Neighborhood Opportunity Network

Supporting one another in a time of crisis

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Bringing resources home

Posted by sebastianbrown on December 18, 2009

Last night, 21 residents of the Park Montgomery Apartment high rise squeezed into the 1st floor community center for a couple hours to eat, chat and of course share their concerns as well as personal resources  with fellow neighbors. As opposed to the heavy Latino concentration in the other surrounding apartment complexes along Piney Branch Road, Park Montgomery residents are overwhelmingly Ethiopian or West African. Interestingly, Ethiopians were only a small minority last night; there was a handful of Haitians, two  African Americans and maybe half the group was from either Ghana,  Senegal or Liberia.

Antoinette talking to the group

It was by far the most diverse community meeting we’ve had in Long Branch over the last couple months. This obviously presents challenges as well as great opportunities. For example, in the case of the Nob Hill support group, the fact that all the members are from one of two countries and speak not only the same language but practically the same dialect has allowed meetings to flow much more smoothly and for the group to feel naturally more connected. And, even though we know that those commonalities are a major part of what has allowed the Nob Hill group to grow so close, it does always leave a little bit of a nasty taste in my mouth when thinking of IMPACT’s mission of cultivating cross-cultural understanding and respect.

So, if culture and language wasn’t going to unite the group last night, what would? While it’s certainly not the only answer, as we’re seeing more and more in all three geographic bases of the Campaign, jobs again appeared to be the top priority for residents last night. As we went around the circle giving each member a chance to express a concern, ask a question about a specific resource or to just vent for a second, nearly every resident mentioned employment one way or another. Even those who have one a steady job expressed interest in receiving further training in a specific area.

Before we concluded, Antionette (the building’s site manager who runs the after-school programs held in the community center) offered up the center for a future meeting–possibly on a weekly basis. The group requested that we focus exclusively on jobs, maybe even inviting employers who are looking to hire. With her various connections to temp agencies through friends/sorority sisters/business partners Antoinette immediately brainstormed nearly half a dozen different local employers that she thinks would be willing to participate. With Antoinette’s permission, we as a group even chose a date about a month from now when we plan to meet again in the same space.

Long Branch community connector Yemny talking about rental assistance with a resident

A couple times during the night it came up that about half of the residents in attendance were parents of children in one of Antoinette’s after school homework programs. Over and over the parents expressed their greatest respect and appreciation for all her hard work. It was obvious that her care for not only the kids but their entire families runs extremely deep. Perhaps that’s why the most shocking part of the night for her was to find out just how dire of a situation most of her parents find themselves in during these tough economic times. Right before I left she admitted to me that she had no idea that all 8 of her parents that came to the meeting are desperately looking for jobs.

If nothing else, last night was a success in that it exposed her to a reality that seemed to strike such a chord that she, now more than ever, sees it as her personal responsibility to offer substantial practical support to her parents–and other residents–in any way she possibly can. Thanks to Antoinette for being such a great partner and caring so much about the people of Park Montgomery!

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