Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let's Do Something Beautiful for Jesus - No, Really, Let's Do it.

What follows is a very rough draft of where I think Zion could lead our neighborhood. It hasn’t been approved by anyone in authority. It is simply the result of prayer and watching where God has led us this far.

Vision: That Zion lead the way in our community to God’s brighter future. This is accomplished by getting to know our neighborhood, analyzing it’s needs, and finding innovative and faithful ways of meeting them.

Who is our community?: Our community is roughly defined as the Lower Beaver, Beaver and Meredith Drive neighborhoods. Our immediate activities focus primarily on the Lower Beaver neighborhood with the intention of expanding our ministry work from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city as God leads.

Goal: That Zion Lutheran Church will fully engage with it’s community as a force for God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.

Imagine living in a community where the church led the way in truly knowing and loving our neighbor. Imagine living in a neighborhood, for instance, where every child was intentionally offered pre-college career counseling; college admissions counseling and help finding a job while a student. Imagine a neighborhood where there were people who wanted to coach you on how to handle your money, buy a house or a car, or even learn how to cook economically and nutritionally. Imagine a community where the major businesses and institutions regularly sat down to consider neighborhood issues and how to help solve local problems. Imagine a community where every child was offered a chance to attend camp and where each child was individually known and valued and their future was the top priority of the whole neighborhood. Imagine a community where there was help for those who couldn’t afford their medications and there was emergency help available to solve the kinds of problems that systematic programs cannot address. Imagine a community that united around the concept of education and found ways to provide quality education for all it’s children and supported it’s teachers and made itself available to ensure the best present and future possible for it’s children. Such a community would be a community that had been redeemed, a community where all things were possible, a community that could help other communities unite to bring redemption and hope in other parts of town. This doesn’t have to be a dream. We believe that such things are possible if the church leads the way.

Why is the church uniquely suited to accomplish this task? Because of Jesus. Jesus, the founder and Lord of the church showed us that all people are our neighbors. He encouraged us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him into a life of sacrifice and service. Jesus desires the daily death of the church to itself as it pours his life into the world around it. The church, when it is truly the church, is the last altruistic establishment in our society. The church is capable, when it is truly the church, of uniting disparate groups within our neighborhood to work for good. Finally, the church is the only institution in the world that was founded to sacrifice itself for the good of others. It’s founder set the mark very high. To bring redemption, the church is willing to lay down it’s life and die.

One big value we have is to open as many opportunities as possible for other churches and organizations to partner with us. We realize that we can’t do this alone. We realize that this is a miraculous opportunity for the church in Des Moines to truly be One.

Those who have agreed to be in partnership with us in our community so far: Freedom for Youth, Merle Hay Mall, VA hospital, Broadlawns, various local ethnic restaurants, Wunder Years Academy, Meredith Drive Reformed Church, Lutheran Services of Iowa, International House of Prayer - Iowa, Samuelson Elementary,

Change is coming to the Lower Beaver Neighborhood. The neighborhood is composed of single family and multi-family dwellings built after the second world war. The neighborhood is a great place for a starter or first time home. Prices are reasonable and quality is good. Local apartment complexes have also found recent immigrants to America who are being resettled here through federal partnerships, to be excellent renters. As the immigrants establish themselves, they are purchasing homes in the neighborhood. With the addition of the Thai Village Complex on MLK, which anchors the eastern part of the neighborhood, immigrants are likely to continue to move into the neighborhood. Immigrants have different needs than other minority groups. These needs are tantamount in our consideration as our plans continue.

Below are a series of projects that we believe would help in the redemption of our neighborhood. Some are in progress and could expand, some are yet to be started. A list of needed resources is also provided for each project. The projects are not listed in order of priority.

School transportation for ELL students living 1.7 miles from the school. Because of a very busy street and the distance from school (especially in the winter), Zion is currently providing transportation for 14 students each school day. The current students have been selected by the school. Different groups, living in the same apartment complexes as the students, are now petitioning the church through Lutheran Services of Iowa to increase our activity to include their children as well. There is definitely an identified need here for expansion. Needed resources: Another van or larger bus. Drivers. Gas. Maintenance of vehicle. Vehicle insurance.

Whiz Kidz Tutoring Program (in affiliation with Freedom for Youth). Currently, as many as 55 kids participate on Wednesday nights (Sept - May). With 15 tutors, we are hard pressed to provide one-one tutoring but consider the fact that the kids keep coming (and bringing friends) to be justification to continue. The environment is safe and the atmosphere fun. Dinner is also provided. Needed resources: educational supplies, furniture, tutors, transportation, drivers.

