Posted by irakowler on March 30, 2010
The Gaithersburg Neighbor Corps group has been experiencing the value of informal relationship building for several months now. While activities like the Trust Fall were fun and brought us closer together, the best times to build relationships are down times, like playing Scrabble during the retreat, our conversations during lunch and carpooling, or catching up with reminder calls.
Last Friday, we took our relationships a step further by meeting for dinner at Ay Jalisco in Gaithersburg. The other patrons were certainly surprised to see such a big group of diverse people laughing and enjoying quesadillas, nachos, tacquitos, and more! We were even treated to some live music at the end of the evening.
However, the dinner also raised some interesting issues around language. Without Katie (she’s vacationing in Spain!) or any other translator, we struggled with some language/communication difficulties. In the future though, we might not always have a translator available when out in the community. How can we get better at communicating across these lines of difference? During the dinner, each person wrote down one question they have about language on an index card. We might be exploring some of those questions at our next session.
Is there something that you’ve always wondered about language?
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Posted by sebastianbrown on March 24, 2010
Last night, over 30 Essex House residents gathered to really begin the process of transforming their apartment building into a community…where neighbors truly got one another’s back; where neighbors know each other by name and favorite food and always have an extra minute to chat to find out what’s new in each other’s lives. A community where neighbors watch out after their neighbors’ kids playing in the parking lot as though they were their own. We’re not there yet but if nothing else, last night showed us all that we’re well on our way.
After Loretta and Emily expressed frustration around not being able to find a job despite having apllied for dozens of positions, Bundu, with a college degree in writing, explained that she’s be more than willing to help anyone strengthen their resume. She also said that she’s struggled to find affordable childcare for her two young children. Immediately after, Sharon said she had plenty of free time and would love to watch after Bundu’s kids during the day. Both Jaquette and Jacob offered tutoring help, Jaquette with math and Jacob with French. As a group, they all suggested that together they should coordinate using the community center–which remember, hadn’t been used for 3 years before last week’s meeting–for after school program for kids; even if it’s just a few residents watching after the kids for an hour or so each day.
In addition, nearly every resident expressed frustration at what they see as an extremely unfair and unforgiving towing policy, which has cost many of them hundreds of dollars just in the last month. They hope to spend the next couple weeks organizing themselves and developing a clear message that they can then present to the Property Manager Jeff in a clear and respectful way. While Jeff wasn’t able to make the meeting last night, at the previous meeting he said he was eager for the formation of a tenants group that he could be in open communication with around residents’ concerns.
Perhaps the most powerful moment was when Najma Shire stood up to introduce herself. Probably over 80 years old, at first she appeared nervous to speak in her broken English. When some in the group said she only spoke Somali, she interupted and said “They call me mama Yeye.” After Ronnie asked why, the whole group responded “Because she’s the mother to everyone in the apartment.” Several times within a span of a few minutes the whole room erupted into applause out of pure respect for the amazing amount of wisdom and positive energy that emanates from this woman in everything she does. Embraced by an Ethipioan on her right and a younger African American mother on her left, she is visibly the bedrock of this community. As Sara said afterwards, words weren’t necessary to communicate with mama Yeye. Her spirit does all the talking.
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Posted by katieschmahl on March 24, 2010
For session #3 Neighbor Corps went out in the neighborhood to do asset mapping!
First, George led us in our Hello Circle and our reconnect question to start us off. (Thanks for the support George!)
Then we talked about what our common vision was for Gaithersburg. Each person drew their vision on a sheet of paper and then in small groups we came up with ideas that were in the drawings. Then as a full group, we came up with these common themes:
- open access for everyone to nature, recreational sites, education and all resources
- it’s a safe area for everyone
-people aren’t afraid to greet people they see on the street, they help each other
-and it’s a very inclusive and supportive atmosphere
After that, we broke for lunch and then came back together to talk about assets. Tim led us through a discussion on what personal and community assets were and how we can identify them in the neighborhood. He encouraged us to “think creatively” about what we normally think of as assets; for ex. maybe a park bench or a forest can be an asset!
Then..we went walking into the neighborhood! We split up into 7 groups of about 3 people and each group had a section in either Washington Grove, Old town Gaithersburg, Emory Grove, Girard Street, or along East Diamond Ave.
