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  • Volunteer in Shawnee finds Purpose & Career in Neighboring Effort

    When my husband and I moved to Shawnee, I knew that -- Lord willin' and the creek don't rise -- we were committed to this community for the long run. As in, I'm-in-my-30s-and-we'll-probably-die-here long run. As our long term home, I wanted to be intentional about how I spent my time in Shawnee. I could do a lot of good in those 50 years, but I also knew that good would have to fit with raising kids, working full time, living, and loving. Two things happened as I thought about our move. First, I read a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg describes a “keystone habit.” A keystone habit is one that -- once implemented -- impacts everything else. He talks about a manufacturing company who made its keystone habit to be the safest place to work. When the CEO announced this, investors starting pulling out. Was he crazy? Those investors didn’t anticipate that the safety habit would ensure their workers had the best training, the best equipment, the best management, and the best lines of communication. Their bottom dollar, employee retention, and -- yes -- safety ratings went through the roof. Second, I listened to a lecture from a superintendent in an Oklahoma City southside school district, an under-resourced area of the community. He said that he wanted to make his school district the best place for a student to get an education. My brain started connecting dots, running down the list of things you think about with “best place for a student.” Of course, that’s academics, truancy, drop-out rates, and literacy. But it’s also gun violence, gang violence, racism, ableism, sexism, incarceration rates, hiring practices, teacher morale. Making sure the school is the best place for a student also means making sure home is the best place for a student. If a kid’s been verbally abused that morning, it’ll take their hormones levels several hours to get back to normal, making attempts to teach them math or social studies moot. It ensures not only parent involvement in the student’s work but care for the parent. The superintendent finished his lecture and asked for questions or comments. “It’s a keystone habit,” I said. “It impacts everything.” That day, I wrote in my journal, “How do we make Shawnee the best place to raise a kid in the United States?” Not that I'm particularly fond of kids. I'm a one or two at a time kind of kid person. But as I chewed more and more on the superintendent’s intention, I found it to be a keystone habit for a community, too. It means our best schools, yes. It also means safe neighborhoods, stable jobs, and community involvement. Pick an issue and this question addresses it: homelessness, addiction, trafficking, hunger, foster care, domestic violence. I’d found my problem to solve and set a deadline: “Help make Shawnee the best place to raise a kid in the United States by 2068.” That was fifty years down the road and the year I turned 80. It felt reasonable enough. Getting to Shawnee, I kept an eye out for organizations whose work would have the most impact on my mission, an organization already doing the thing, and I could hop on board. Meanwhile, I threw an ice-cream party to meet the neighbors and bring together the folks we’d already met around town. My husband heard about an organization in town that would give you money if you were having neighbor parties. Our school debt ever-present and me kicking off my “writing career,” I gave them a call and asked about money for the party. Apparently, that wasn’t exactly what the organization did, but they did have a free lunch for me if I wanted to hear their pitch. Sitting in a conference room with 25 other community members, I heard about Community Renewal -- a neighboring movement that helps neighbors restore community through intentional relationships. They talked about how societies are built on a foundation of relationships. They talked about the 32 civilizations we can study and how they’ve all collapsed after relationships started to crumble. They told us that if we can build relationships across our community, neighbor-by-neighbor, block-by-block, we can create the safe, caring world we all want. And then, the pièce de résistance. Community Renewal started in Shreveport, Louisiana, 25 years ago in a neighborhood called Allendale. Allendale was so rough that police had to escort ambulances and fire trucks into the neighborhoods, because people would shoot at them and steal stuff off their trucks. Gradually, though, the police noticed they weren’t being called out as often, and they began tracking Allendale’s major crimes. Sitting in that conference room, they told me that after 25 years of neighbors building