Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Grassroots Growth"...

I thought I'd blog a few notes (LIVE!) from a presentation at the Unleavened Bread Cafe by a set of Butler students in an honors course called "Grassroots Growth".

Prof. Allison King, MSW

[Thanks Rachel (Bell) for the pics today!]

These students have studied in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood as a case-study for their course which was designed to focus on the 'grassroots growth' which can (and does) occur by the indigenous neighbors themselves.

This was a first-ever type of class, constructed by Ms. King with help from our friend-of-the-cafe, Dave Metzger.

Today they're presenting their findings and have invited the neighborhood, and a reception buffett was served.

Throughout their presentations, they frequently mentioned a number of neighborhood favorites such as Ms. Elease, David Metger, Jab, Cocoa, Eric, Bennie, Oscar, Gail, David Woodrupp.... as 'all these wonderful people'.

One presenting team focused on learning from the neighborhood... and then proposed a one solution they could help with -- writing a grant proposal summary to form a "Family Circle" in the neighborhood.

  • They quoted from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, who apparently noted a really strong bond among the residents, but just need empowered. The foundation has in neighborhoods given grants to 'Family Circles'. The objectives are to build and strengthen relationships, knowledge, numbers, and small scale actions that have large scale impact. They facilitate neighborhood discussions, and encourage people who step up and commit to lead in a particular action.
  • These students also are procuring the help of the CCC -- Center for Citizenship and Community -- an organization lead by Dr. Brabant at Butler. One way the organization can help is by proofing any grant proposals... and help them out with this upcoming request.

Comments heard throughout these presentations...

"I was surprised by the course -- I thought we wouldn't even leave Jordan Hall, but just research data, etc. So what a surprise when I learned we'd actually be GOING to the inner-city neighborhood."

Another team developed a newsletter type of summary about the Unleavened Bread Cafe, their temporary headquarters during their course of study.

They would publish and leave this summary for the cafe visitors to read and enjoy, filled with stories & poems written about their recent experiences. [We can hope to secure a copy for download here.]

Other comments heard during the presentations...

"I discovered I liked going to Tab rather than churches on campus. After church, we walked to the cafe & back... and wrote a poem about it.

"I learned more in 5 hours on a Saturday in the community, than a whole semester at school."

" 'Shoes hanging on the line', I learned, meant there was a death in the neighborhood. I was struggling with some of my own family situations, and it greatly helped me deal with my issues by understanding some of the heartaches in the neighborhood. So I wrote my story about that."

"It was great to learn first-hand from neighbors instead of simply accepting the stereotypes. "

"My team spent 'A Day with Larry'. It was amazing what could be learned from just shadowing a neighborhood resident."

Another team visited Rebuilding the Wall. "We liked it so much we voluntarily went back several times to help rebuild houses with them. The most rewarding thing was getting to know neighborhood people who would become the beneficiaries of these houses. We played some 2-on-2 basketball with some of the younger ones."

"It was fun getting outside the 'Butler bubble'... that is, getting off-campus and learning via service-learning."

"Grassroots involvement really does make things happen -- eg. Rebuilding The Wall really does make things better. Lives change."

And how about this from Andy & Ryan... politically left, and politically right.

"The course isn't particularly political, but it's helped us grow -- sometimes as a result of heated political discussions back in the dorm. It needed to happen -- without it, nothing could start for us... and now we're moving in the same direction... community impact. "

Another student presented from a pharmaceutical perspective... having visted Raphael Health Center, not only as an onlooking student, but also while assisting someone who didn't have health insurance.

She was amazed that so few had insurance, and concluded that one thing that Butler students could do is help staff a pharmacy-function like 'Healthy Horizons' at Butler. Low cost meds aimed at preventative care.

'Gentrification', although not mentioned by name, was alluded to as one team interviewed the local laundrymat owner-operator. "It takes 'mom & pop' stores out of the inner-city, and is replaced by corporations."

Several students mentioned trips to 'Tab' -- the fond name for the nearby Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. The students observed their soup kitchen, utility assistance, and youth sports programs.

"Tab helped start Raphael Health Center and lots of other things here in the community. They're a Christian family, full-service center. A supervisor there told us, 'I want people to feel like kings and queens when they walk in here.' "

"Coburn Place -- domestic violence center, and transition housing for women. It used to be an IPS school, and now is back in productive service to the community. "

"Everyone mentioned the need for 'funding'... but somehow they always manage to accomplish what needs to be done."

Students Rachel & Emily... spent "A Morning Walk with Jab". [LOL. Everyone in the neighborhood knows our friend 'Jab'.] And they talked about spending time with 'Eric'... who was doing bible-study at the cafe. "We learned a lot from him."

Emily had been to South Africa and wanted to make sure she never forgot what she experienced there -- so she welcomed this opportunity to get out into the inner-city of Indianapolis, thinking it would be comparatively tame. "Maybe I should have a been a little more cautious at times [laughter], but largely I really enjoyed my time here on the streets."

Rachel & Emily drafted a short-plan consisting of... Vision & Goals, Resources & Possible Partners, Current Situation Summary, and Steps to Goal. [I wish we could reproduce it here - it was excellent work by these young college students.]

"This cafe has been a beacon to the community."

"We never expected to be so touched by our experience here."

"We felt the cafe was a really important source of hope & comfort for the community."

"Besides the cafe, we also visited Christamore House, Bethlehem House, Tab (Tabernacle Presbyterian Church), and we helped serve food at Wheeler Mission. "

"I loved getting hugs from Ms. Elease, and learning from her spirituality."

"David [Metzger's] only complaint about the cafe is that it's only open 5 days a week." [laughter] "With David here, it feels like... well... like 'Mr. Roger's Neighborhood' [laughter]. Then when we met the cafe cook, 'Oscar' [more laughter -- everybody loves Oscar] so maybe it was also like Sesame Street!

[Brianna wrote a story about Ms. Elease -- we'll hope to get a copy.]

As a project, her team created a table... [applause] Really! They purchased a restaurant table they would leave at the cafe for posterity, and they painted it decoratively with elements about what they learned from the cafe.

  • Purple... the color of spirituality
  • With some quotes, like 'Be the change you wish to see in the world.' (Gandhi)
  • Butterflies... as a symbol of transformation.
  • In the center of it... the CROSS... because that's the center of the cafe, and Ms. Elease's spirituality and sense of love.

"The future? This course has caused us to look at life through a different set of lenses -- we are changed. Our lives will never be the same. There should be more places like the Unleavend Bread Cafe."

"We've been introduced to new issues. We've formed new opinions. We've debated back & forth. Seen problems. And hoped for solutions."

After the presentation a neighbor, 'Bennie' commented: "Ms. Elease tries to bring America together. I take my hat off to you."

Ms. Elease: "From the outset of the cafe, I never dreamed of such things as today's project from these Butler students."

Another neighbor, Gerald, who attends church in this same backroom each week: "The question asked is... Am I my brother's keeper. And the answer is... Yes you are. You now have a testimony to help somebody else."

All these student-teams reflected great processing of their experiences. Kudos! And kudos to Ms. King and David Metzger who designed such an insightful learning experience.

It did not escape my notice that perhaps the primary 'grassroots growth' was the growth occurring in these young students who would make a difference in the world tomorrow.

So I side with Bennie... My hat's off to you, Ms. Elease.

And my hat's off to you as well, Ms. King.

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