Creating Family through Neighboring
I lived in my Neighboring neighborhood for six months before I learned about being a VISTA in that area. I knew that there were plans in place to begin revitalizing the area, but I really didn’t have a clue as to who was involved, or how to become a part of the work. When I became a VISTA in August, and began serving with HandsOn Northwest North Carolina, it was like taking a grand glimpse behind the scenes of an incredibly delicate operation.
Becoming involved in the Neighboring model in my own neighborhood was one of the most empowering things I have ever done. I went from knowing my neighbors by their faces, to knowing them by their skills and hobbies, their children and their parents. I began getting to know what they loved and cared about, and what they missed most about their community.
I felt encouraged to be an advocate for these things, and put all of my energy into helping create programs that mattered to my neighbors. We began a mobile soup kitchen on our site that serves anyone in need of a meal for free, every Saturday. We created a program for our elderly neighbors that guarantee that they get a hot meal and socialization on a weekly basis.
We’ve reached out to our local elementary school and started literacy interventions to help with both the preschoolers and the English-Second-Language parents. We’ve run a Summer Camp with nothing but willing volunteers and construction paper. We continue tonight, with our second community meal, which will feature discussion about moving forward with several other new initiatives: a lending library, a clothing drive, a neighborhood clean-up, and a computer lab. As the Principal of our local school told me recently, “you’re making this into a place where I want to live!”
The true impact of what I’m doing really hit me Friday evening. I went to a meeting with my Advisory Council, at which they told me that a man in our neighborhood had passed away unexpectedly. The man was someone I had grown quite fond of, and whom I had seen every Saturday since the soup lunches began. In fact, I had been the last person to speak with him before he passed away last Saturday night. I was shaken at that thought- that I should have been the last smile he saw, the last hug he received, or the last kind word he’d heard. It was humbling.
This morning, just before submitting this blog entry, I attended his funeral. It was a simple affair, held in a tiny Black Apostolic church in a part of town I normally would think twice about entering. Herman- that was his name- had lived his life embroiled in drugs and alcohol, and his death had been attributed to Cirrhosis of the liver. The church was full of men and women of all ages, and many of whom I knew to be involved in the same way of life that had led to Herman’s demise.
A year ago, I would’ve been scared to walk through those doors- an obvious outsider who had no business being there. But today, I was their family.
They knew my name; they knew how fond I had been of Herman, and that the sentiment had been returned. I looked around and realized that I knew these faces. These faces were the women and men who received the soup we provided every week; whose children attended our summer camp; whose mothers and fathers were being visited and loved by a team of strangers bearing food. I made that possible. I am Morgan Owen, Neighboring VISTA for HandsOn Northwest North Carolina, and I love my job.
HandsOn Corps VISTA: HandsOn NWNC