As a group we discovered about 150 different shared assets in an hour! We also had some great discussions with residents we met along the way. For ex. Paula, Judy and Bill talked to some business owners in Old Town about what their challenges were and received mixed responses, some about safety and some about rent. Also, George, Laura and I went to a community off of Washington Grove Lane to talk to a woman we met about what she liked about Gaithersburg and what she would change. It turned out that there was a new development being built right next to her 60 year old neighborhood, and she was concerned about the new residents using their one lane road to get out of the development.
It was amazing to share all the discoveries we had made with the whole group-some assets were new to many people-they said they had driven down the road many times but never taken the time to actually see or visit all the restaurants, stores, schools, parks, etc! Our homework for next session is to visit one of the places that we had never been to before and to talk to the owner and introduce yourself and Neighbor Corps! We’ll be starting with dinner at Ay Jalisco on Friday!
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Posted by soriasoria on March 24, 2010
Tuesdays Together: Census 2010 Party!
Yesterday we had our Tuesdays Together Census 2010 party; all of our neighbors brought their census forms and we helped them fill them out.
We had 50 participants last night and it was a great opportunity to answer many questions our neighbors had about the upcoming Census.
It’s great to be helping the Census 2010 move on.
After we had some music and good food. Some danced and other just gave each other mutual support on finding jobs and community services.
Great night and don’t forget to fill and return your Census forms.
See you next Tuesday!
Posted in dancing party time, Tuesdays Together, Wheaton | 1 Comment »
Posted by soriasoria on March 18, 2010
Neighbor Circle at Mr. Santiago's apartment.
Our Tuesdays Together participant and friend Santiago hosted its first neighbor circle this past Wednesday 17, 2010.
Health services and jobs were the main issue neighbors had in our event. What started as a quite group finished in a very dynamic and empowering event. Daniel and his wife will be participating in our next Tuesdays Together and visit Rosa at Catholic Charities this Friday to apply for services.
Santiago demonstrated his leadership and mutual support to the whole group.
We just need to hear and understand our neighbors to empower and engage them in the community.
Thank you Santiago for opening your door and letting your neighbors be part of our network.
Posted in Community Connectors, Neighbor Circles, Tuesdays Together, Wheaton | Leave a Comment »
Posted by katieschmahl on March 16, 2010
Paula falls into the trust circle
In our second session of Neighbor Corps, it was all about building trust and figuring out what assumptions or stereotypes we make about others that are different races, nationalities, genders or ages from us. First we discussed the actions we had taken over the week to connect with our accountability groups or with the rest of the participants in Neighbor Corps. Most groups had tried to meet up in person but couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts. However, they had still connected over email or by phone.
Next, we got into pairs and talked about the stereotypes each of us have about a group of people that are different from us and then shared with the bigger group. After enjoying some lunch from the Chicken Basket, we started learning about the different types of trust that exist; simple, blind, and authentic and then did a trust fall in a circle. Scott demonstrated and then we got into small circles and had one person in the middle who closed their eyes and fell backwards or forwards into the arms of people in the circle who would then push them gently back to standing position. For some people it was easy to trust the circle, but for others, it was more difficult and took a few times to be comfortable falling with your eyes closed!
Afterward, participants responded that they really appreciated the support they felt in the circle. Some said that they thought it was a metaphor for trusting in community while others noticed that some parts of the circle were not as strong as other parts but together we had made it work and nobody ever dropped the person in the middle!
We are clearly a stronger community when we’re all working together!
For our last activity we shared some personal stories about our social identities, such as: where we grew up, what our family experiences were, and how our experiences around race, ethnicity and nationality have influenced our views and attitudes today.
What we discovered was that when we acknowledge and value each others individual differences, we realize that by being a part of this group is so much better than being apart.
Stay tuned for Asset Mapping next week!!