relationships, major crime went down in Allendale 62% and so far that year there had been zero drug arrests. Zero drug arrests. Zero. It wasn’t gentrification. It’s not now brimming with hipsters and artisan pizza. It’s not even an anomaly: they’ve seen a 50% average decrease in major crimes in their five under-resourced neighborhoods. It was the neighbors, born and raised there, restoring community through intentional relationships. Being true to my tale, I’ll say that I’m a Jesus follower, and my first thought at hearing that was, “Jesus was right.” My second thought was, “This is it.” It wasn’t that the decrease in crime was so impressive, though it clearly was. It's because the decrease in crime was an unintended consequence of the simple act of neighbors getting to know each other. I’ve worked with Community Renewal for four years now, my first year as a block leader and the last three on staff. All the research I read, over and over again, continues to point to building social capital (aka healthy relationships), particularly in neighborhoods, being the solution. Take a peek at some of these quotes: Relationship capital had surpassed financial capital as the scarce, crucial resource that now dictates whether societies either advance or regress. Robert Hall, This Land of Strangers Also, since our minds are shaped by our social communication, the mind can be seen as a relational process as much as it is one dependent on our body’s nervous system, including the brain. Dr. Dan J Seigel, Parenting from the Inside Out In a meta-analysis of studies on loneliness, researchers Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B Smith, and J Bradley Layton found the following: Living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5 percent. Living with obesity, 20 percent. Excessive drinking, 30 percent. And living with loneliness? It increases our odds of dying early by 45 percent. Dr. Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness Here’s a slew from Robert D Putnam’s foundational work on social capital Bowling Alone: "States with more social capital have proportionately fewer murders. This inverse relationship is astonishingly strong -- as close to perfect as one might find between any two social phenomena. Across the various Kids Count indicators, social capital is second only to poverty in the breadth and depth of its effects on children's lives. … our analysis suggests that for some outcomes - particularly SAT scores - the impact of race, poverty, and adult education levels is only indirect. These factors seem to influence the level of social capital in a state, and social capital - not poverty or demographic characteristics per se - drives test scores. Community psychologists have long noted that child abuse rates are higher where neighborhood cohesion is lower. For example, in a widely cited study of two neighborhoods, one with a high child maltreatment rate and the other with a low rate, social capital turned out to be the main factor that distinguished the two communities. These neighborhoods had similar income levels and similar rates of working women and single-parent households. However, in the high-risk neighborhoods, residents were far more reluctant to ask for help from a neighbor. Parents in the high-abuse area were also far less likely to report exchanging childcare with a neighbor or allowing their kids to play with others in the neighborhoods… Informal social networks help shield children from their parents worst moments." Strong Neighborhood Relationships Vital for Societal Health The evidence is overwhelming. Stronger neighborhood relationships may not be the only answer for the systemic issues in our community, but it’s my answer. Connected to dozens of other non-profits serving individuals and families in Shawnee, Community Renewal block leaders connect neighbors to the relationships and resources that they need to thrive. I had a vision while walking through Walmart just after being hired as block leader coordinator. We ask block leaders to pick 5-15 homes to build relationships with by being visible, interacting, and gathering (BIG). It will take 900 block leaders in Shawnee for every 15 homes to have someone looking out for it, and 1000 block leaders in greater Pottawatomie County. As I watched people going about their grocery shopping, I started to tear up, thinking that one day every person I could see would have at least one person looking out for them in their neighborhood. No one would be alone. But we need you. The block leaders need you, those 15 neighbors need you, our community needs you. Together, neighbor to neighbor, block to block, we can make Shawnee the best place to raise a kid in the United States by 2068, just by stepping outside our front doors. Join us.

