It was around lunchtime Thursday and there was not an open parking space to be found at the new Community Renewal office at 1000 N. Kickapoo. But everybody was okay with it; a full parking lot there is a good problem to have.

It was around lunchtime Thursday and there was not an open parking space to be found at the new Community Renewal office at 1000 N. Kickapoo.

But everybody was okay with it; a full parking lot there is a good problem to have. That means the nonprofit's conference room is packed with people trying to learn more about its program –– a mission to build relationships by intentionally caring for others in their city.

Once inside, Community Renewal Director Brandon Dyer spent his noon mealtime sharing with locals the organization's plan to help Shawnee residents band together, strengthening relationships by reaching out to neighbors.

Officially in operation for a few months now, the program is steadily gaining momentum and establishing a solid framework to build on.

The project is a prototype in this area, but response has been positive.

So far, the local group has built up a list of 200 “We Care. Team” members and 50 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.

“We just ordered 1,000 more signs, and we want every one of them distributed,” Dyer said.

Team members put “We care.” signs out in their yards and commit to making a conscious effort to get to know their neighbors. Block leaders take it a step further by committing to take a more active role in interacting with neighbors –– by organizing a block party, for example –– as well as demonstrating their approachability when someone is in need: block leaders are distinguished by the more permanent wooden “We care.” signs displayed in their yards.

Dyer contends the mission couldn't be more simple –– or more productive.

“Societies collapse when we fail to nurture and grow the relational foundation,” he said.

Dyer said, “If the definition of society is a system of relationships –– and relationships have rules –– then we can reverse the effects of societal collapse by following those relational rules.”

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 their grand opening in April and has since challenged the community to make a purposeful effort to reach out to others.

The idea often revolves around rebuilding trust.

“When I know who my neighbor is, I am far more likely to look out after him,” Dyer said.

Society has transitioned into a stigma of clinging to negative assumptions and fears of the unknown, but not everything that is unknown is necessarily a threat.

“Sure, you have to be careful in today's society, especially regarding your children, but the people that live around you that you're suspicious of, are likely decent people –– just like you,” Dyer 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. It is planned for a neighborhood near Jefferson Elementary School.

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 has 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.

Tipton said annual banquets, block parties and larger gatherings of various sorts will have a hand in the community renewal process.

No one has to try to do it alone, she said.

But anyone can do it, Dyer said. “Everyone has the capacity to care.”

Meetings and sharing ideas will help participants work together to look after each other. The group has set up meetings at 11:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month –– offering free lunch to anyone interested in finding out more. The next meeting will be Wednesday, July 13, at the Community Renewal office, 1000 N. Kickapoo.

How it began

Mack McCarter, founder/coordinator of Community Renewal International, has been sharing his message of restoration for 22 years now.

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 informed 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.

To learn more locally, visit Community Renewal Shawnee, OK on Facebook, send an email to brandon@wecareshawnee.org or call (405) 273-1035.

The official website, wecareshawnee.org, launched Wednesday.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.