First Neighbors Exchange in Gaithersburg – March 26th at Mercy Seat Chapel
Posted by frankieblackburn on March 30, 2009
Here’s the scene:
5:00 p.m. Final Prep: A team of IMPACT Staff/Volunteers, Community Connectors and Mercy Seat Chapel members buzz around like bees preparing the small basement room for our long evening ahead…Rev Tim from OCP ensures we have lots of food to offer from our new favorite restaurant – Antojitos. Oddi helps prepare two tiny rooms for the children and childcare providers. Rosa and Amleset check out the translation headsets for fresh batteries.
6:25 p.m. Early Connections: Only a few people have showed up. One family originally from Ghana is sitting in a corner. They have lived in the Town Crest townhouses for six years and explain that in that time the residents have met only three or four times. When they learn that one of the goals of the night is to help neighbors help neighbors, their faces lit up….”that is exactly how we grew up on Ghana….we always wonder why it is not like this here” We later learn that he lost his job four months ago and they are having a difficult time paying medical bills for their special needs child.
6:30 p.m. Last Minute Door Knocking: With the typical nervous anxiety of community organizers, a team of folks fan out in the nearby apartments for a last round of knocking on doors and delivering fliers. At one door, one woman says with a familiar smile – I got a reminder call today and I really want to come, but now my little daughter is sick. I am so disappointed!! Another young man decides to come along with door knocker Ray Moreno – he is French speaking, unemployed and sick.
7:00 p.m. A Crowded Room: The room is filled up with families and individuals from so many different cultures and walks of life….the vast majority are Latino or African immigrants….with a few Asian immigrants and African American families too. The crowd of 55 or so also includes at least ten resource friends from places like the Primary Care Coalition, Maryland Vietnamese Mutual Association, Montgomery Works, Marriot Corporation, HHS and DHCA.
7:05 p.m. Creating a Comfortable Environment: Tim tells the new faces that we hope they meet at least two new neighbors tonight, get answers to at least two important questions concerning health care, jobs, finances or emergency services AND that they walk away thinking about how they can contribute to the Neighbors Campaign. Frankie asks each person to find someone from their neighborhood (using carefully coded name tags provided by friendly greeters like George at the entrance door) and talk with them for ten minutes – answering two questions; why did you come tonight? What is one thing you like about where you live?
7:15 p.m. Focused Attention: Winta instructs everyone – “You can go to two of four circles over the next 60 minutes or you can stay in one circle the entire time”.
The four circles are:
- Finding a Job
- Access to Health Care
- Credit and Savings
- Emergency Services.
In a very small space, the facilitators and resource people help neighbors form small circles, introduce themselves and provide one burning question each – up on a flip chart. Then – one by one – each question is addressed by the resource people taking great care to ensure that the specifics of a person’s situation is addressed. As participants speak, the facilitator takes care to note their connections to each other as neighbors, linking the people from the same apartment buildings to each other.
8:20 p.m. Final Group Gathering: Megan has a hard time pulling everyone back into a room – calling upon Tim and George’s extra booming voices to help. Folks are so engaged in conversations with each other and with resource friends, it is hard to gather back. Megan gets each group to provide three top tips coming from each group. Keith McNeil from Marriot tells everyone – if you are looking for a job…tell everyone and talk to everyone – keep telling people that you want and need a job!! Vera from HHS makes sure people know about the new Neighborhood Service Center and we shout out the address as a group three times! Megan asks for people to shout out one word as to how they felt about the experience: “Empowered!” Connected!” Informed! Happy! ….were some of the responses. She even got a group picture and many participants to fill out a written evaluation form.
8:45 p.m. Clean up, Reflections and Next Steps: At least 15 people jump into helping clean up. Myriam and Ray cannot stop talking about the five families in one circle – five different families – who were now renters after losing their homes to foreclosure. Two of them walked away from their homes. Myriam asked each one to call them the next day for a longer, more focused conversation. Patricia, Hoan, Rosa and Ntshiuwa were so pleased to see some of the faces from their door knocking experience. Frankie gathered everyone in a quick stand up meeting to ask – did we meet any potential Neighbor Circle hosts tonight? Who? Which apartment? George from Mercy Seat Chapel Church implores – we have to take next steps…we have to keep going with this!!!! With hands reached in a large team whoop, the group agrees!