  • 8 Reasons to Become a Block Leader (and what it means)

    We block leaders are individuals trained by Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County to volunteer in our own neighborhoods to be neighbors who are restoring community through intentional relationships. To fulfill this mission, we pick 5 to 15 neighboring households with whom we build intentional relationships through being visible to them, interacting with them, and gathering them together – also known as BIG. Being visible means being in front of the 5-15 households often enough and in ways that they can recognize our faces. We might be visible by going for walks, working in our yards, or moving our backyard activities to the front yard. Interacting with the 5-15 households means verbally interacting with them. We can do this by inviting a neighbor to walk with us, asking a neighbor about their yard, or visiting while we’re in our front yards. Gathering is inviting or bringing together three or more of the households not including our own. Some examples of gathering could be walking together, hosting a seed swap, or hosting a cookout. If we invite at least three households not including our own to gather, we still celebrate it as a gathering even if less than three come. Showing up for our neighborhood is a vulnerable experience, and we celebrate our bravery to do so. While we’ve given some common examples of how block leaders are BIG in their neighborhoods, each Block Leader practices BIG in a way that fits their life and lifestyle. Being BIG in our neighborhoods starts off like any other habit: it feels risky, hard, and sometimes downright silly. We can forget to do it or put it off. But we can testify that – when we persist – intentional, restorative, neighborhood relationships become a part of our daily lives. Some may resist being organized as block leaders. “I can do that on my own,” they say, “Why do I need to be a part of an organization?” We organize ourselves as block leaders through Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County for eight reasons: Reason 1: To Build Relationships. Relationships come first as block leaders. As block leaders, we are people from many walks of life connected across the community, allowing us to develop our own empathy and connection, combating loneliness that is dividing our country, our communities, and our lives. Reason 2: To Share Ideas. To start anything new, there must be a path to get there. As block leaders, we share ideas to help each other get going and keep going. Reason 3: To Share Resources. We have more together. Being block leaders allows us to share resources, so none of us go without being who we need to be for our neighbors and for ourselves. Reason 4: To Share Responsibility. Neighboring, especially hosting larger gatherings like block parties, can be a lot. As block leaders, we can share one another’s loads, so we can get the job done and have fun doing it. Reason 5: Support Each Other. We will not love our neighbors perfectly. As block leaders, we support each other through empathy, encouragement, brainstorming, celebration, and reminders to have fun! Reason 6: Accountability. It’s easy for life to get away from us. As block leaders, we are accountable to each other and to our block leader commitment. Reason 7: Paint the Bigger Picture. It’s hard to see the bigger picture when we’re neighboring on our own. As block leaders, we play a part in painting the bigger picture of who our community’s becoming. We help see this picture form by submitting the monthly Block Leader Survey, submitting the Annual Neighborhood Survey, and by sharing the Annual Neighborhood Survey with our neighbors and friends. Reason 8: It's fun! In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, researcher Brene Brown identifies 10 guideposts to being a wholehearted person. “Cultivating Play and Rest” is number seven. Both play and rest are physical needs, just like relationships, that combat depression and other mental illnesses. We agree that this world could use a little more play, and we are pleased to help facilitate that in our neighborhoods. We believe that, because of these reasons, anyone seeking intentional relationships in their neighborhoods are capable of joining us in this work. None of us are perfect people: much the opposite. We celebrate our humanity with its weaknesses and flaws. It guides us towards engaging with other people so that we may be stronger together.

  • Mapping Social Circles: A Self-Assessment

    This exercise was originally developed as an activity for Part 2 of the Illuminating Social Isolation workshop series; it is effective with or without watching the accompanying video, but you can find the series here if you'd like the extra guidance! Social circles are a tool used to look at who a person interacts with. While often used in businesses and marketing models, it is also useful for understanding social isolation and seeing how you compare to the healthy average. Here are some quick steps mapping out your own social circles. The method I describe below ends up looking a bit like the spider web of connecting names. Step 1: Social Outlets Draw something in the middle of a paper to represent you, then make a quick scattering of names and groups around you. These are all the people you interact with and have relationships with. Not just your friends but also family, work interactions, religious groups, hobby groups, volunteering, neighbors, or people from places you visit a lot as well (for example that barista who gives you your coffee almost every time you have gone in the past couple months). You can group them together under one title or name or name them all individually. Put them in shapes if you want, it is up to you. Just get your social connections down. Step 2: Rate Your Connection Strength Connect the names back to yourself with meaningful lines. Dotted, dashed, solid, loopy, it does not really matter if you can record which people you are most connected to and who you have the strongest and closest relationships with. Here the lines with the arrows are the most meaningful, with the solid lines after, and then the zigzag lines, and finally the dotted line. If you want to break up groups at this point because you have a different relationship with some people in the group you can. Step 3: Assess Inter-Relation Next, connect anyone people or groups that are connected to each other. While this step is not required, it can be insightful later. Connect them by circling them, drawing lines between, or some other method. It just needs to make senses to you. Congrats! You have a rough map of your social interactions. By itself though, it can’t do much. Now you need to ask yourself some questions. Who are the people you are closest to, maybe your top 3? Do you have a trusting, strong relationship with these people? If something were to happen, and you could not talk to one of those people consistently, who would you talk to instead when you needed something? Is there anything else that surprised you about your social circle? When you start to think about how to make changes in your life to ensure your social health, you can come back to this to start to get an idea of where to start. Ready to take the next step in increasing your social circle in healthy ways? Join the Neighbor Network and select "I want to gather my neighbors" at registration and Zoe will follow up with you personally!

