Last month, I took part in a series of interviews held with young neighbors in the Mapleton Fall Creek neighborhood here in Indianapolis as part of Broadway United Methodist Church‘s JSP Roving Youth summer program. I also made my first collaborative video, and my second edited video ever!
As Roving Youth, these young folks would be paid over the next few months getting to know their neighbors and the stories, assets and talents that lie in their neighborhood–one conversation at a time–and then working together as a group to explore creative ways to “Name, Bless, Connect and Celebrate” what they found.
Now duplicated in Macon, Georgia and Kentucky, this fascinating practice is rooted in asset-based thinking: that communities are strong when neighbors’ gifts, talents and passions are visible, connected and flowing–and when citizens are at the center of community improvement as leaders and doers.
I deeply admire Broadway’s long-standing commitment to acting as the “yeast” in it’s neighborhood–lifting up all the good for others to see–rather than an identifier, amplifier or even a sanctified “fixer” of all that is wrong in this place. As part of their commitment to building economy and of replacing charity with investment, this church stands out by designing as many of its functions as possible to put money directly into the hands of neighbors as paid staff, consultants, cooks, artists, and more.
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I participated last year as a paid “Team Leader” in the Roving Youth program–and learned quickly that my gift is not being put “in charge” of a group of teens.
To my huge relief and joy, this year I was recruited in a capacity that felt much closer to my own gift: documentation via photography, writing, and my new interest, video. My other new joy came from having a partner in storytelling crime–gifted natural documenter (photographer/videographer) Charita Roberts.
Charita, now in her early 20’s, began her work as a Rover 5 years ago as one of the “Originals” – ie., when the jobs were first created on the heals of the successful work done by the “Original Roving Listener,” De’Amon Harges. Drawing on his natural gift for observing the inherent gifts of people in neighborhood–especially those who are seen as most “needy” by society–De’Amon created waves of energetic neighborhood collaboration around shared passions and entrepreneurial ideas by celebrating and bringing together people… gardeners, mechanics, artists, cooks, healers, and more. (More on his story here)
Mind you, all of this happened in a neighborhood that the most of Indianapolis sees mainly as dangerous, broken and full of more needs and problems than gifts and assets.
A few years into De’Amon’s work, Broadway decided to shift how they did their summer programming, from your typical day-time sports, etc. activities to something that could become a game-changer and a way to invest long-term in the people and place surrounding them.
In search of this alternative, the church hired two neighbors, Terri Coleman and Martha Wright, who had demonstrated their skills, insights, and passion for young people by always having youth on their porch. Terri and Martha were charged with figuring out how to do a completely different kind of summer program–one which would look nothing like the last one, would reach about 200% more people, and would satisfy Broadway’s three credos:
Build Mutual Delight
Thus was born the Jubilee Summer Program (JSP) Roving Youth Corps. That summer, a small core of young people walked with Terri and Martha around the neighborhood and held conversations with their neighbors in search of their gifts. Then, they experimented with ways to celebrate and connect who and what they had found. As Terri told me, it was a magical experience of uncovering buried treasure in the place where she had lived for years.
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Years later, this experiment has grown into a multifaceted creature, complete with applications and a full team of neighbors of different ages who are now Team and Teen Leaders, in charge of different groups of Rovers. Many of the Team Leaders are seasoned rovers who began years back, like Charita.
I loved bearing witness to this interview process — perhaps, mostly because of both how rare and how special what was happening felt to me. And perhaps secondly, because I was able to be there to capture it, not just alone but with a partner with whom I could trade off video angles and still to live shooting modes, and who I knew I’d be later reviewing and compiling the footage into a story to share with the world. What’s more, I got an intensive crash course in Lightroom! The magic of collaboration in any creative craft cannot be over-glorified, especially in my world as someone who so often works solo as an artist and storyteller.
Here’s what we put together for the first segment of the summer’s powerful work in discovering neighborhood abundance and weaving together community.
So, without further ado… Action!
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As always, I’d love to hear your reactions, stories, musings… especially on the video as it’s one of the first I’ve been involved in creating!
Stay tuned for an interview with Charita and more stories from the summer.