Posted in Gaithersburg, Neighbor Corps | 1 Comment »
Posted by sebastianbrown on March 16, 2010
Despite the rain, this past Sunday nearly 40 Northwest Park and Hampshire West parents and dozens of their children showed up to the Broad Acres Elementary School Cafeteria to meet each other, play some soccer and….meet the famous Bolivian soccer player Marco Etcheverry. Unfortunately, Marco–known as El Diablo from his days on DC United–never showed up. But even without him, we had a chance to chat with the parents for a half hour about the campaign, as well as learn a little bit about each of them–specifically how they’re involved in the school. Many of them talked about being a part of the newly forming PTA, currently called PIC (Parents Involvement Committee). As a side note, Broad Acres is the only elementary school in the county to not have a standing PTA so this is a pretty big development.
Several parents asked the general group about any ideas for after-school activities for kids in the neighborhood. One mother even came up to Megan and I afterward and asked about any available counseling services for her overly aggressive son. We pointed her toward Andrea, the head of Linkages for Learning, the mental health program associated with schools around the county including Broad Acres.
While we were inside talking about the campaign and available county and community resources, the kids were outside in the parking lot playing soccer drills led by Jorge and Dave, heads of the Long Branch Athletic Association, our partner in putting on the event. In addition to funding dozens of local rec sports teams of low-income children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the equipment and registration fees of the different leagues, they host a daily after school program where kids study for an hour and then let loose on the soccer field for an hour. Thanks to Dave and Jorge and their outreach efforts, we had a great turnout and now have lots of great new community members interested in getting more involved.
And as far as Marco goes, we plan on making him feel super guilty and forcing him to attend the school’s upcoming international night….in addition to signing the jersey and soccer balls that we raffled off at the end of the day. One way or another, we’ll get the Diablo.
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Posted by sebastianbrown on March 16, 2010
After not having held their monthly community meeting for four months, Serena, Josepha and Ely from Northwest Park were excited to do some door knocking last Monday in a few buildings immediately surrounding the YMCA Community Center to invite neighbors to last Thursday night’s meeting/mini Neighbors Exchange. To our surprise, 21 neighbors showed up, a majority of whom Serena and the others had never met before. With representatives from Holy Cross, Montgomery Cares and Easter Seals, we had a super useful discussion about exact fees of different local clinics, as well as their requirements and the specific services they offer.
Unfortunately, we had no official representative present on behalf of the MD Mary’s Center located at the corner of Flower and Piney Branch. So instead, Leticia, a community member, spoke of her many experiences at Mary’s Center. She explained exactly who to talk to for which exam and went into full detail about the specifics of the application process.
Maria, also a community member, told us that just two weeks earlier she had received surgery at the Holy Cross Health Clinic on Georgia and paid just $50 for what would normally be a $1000+ operation. But, Josepha then shared that this was the very same clinic where her husband was left undiagnosed for 5 years until this past December when they finally discovered he had terminal liver cancer. He died less than a month later. Interestingly, Josepha had invited the Holy Cross folks believing that her husband’s case was the exception and not the rule.
Residents left with a real sense of getting some practical information about health clinics, both from the professional resource partners, as well as just from each other. Of course, as the case of Josepha and Leticia proves, solutions often aren’t the same for everybody. But at least they now have a better sense of what options are out there. After the meeting, some of the ladies stuck around and talked briefly about maybe trying to meet on a regular basis in the early afternoon when their kids are in school and they normally just hang out alone at home. I’ll keep you updated.
Posted in Long Branch, Neighbors Exchange, Nonprofit Partners, Stories | 1 Comment »
Posted by katieschmahl on March 16, 2010
Good news from Gaithersburg! So from a couple weeks ago, we were eager to hear what had happened with Roberto and Maricar’s electricity, and it turns out that he went to PEPCO and they gave him a 55 day extension! AND through his connection with George, he got a painting job at Mercy Seat Chapel!
So at our 4 hour retreat session at Laura and Pedro’s apartment two Thursdays ago, we had a long discussion on why we were part of this group, and where we saw ourselves in the future. A lot of great ideas popped up, such as: a community emergency fund, starting a party or moving business (using the skills of the participants), and getting a grant from LEDC. From the idea process, we also came up with some hard questions such as: Is this what the whole group wants? Do we need to come up with a name first? Do we need to get more organized before going to LEDC? What if not everyone can contribute to the emergency fund? Finally, we realized that these questions were not going to get answered that night and decided to just read through some sample vision statements for next week.