  • How to Build a Life of Caring

    Building a life of caring doesn't have to involve volunteering your time, attending meetings, or adding more things to your ever growing to-do list. You build a life of caring out of the life you're already living, the routine you already know, and the things that already make you happy. Download the worksheet and learn how to leverage your life to care for the people in it.

  • Making a Neighborhood Directory

    One of the best recommendations we have for those neighbors who already have a basic level of trust within their neighborhood is to spearhead a neighborhood directory project. While it might seem strange at first, an informal directory for the neighborhood opens up communication lines and channels for care that would otherwise take much longer to develop. To get you started, we created the following downloadable template! Get the directory template here:

  • Community Renewal’s School-Based Initiative reimagined for Social Distancing

    Before COVID-19 shut down school sites, Community Renewal served nearly 600 at-risk students (identified by their educators) with opportunities tailored to their needs through weekly clubs focused on Social-Emotional Learning and Leadership Development, as well as reaching every elementary student through our Campus Culture program. The We Care. Campus youth development initiative has always been about meeting students where they are and ensuring they have the tools and the support they need to become the caring, connected neighbors we need for the future. With COVID-19 safety measures closing traditional schools for the rest of the semester, meeting students where they are has just taken on an additional layer of meaning for us. Partnership with Shawnee Public Schools, Pleasant Grove School, and McLoud Middle School have enabled us to serve their students at multiple levels of need, and we are walking alongside administrators and teachers now to continue the work we’ve been doing, in new ways. The best example of this is the new daily video series, In the Neighborhood, where club leaders bring their students into their homes, yards, and life to learn one simple aspect of social / emotional health each day. → In the Neighborhood series In addition to this video series, our We Care. Campus initiative staff are connecting with their students through technology and mail, as well as continuing to build relationships with families of our students in their homes and in our neighborhoods. “Staff has been working very hard to ensure we stay connected with our kids” said Club Leader Rachel Monday. “It is exciting to call a family and hear just how much the little act of writing a letter to them made their day. We will do everything we can to make sure they stay safe and healthy during this time while still feeling seen, loved, and valued.” Best of all, We Care. character curriculum is being distributed as a part of Shawnee Public Schools’ distance learning materials, and we were able to produce a version for the Early Childhood Center so the littlest of our kids are also learning to care well, even in this strange and difficult time. → We Care. Campus Daily Activities for littles; “E is for Encouragement”

  • Why Relationships? : A Reading List

    Watch, read, and listen to the recommended resources below to learn more about isolation and its role in our society's systemic issues. Watch “This Land of Strangers” – Robert Hall, Values Aligned Leadership Summit “The lethality of loneliness” – John Cacioppo at TEDxDesMoines “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” – Robert Putnam, LA Times Festival of Books “The hidden influence of social networks” – Nicholas Christakis, TED2010 “Tracing Linkages between Social Isolation and Poverty” – Overcoming Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness symposium, BBC “Our lonely society makes it hard to come home from war” – Sebastian Junger, TED Talks Live “From Isolation to Transformation” – Hazel Stuteley, at TEDxExter “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” – Robert Waldinger, TEDxBeaconStreet “How cohousing can make us happier (and live longer)” – Grace Kim, TED2017 Listen “Businesses to Benefit from Addressing ‘Loneliness Epidemic,’ Doctor Says” -- All Things Considered, NPR “Political Scientist: Does Diversity Really Work?” – Analysis, NPR Read Articles “U.K. Appoints a Minister for Loneliness” – Ceylan Yeginsu, The New York Times “Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health?” – Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research “Poverty, isolation, and opportunity” – Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves, Brookings Institute “How are poverty, ethnicity and social networks related?” – Joseph Rowntree Foundation “The terrible loneliness of growing up in Robert Putnam’s America” – Emily Badger, Washington Post “School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth” – Center for Disease Control “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic” – Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Harvard Business Review “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health” – Jane E. Brody, The New York Times “The Power of Human Touch” – David Brooks, The New York Times “Loneliness May Warp Our Genes, And Our Immune Systems” – Angus Chen, NPR Books This Land of Strangers, Robert Hall A Study of History (The Growth of Civilizations), Arnold J. Toynbee Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown The Art of Neighboring, Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak The Transformations of Man, Lewis Mumford Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam Want to download this list and take it with you? Open the document in a downloadable PDF format below:

