where Dodd intormed Burg of the project.
“I went to Shreveport and what I saw I thought would be beneficial to Shawnee,” Burg said.
Eventually, Community Renewal International delegates were brought here to explain their neighborhood project.
Burg invited Michelle Briggs, president of Avedis Foundation, to the informational meeting at University Baptist Church.
Briggs immediately saw its potential, and set off to check out the program more thoroughly.
Avedis has since taken delegations to Shreveport, Louisiana, to see how the effort functions by re-establishing neighborhoods by re-establishing relationships there.
Brandon Dyer, employed by Avedis, is the director for the Pottawatomie County Community Renewal project –– the local effort to bring caring back into the community.
Dyer –– along with Jan Tipton, Care Team coordinator, and Travis Flood, Friendship House director –– who will be moving with his family into Shawnee's first Friendship House –– rolled out red “We care” signs at the beginning of April and challenged the community to make a purposeful effort to reach out to others.
“The beautiful thing about this is that all walks of life within the community are meeting together toward a common goal,” Dyer said. “There's no other platform like it anywhere that I am aware of.”
The idea revolves around rebuilding trust and relationships.
Society has transitioned into a stigma of clinging to negative assumptions and fears of the unknown.
The community needs to reclaim some things that got lost in the name of privacy, Dyer said.
“Most homes now have a great back porch surrounded by privacy fences,” Flood said. “People no longer hang out on the front porch and visit with their neighbors.”
Tipton said when trust has been taken away, parents are afraid to let their children play outside –– everyone is looked at as a threat –– and that creates a really negative impact.
Not everything that is unknown is necessarily a threat.
Flood said, “We have to put a name to that person. It totally changes the way we interact with them.”
It's much easier to blow off the random cat lady, he said.
“Once you meet her and learn her name, you're more likely to act friendlier,” he said. “So, for instance, after you get to know your neighbor Miss Susie, maybe you're more apt to go help her instead of just griping about stuff like the cat lady's fallen trash can or tall grass.”
“Isolation is our enemy,” Dyer said.
It's not that privacy is bad, he said, but communities have lost something for that.
“We're not asking anyone to be best friends with everyone on their block, just get to know each other –– look out for each other,” he said.
Everyone ought to live in a community where they are safe and cared for, Dyer said.
It's just a matter of treating everyone with dignity and respect, he said.
Flood's job is a good example of how the program intends to restore relationships.
He and his family will be moving into Shawnee's first Friendship House. It will feature a community room where neighborhood meetings and after school programs can be held.
The kicker, of course, is that it immerses Flood and his family into that neighborhood. They will then have a stake in what goes on there –– a personal investment.
“He's in the fight right there with them,” Dyer said.
It makes it real.
Flood said it's not the same as sending a random someone –– a person from some unrelatable socio-economic background –– around, pointing fingers, saying, 'We're going to fix you.'
There's no judgement or condemnation.
“It's a support system. We are asking how can we help?” Flood said.
Dyer said the whole concept is based on willingness and word of mouth.
No one is forced to comply or jump through difficult hoops.
Monthly meetings and sharing ideas help participants work together to look after each other.
No one has to try to do it alone, Tipton said.
But anyone can do it.
“Everyone has the capacity to care,” Dyer said. “Peoples' differences don't have to play into it at all.”
Dyer said a recent field trip has already made a noticeable difference.
“We took a group of boys to a Thunder game recently,” he said.
In order for these kids to be eligible for such trips, they have to make a serious effort to make good choices, Dyer said.
“The principal at one of our schools has already noticed a positive change in how some of the boys interact,” he said.
But, like most large, continual endeavors, it costs money.
Avedis has granted funds for the first year, to get the program off the ground, Dyer said.
He said though Avedis will likely remain a partner on some level, there are many other pressing projects the foundation needs to focus on.
“We are looking at sources for funding the project,” Dyer said. “We want to be able to fund programs and resources to keep this going.”
Tipton said annual banquets, block parties and larger gatherings of various sorts will have a hand in the community renewal process.
So far, the local group has built up a list of 180 We Care members and 40 Block Leaders committed to the program.
Dyer said the group wants 10 to 20 times that many.
“Ultimately, we want a Leader on every block,” he said.
Community Renewal Pottawatomie County has an office space, at 1000 N. Kickapoo, under construction that could be fully operational by June, Dyer said.
Though the project is a prototype in this area, the community renewal idea is gaining momentum. According to Community Renewal International, at communityrenewal.us, there are more than 1,300 Haven House neighborhood block leaders have been trained and more than 50,000 We Care Team members –– touting a 45-percent reduction in major crime within five of its Friendship House target areas.
“People from all walks of life are connecting, discovering new meaning and purpose, and working together for a better community,” the website states.
To learn more about Community Renewal International, visit communityrenewal.us.
To learn more locally, visit Community Renewal Shawnee, OK on Facebook, send an email to email@example.com or call (405) 273-1035.
An official website is under construction.
Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.