So this past Thursday at St. Martin’s, we decided to try and come up with some ideas for group names and vision statements to just make it less overwhelming. First, Ray led us through an exercise on personal visioning using Sonia as an example. He had her come up with a vision of where she sees herself a year from now. She said, “finished with her GED, in college, with a car, and her daughter is in a Head start program.” So then George and I acted out her visions with just actions or words. Then she heard the encouraging words from the group and the discouraging words that she might hear from outside of the group. After that, we listed a bunch of ideas for names and voted on them. The winner was: Gaithersburg Neighbors for Neighbors or Vecinos por Vecinos! Then we came up with some words that we think describe our group: consistent, support, information, solidarity, diversity, inclusion, humor, fellowship, connections, job support, help, family, advice, etc. Lastly we took all the words and each person came up with some vision statements. Next step is for Ray and a small group to meet on Monday to come up with more visions and missions for the group.
Let’s see what happens vecinos!
Posted in Community Network Building, Gaithersburg, Neighbor Circles, Stories | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sebastianbrown on March 16, 2010
Sorry I’ve been a little slow to get these posts up this past week. Fortunately, some great progress has been made in really starting to solidify the re-emerging Long Branch community network.
Saturday March 6 a group of ten previously untrained door knockers took to Sara and Tebabu’s very own Essex House to meet neighbors and invite them to a Neighbors Exchange the following Tuesday evening. Interestingly, residents in this specific apartment building seem to be dealing with slightly different issues compared to most people we had previously door knocked in Long Branch. To start, they almost all speak English in addition to their native Amharic or French. And while there are still plenty of tenants who are struggling to pay rent, and have lost their jobs or suffered from reduced hours, I personally talked with over a dozen folks who have either graduated or are currently in the process of getting a college degree. For them, having a job isn’t so much the problem as having one that really brings them fulfillment, which they see as only being possible with a degree. But, as I heard time after time, to pay $1000 a month for childcare while you’re working during the day and studying at night, on top of food and rental expenses, is really putting folks in seemingly hopeless situations.
For 20 minutes Marrella told us how she’s trying to finish a 9 month nurse’ assistant program at Montgomery College which she really hopes will get her a more stable job at Washington Adventist, where she currently works part time. She explained how because of childcare fees for her newborn, she doesn’t see anyway she’ll be able to make rent this month. She told us that she has reason to believe that next month she might even start getting to work more hours and will have less of a problem paying, it’s just this month that really seems hopeless. Relatively well connected with her neighbors and previously active in last year’s Parent Training Institute, she just needs some immediate emergency assistance. But after talking for a little while it became clear that she also seeks some additional personal support. She was then thrilled to hear we were holding a Neighbors Exchange in her building’s community room, which according to the Property Manager Jeff, hasn’t been used in over two years!
So on Tuesday night we were so excited to have Marella’s cousin (Marella had class) and 52 other residents join us for a couple hours of hectic relationship building and resource connecting. Jam packed into a room made to comfortably fit 30, neighbors were had no choice but to talk with each other. Montgomery College students Dennis and Abraham studying bio-medics/chemistry happened to bump into Faith who works in the healthcare industry. When I left the conversation she was just beginning to tell them about an available internship that they offer at her company every summer.
6 other residents circled up with Tebabu, and after having a conversation about shared apartment concerns such as trash pick up and security, planned on meeting again in order to maybe lay the foundation for a residents association.
In addition to the healthcare and emergency service resource partners, Ken Allen, Piney Branch Elementary School teacher and active participant of Lanita’s Piney Branch Action Team, talked to dozens of parents interested in learning more about prepping for the upcoming MSA testing.
At the end of the meeting, attendees eagerly agreed to meet again in the same place, same time, two weeks later. This time we plan to break up into smaller groups focused around specific concerns: jobs, childcare, general apartment concerns…etc. Before concluding the Property Manager expressed his sincere excitement to see residents so engaged and offered the space however often they wish to use it. What a great night and what an even greater beginning!
Posted in Door Knocking, Long Branch, Neighbors Exchange, Stories | Leave a Comment »