Neighborhood Emergency Fund: The idea is to establish a fund, replenished on a regular basis; that would be available to aid families in our neighborhood in an intentional but non-recurring way. Examples would be, helping with a special, one time project or emergency need (car repair). Special counselors would administer the fund and would meet with each applicant to determine how needs could best be addressed. Needs: money for fund

Prescription Assistance Fund: A special fund would be established and made available to help people in the neighborhood who are having trouble filling their medications. The fund could be accessed only at the request of a local pharmacist. Needs: money for fund

Community Garden: Using available land at Zion that is currently not in use, the idea is to create garden plots that would be available to immigrant families. Some small percentage of plots would be made available to families in the church. The plots would follow basic guidelines established by the City of Des Moines in their community gardening program. Applications would be taken from immigrant families and then a lottery would be used to choose which would receive the plots. Lutheran Services of Iowa would be our partner in this. Needs: fence, ultimately, a water line, monthly water charge

Soccer team: The local apartment complexes are full of young kids with nothing to do. In order to provide structure and discipline, we propose starting a soccer team. The kids would help to raise some of their own support and the church would help with the rest. Soccer is universally played by the kids and this would serve as a way of bringing them together in a positive activity. We would either join a league or find a way to enter into competition with other clubs. Needs: Uniforms, equipment, any fees associated with being part of a league; travel expenses?

Art Camp: Creativity is an important aspect of human life and as we seek to provide opportunities for kids in our neighborhood we don’t want to forget to foster their creative and innovative spirit. Beginning in July, 2011, Zion will host a week long summer art camp for kids 3rd - 6th grade. The week long camp, which begins with a meal, will expose the kids to various artistic media and allow them to express themselves in a productive way. Needs: about $25 per child; supplies

ESL classes for parents: Much of the work so far has focused on children. But it is very important that learning English doesn’t isolate parents from their children. Parents need to learn English as well. We proposed hosting ESL classes at the church taught by volunteers from inside and outside the church. Classes would be held at times convenient for the parents work schedules, perhaps on weekends or Wednesday evenings.

Music Camp. We propose sponsoring a music camp in the summer. There are many musicians in the church happy to teach and these musicians have friends in the community who could help. The camp could run for a week or be a weekly activity, depending upon the response from musicians. We would seek to find instruments for the kids to play. A small guitar, for instance, runs about $100. We could borrow rhythm instruments from local schools. A few more electronic keyboards and maybe another drum set would help as well. The next challenge would be how to find instruments the kids could afford if they proved to have a desire to continue with their musical studies. The music camp experience would conclude with community concert.

Furniture and clothing for immigrant families. New immigrants being resettled in Des Moines will number about 100 persons per year in 2011. That’s down from over 300 per year three years previously. The decrease in new immigrants comes about because sponsoring organizations no longer felt they could do a good job in light of budget cuts and many of the supporting systems, like education, were already overwhelmed. Des Moines is now becoming a secondary settlement site, however, as families move here now after having been settled in other areas of the country, to be close to family and friends and also because Iowa has a good job market. The Chin people and Iraqis are now coming to Des Moines in “second migrations.” Zion is well connected in the local refugee community and we are consistently asked to help new families establish themselves in apartments with donations of furniture or clothing.

Camperships: This year, our dream is to send about 28 kids to Riverside Camp. We think the camping experience will be formative in the lives of our neighborhood kids. We’d like to be able to offer scholarships to every child in the neighborhood and church. We’ve found an amazing partner in Riverside Camp who will work with us to accommodate our children. We believe it would be best for the children to earn some of the money themselves through fund raisers or through doing various jobs at church or in the neighborhood. Needs: money for scholarships. A selection process. Someone to oversee the project, especially helping the kids to raise their part of the expense.

Career and education counseling: There are so many opportunities open to kids you wonder how come any of them would fail to take advantage. But while there are many opportunities, there are very few people in the lives of the kids telling them what they’re good at. Kids are attracted to the things that high salaries can buy, but may not have the right set of aptitudes to succeed in a particular field. However, they may have amazing aptitudes in another field. The idea for this project is to offer counseling by professionals to help the kids determine where they are gifted and in what kinds of things they are interested in or even good at. When a field of interest is selected, it should be possible for the kids to shadow or observe that profession. Finally, a course of study and direction can be lined out for the kids to follow as they seek to achieve their goals. The desire of the program is to give intentionality to the process of deciding “what do I want to be when I grow up?” Without a future to dream about, the present often seems bleak. Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to say that the goal is to help the child choose a target, take aim, and hit the target. Needs: counselors and their fees; a way to market the program.

Life skills training: We live in a world of fractured families, and often times that means that information doesn’t get passed down from one generation to another. Holes develop, and critical information doesn’t get passed along. This project would seek to plug some of those holes, as well as train people who are new to our culture who may never have developed the skills necessary to manipulate the systems we take for granted. Topics include bill paying, budgeting, house and car purchasing, cooking/menu planning. Needs: There are plenty of realtors, car salesmen and financial planners in the church we can rely on. Home economics people, maybe money for demonstrations.