  • Restoring Community More Important Than Ever During COVID-19 Shutdown

    How does an organization that exists to promote social connection and combat isolation & loneliness continue its work in a climate of mandated social distance? It's a funny question, really. We have to appreciate the irony of our own existence in this interesting and difficult time, but staff and block leaders agree that this work is even more important now than it was previously, because of the need to isolate for the safety of our greater community. Our platform has always been that social isolation and loneliness are detrimental to our personal and societal health. We go back time and again to the Holt-Lunstad study that shows loneliness is as bad for our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Because of this, we have been working alongside our community in developing, testing, and implementing ways to decrease isolation & loneliness for years, and our work stands on the shoulders of Community Renewal International, who have been doing this for a quarter of a century. Although this crisis is difficult for many, it will ultimately serve a catalyst for the community restoration we’ve already been working on, and that healthy social connections will explode when shelter-in-place & social distancing guidelines are lifted. Since our inception in Fall 2015, we've been working to help neighbors restore community through intentional relationships, offering support in being visible to, interacting with, and gathering neighbors. Neighbors know that social media and electronic versions of social connection are helpful, but that they are not adequate alone to build the kind of relationships we need to be connected, caring individuals. Now that nearly all our connections have to be virtual, for many of us it has re-awakened a desire for face to face interactions. We are getting the opportunity to learn how much we need real, live, non-virtual connection for our social and emotional health. For nearly five years, trained volunteers now numbering in the thousands (156 Block Leaders and 4,230 We Care. team) supported by a dedicated staff have laid important groundwork for our community’s social connectedness -- resulting in heightened resiliency and collective efficacy -- the benefits of which are being reaped now, during this difficult time for our community. “Pfefferbombs’ research shows that communities bounce back better when there’s social capital. The great thing is, because we have been working on this as a community for years, we’re ahead of the curve,” said Block Leader Coordinator Zoe Loeser. “The network is already built, so now we as a staff are focused on supporting those neighbors, and providing resources and education to help them continue the important work of connecting and caring long-term.” Here are a few of the ways we’re responding to COVID-19 operationally: As our on-campus programming is significantly reduced, we are allocating some of our staff to partner organizations who are meeting more acute needs during this time (specifically, Community Market of Pott County and Shawnee Public Schools). We are using our platform as a trusted community voice to maintain and distribute a comprehensive Pottawatomie County-specific Resource List that is updated and distributed widely online on a daily basis. We’re working hard to connect constituents, organizations, and helpers so that the social capital exists to facilitate the movement of resources to the needs. We’re remaining flexible and creative in finding ways to provide comfort & hope to adults & children, such as sending out our We Care. Bear to work at Community Market. Additionally, we have altered the way our programs are delivered, so that all may remain operational. Youth Development Program Changes For the students in our typically campus-based youth development programs, a new daily video series inspired by Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood is airing on YouTube. Produced by club leaders, the series In the Neighborhood released its twentieth episode this week. In each episode, leaders give students a window into their homes, yards, and life to learn one simple aspect of social / emotional health each day. Neighboring Support Altered Block Leaders are meeting weekly (virtually, of course) to offer support, share resources, and encourage one another as neighborhoods have become more active than they’ve been in decades as people are staying home, and the front line of friendly care has moved to neighborhoods. We are also holding online trainings for the We Care. Team to inform & educate on the topics of loneliness and isolation, and how to combat it. The final episode of the series will air next Friday; find Community Renewal on Facebook for more info. “Our experience organizationally is not unlike that of other nonprofits and businesses -- we are having to put a lot of thought and effort into pivoting how our services are delivered to keep this movement going,” said Community Renewal’s Executive Director Brandon Dyer. “I am really excited at what our staff and volunteers have been able to roll out in such a short period of time to keep connection alive and well.” The day will come when we will be safely able to reconnect with people we care about, mask-free and without a 6-foot buffer. As we were before and will be after, we're here to help neighbors restore community through intentional relationships, and we’re going to keep doing just that.

  • 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.

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