What is a Friendship House? a chat with Travis Flood

You work for Community Renewal as the Friendship House Coordinator.

Tell me a little about Community Renewal and then give us a good look at Friendship Houses!

Community Renewal was started by a gentleman named Mack McCarter in Shreveport, Louisiana. It evolved from him seeing some of the things that society needed - the broken down relationships that were causing families, communities, and neighborhoods to come apart. He realized that politics and religion and government and all the things weren’t going to fix this. What was going to fix this was when we individually, one by one, begin loving and caring for each other again.

Our mission is to help neighbors restore community through intentional relationship. That’s the fancy lingo for what Community Renewal does. It’s about restoring relationships, about being intentional, about loving on each other, about getting out of our fancy boxes we pull up to and shut the door, and saying there are bigger better things right outside this door. It’s not the cars, it’s not the homes, it’s not the neighborhoods. It’s the people. Those are the things we need to be investing in, and those are the things we need to be seeking out. That’s what makes our lives better.

Through that, there is a three tier process of Community Renewal. The first one is what we call the “we care team.” There are more good guys and good gals in this world than bad guys and bad gals. We’re going to do our best to unite on the same team and say “we care, period.” Not “we care if,” not “we care when,” not “we care because,” but “we care, period.”

The second tier is our block leaders. They go a little bit further. “I’m going to be part of the we care team, but I’m also going to seek out my neighbors and seek out the people on my block. I’m going to get us all together and find common ways that we can get together and hang out and do things.” We hope that through those interactions, we can share and lift and be part of life and help each other overcome the bad but also celebrate the good. Being able to share that with other people helps them to see, “Man, these are real people just like me. They live and do life just like me.” When we share in that, we become real to each other.

The last part is the friendship house, and that’s what I have the awesome privilege of being a part of. A friendship house is where we have an intentionally picked out neighborhoods that, from the outside, looks broken. It’s easy to spot some neighborhoods where it feels like the trust is gone. They feel like there’s not as much openness and love in that neighborhood. The friendship house is a hub where we can bring other organizations to them. They can meet with themselves and enjoy and get back to trusting and loving and taking care of and being part of things. Our hope, through friendship houses, we can intentionally move a family in there that will live out of a house to bring those families back together, to bring joy and hope back into their lives - that they already have. They haven’t lost it. They just can’t see it right now.

Friendship house in Shreveport has just astronomical results in the neighborhoods. The crime statistics are just one thing that’s absolutely amazing. They have 10 houses right now that are spread out over five different neighborhoods. The last data that the Shreveport Police Department released was over an average 51% decrease in violent crimes where these houses are. There’s one neighborhood in particular. Fire and EMS would not respond without a police escort to this neighborhood, because they would get mugged. They would get shot at or they would steal stuff off of their trucks while trying to help people in the neighborhood. In that neighborhood, this last year, they reported zero drug arrests.

It’s amazing. It has nothing to do with the fact that there’s a friendship house on the top of the hill. It has everything to do with the group of people getting together and saying, “It’s time for us to start caring for and loving on each other. It’s time for us for us to build relationship and get to know each other.” One by one those relationships grew and grew and grew. It’s not just one family or two families in there. It’s those  two families loving on a family and that family going next door and loving on a family and that family going. It’s the domino effect that continues to change and reshape that neighborhood.

Why are Community Renewal and Friendship Houses not gentrification?

We want to make sure that every time we talk to anybody from a “disadvantaged neighborhood,” our plan is to bring, not necessarily who we are to them, but to go help them become the best them they can be. We don’t want to replace their life and value with our life and our values. At no point do we tell them that they have to live or act or walk or talk or do anything like we do. Those values and beliefs shape us as people, but they at no point should be forced on someone to assimilate.

Our plan is to come and say, “We love you just like you are, just who you are, and we want you and your family have what you and your family feels like it needs to be successful.” We want to come in and say, “We want to help you. What do you see your life needing to be? What are some of the things you would like for your family to have and achieve?” It’s not because of the things we bring to them, but it’s giving them the tools that they want and they need to make a better life for themselves. We want them to be proud of who they are and to be able to give something back to their families. Those neighborhoods were there long before we came on the scene and will be there long after we leave this earth.

Our hope is that we can help those neighborhoods grow to the glory that that neighborhood wants to be, not what we want it to be.

What advice can you give to readers about engaging their neighborhoods?

The thing I love about this is you do not have to be that superstar that everybody just loves and wants to be friends with. You don’t have to be that superstar, but you do have to be authentic.

That’s the first thing. Be real, be authentic. If there’s a struggle there, then work on that struggle first before you try to enter into a relationship. Tear down some of those barriers some of those things that would keep you from really loving or caring for that person. The worst thing ever would be to enter into the relationship and go, “Hey, I want to be friends with you,” and then go, “Hey, that’s weird about you. I can’t be your friend anymore.” That’s no good.

The next thing would be look for common ground. It’s not going to be politics. It’s not going to be religion. It’s not going to be sports teams. But everybody can say, “I want a safe, clean neighborhood. I want to wake up everyday and be excited about where I live and the people next door to me. I want to walk out on my porch and wave at my neighbor and have them wave back to me and feel like I like them and they like me.” Those are things common things that you can really start out on.

Share things that you love. If there’s something you really enjoy, share it with somebody. Be intentional about looking around and noticing things that other people do and try to engage in that. We can’t just show up and say, “Hey, everything’s great! You’re going to be my friend.” You have to say, “Hey, here’s something that I really love and if you like it, great. If you don’t, great. What are something that you like to do? Oh, I’ve never tried that.”

The best friendships that I have are people that don’t look like me, that don’t act

like me, that don’t talk like me. I’ve realized that those people are going to be people that I want to be around. They make my life richer. They make my life fuller. They make me want to think outside of the everyday I get so caught up in. Look for those opportunities.

Anything else?

Just care, period. Leave all the if, and, and buts out. If you care, period, then people will know that it’s real.