Parenting Seminars: with translation... In many refugee families both mother and father are working very long hours. Since many are working in meat packing plants an hour or more away, they are gone from home much of the time. This has led to some discipline problems as parents are too tired to raise their children. Compounded by the fact that the children are learning English at school faster than their parents are at work, inequities and imbalances are developing in the traditional roles of parents and children. Parenting skills are now in serious need of being taught given the new reality of families. We understand that not many will want to attend these sessions but we also know that these sessions are critically important. Needs: presenters. presenter fees?

Establish a neighborhood employment network: On the westside, Lutheran Church of Hope has Hope@work, a successful ministry dedicated to helping people find employment and pursue their goals. While Hope@work is much more than an employment agency, we have no equivalent in our neighborhood for far less skilled positions. What if we could partner with Hope@work to start a northside version of the ministry that would focus on jobs that were open to new immigrants or less educated people. The goal would be to help new immigrants and others to find local employment with good wages so that they wouldn’t have to travel so far for work and be away from their families for so long (see previous). Hope@work also helps people prepare resumes and determine the steps necessary to advance their careers. Need: cooperation from Hope@work and some people with a passion for this.

Establish a neighborhood round table: Basically to continue what we’re doing in terms of networking local businesses, institutions, schools, churches, apartment complexes, home owner associations, etc, together for future planning, co-operation and collective response to neighborhood needs.

Establish a Des Moines area refugee resettlement and assimilation round table: Referencing the beginning paragraphs of this document, Des Moines was once proud to welcome over 300 new refugees a year. Currently, many regard our resettlement efforts as being broken. The schools and social services seem overwhelmed, as do the resettlement agencies themselves. Perhaps during this “lull in the action,” we should strive to bring together city, county, school, resettlement agencies, employers, churches and others and establish a round table group to plan the way forward. Perhaps by creating space for people and institutions to work together, we might establish a united approach to welcoming new refugees to our city.

Partnerships with Local Apartment management: Keeping good relationships with the apartment managers and owners allows us to advocate on behalf of the tenants. For instance, when bed bugs are a problem, some managers are reluctant to spray. If the managers trusted the church as a positive force in their properties, perhaps the church could accomplish things on behalf of the tenants to keep the apartments healthy and habitable. Helping the managers make small improvements to their properties while raising the quality of life for the tenants might be one way to build relationships and trust. Such things as building and installing picnic tables, charcoal grills, outdoor seating areas, even helping with routine cleaning or maintenance are ideas. Needs: money for supplies.

Community education experiences about the refugee community: Offer short seminars on what it’s like to be a refugee, the history and individual stories of the people in our neighborhood, maybe some role playing and some ideas on how individuals and organizations can help.

Partnership with Samuelson Elementary: Samuelson probably already has a corporate partner and we don’t know who that is yet or what they do. But our brothers and sisters at Meredith Drive have been doing such a good job at Moulton Elementary, having monthly birthday events for the kids, writing encouraging words to the teachers, and trying to supply needs in the classroom, that we thought we ought to at least try something like this for Samuelson.

Comprehensive Neighborhood Education Strategy: Everyone agrees that our local teachers are doing a wonderful job working with the ELL students. There is a volume problem, however. The school’s resources are overwhelmed and in a season of cutbacks, it’s probably naive to look for help from the district. But perhaps we could work with other districts and even parochial schools to spread the joy and intentionally open enroll some of the children into other schools with more current capacity.

Vacation Bible School: Looks like we’ll be having a lot more kids this year from the neighborhood. Having successfully brought them to church for Wednesday nights, we’re confident they’ll come in the summer for things like VBS.

Local Outreaches: Our involvement in the community started with these outreaches and they seem the best way to get to know the kids and invite them to church. We have four planned at Redeemer Lutheran Church and plans are underway for a joint event in our neighborhood with Wunder Years Academy. We plan to return to Douglas Terrace as well.

After School program: In the next 18 months, we hope to develop an after school program for the neighborhood that would provide education, food, Jesus, and a safe environment for all.

College/Vo-Tech Scholarship program: We hope to find individuals and corporations that would consider contributing to a neighborhood scholarship fund. This is one way we could celebrate as a neighborhood the graduation of our local children. It would unite the community in showing our kids that they do matter and that they are known.

Toys/hobbies: We hope to put in some little money into some “hobby” projects for the kids that they could build or work on at church. For instance, building a model race track, a train layout, etc. This helps in teaching the kids to work together, to be part of something larger than themselves, and helps to work on English. Not to mention the fact it is an excellent way to bring hobby enthusiasts and the kids together.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

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