Last week, we welcomed a new AmeriCorps VISTA at NeighborLink, Robert Johnson! So that Bernie on a Journey will serve as an introduction to Robert and his role on our team! Meet Robert here —> https://youtu.be/-aCEsD7kN0A and look for his blogs!
In this week's Bernie on a Journey, Dan Baisden of the City of Fort Wayne's Planning department joined us to discuss the newly released Master Art Plan and what it took to get this started—> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgJQetxrYeg
In addition to having a new team member and staying involved in community events, I have been working to ensure the research project continues well. After we completed Phase 1, which can be found here https://www.nlfw.org/story/healthyneighborhoods, we reassessed how we could best continue into Phase 2. After doing research, resources and input from community members, we decided that Phase 2 would narrow our focus into 2 of the 5 neighborhoods we analyzed in Phase 1.
Hoagland-Masterson and Williams Woodland Park quickly stood out as the best areas to focus on:
Both neighborhoods are right on the cusp of downtown development, they are small enough for NeighborLink to engage effectively, they both have active neighborhood associations, and they have each expressed interest in collaborating with the other.
Since both neighborhoods were such a good fit for Phase 2, it was not hard to get neighborhood leadership to embrace the idea. But getting them onboard was only a piece of the process. We had to establish a process for Phase 2 that would create the outcomes and impacts that the neighborhoods desired. This part of the reason I have been so involved in the various neighborhood associations: I need to think like them and understand their needs.
My VISTA service started part way through Phase 1, so Phase 2 is really where I can build a process that reflects all that I have learned and experienced. But, as my mother always taught me, I need to begin with the end in mind. Thus, I've been planning my last 6 months and deliverables, to make sure I can leave the project and NeighborLink in a good state.I want to make sure that when I leave Neighborlink in June I will have built up their resources and capacity to move forward. In order to do that though, I have to break down big objectives and plans into small actionable steps.
To do this, I have employed a new piece of free software, Notion, that I would recommend to anyone! Using their thesis planning template, I am making my own project timeline and plan, where I can embed my ideas, to do lists, meeting notes and objectives. Notion has been extremely useful for me, additionally because it operates almost like lego pieces that can be moved or changed so I can reshape my plan as the project has been evolving and refocusing for the past few months.
The most exciting update on Phase 2 is that we have found a very user-friendly tool for getting parcel level data on property ownership and vacancy rates. The software, Landgrid.com, also allows people to import data and map it. Therefore, we can plot NeighborLink projects and see where they are concentrated, while seeing key information about the neighborhood. Check back next week for a more in-depth explanation of Phase 2 and our goals.
Hi there! My name is Robert Johnson, the new Storytelling and Journalism Coordinator for NeighborLink Fort Wayne. I’d like to begin my biweekly blog with the unconventional story of how I ended up at NeighborLink.
Do you have a neighboring story of your own? Send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“So…how does a business owner like me get their logo on a Team NeighborLink jersey?”
I remember texting those seemingly innocent words to my friend Chris, a cyclist for Team NeighborLink, in the early weeks of 2018. Although I had never heard of NeighborLink Fort Wayne or their connection to the cycling team, my friend gave enough of a rundown that it left me yearning for more. Within minutes, Chris introduced me to Andrew Hoffman, the Executive Director of NeighborLink, by email. He suggested we meet in person and I excitedly agreed. If my favorite storyteller, J.R.R. Tolkien, could put that fateful moment into words, he’d likely quote himself: “Round the corner there may wait, a new road or secret gate.”
Andrew was kind enough to meet me at my own workplace on the other side of town. After giving him a tour of our brand new production facility, he took a seat across from me and jumped right into the mission, vision, and heart of what NeighborLink does on a daily basis: sharing practical, neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God’s love. To say that meeting was an inspiration would be an understatement. It was, in fact, an eye-opening, enlightening, and impactful conversation that left me shaken to the core and one I would not easily forget.
A few months later, as I began development on my second business, I couldn’t help but think back to the conversation Andrew and I had shared. There was an internal struggle raging within: could I develop a for-profit business with the same heart, passion, and intent that Andrew had shared with me about NeighborLink? Was it possible to develop a product that simply served as a delivery device for sharing practical neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God’s love? If so, what would that even look like? Although it took a couple of months to strategize and plan, I was soon convinced it could be done and set out to make it happen.
After successfully launching product, I set out to find a new creative outlet in Autumn 2019. One thing was certain: my heart leaned heavily toward cause, vision, and community. I wondered if there was a local organization that could use my creative skillset. If so, how could I find them? I had been an entrepreneur for nearly seven years and was not interested in the job search process. But then it happened: I noticed NeighborLink was actively seeking a Storytelling and Journalism Coordinator as part of their AmeriCorps VISTA partnership. It was as if the heavens had parted and a light shone down upon that very same secret gate Tolkien had written about all those years before. Without preamble, I hit the Apply Now button and immediately crossed my fingers. I didn’t bother applying for any other job. It was all-or-nothing.
Andrew and I met for drinks and vision-casting a couple of weeks later at Conjure Coffee. A year and a half had done nothing to dampen his grand vision of expressing neighborly kindness. His passion was infectious, authentic, and more solidified than the first time we had met in early 2018. Eventually, the all-important question came to bear: could I see myself contributing to that grand, inspiring vision as well?
I didn’t hesitate. I was all in.
I stepped into the NeighborLink office on my first day of work eager to add my hands, heart, and talent to an organization I’d already come to love and admire over the previous two years. Within minutes, I was excitedly greeted by each team member who already knew my name and the skills I happily brought to the table as Storytelling and Journalism Coordinator. Overwhelmed by their kindness, I found my brand-new desk and glanced at a whiteboard hovering above the computer. Scrawled across its surface was a familiar quote from the very same storyteller who wrote of new roads, secret gates, and unexpected adventures of neighbors bearing burdens for the betterment of all:
“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”
I couldn’t help but crack a smile and settle in to my brand new home.
This week's vlog is an invitation to create a New Year's Resolutions for building the community you want to live in. It's never too late to start doing something different or better. Personally, I have been convicted to look at how I can do more to support a strong local business culture. Both by shopping local and by even looking for a bank that invests in local businesses, I can work towards the community I want to see. I was very inspired by two strong towns articles on this subject, and I encourage you guys to check them out:
One of my favorite parts of researching is that I get to stand on the backs of giants. I read and can pull the highlights from years of hard work by other people, while trying to add a small bit to the conversation.
"Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty" by 2019 Economic Nobel Prize winners' Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo has been one of the most recent works informing my perceptions on how to approach the work of revitalization and neighborhood development. While their book focused their years of work with people who live on less than $1USD per day, I feel like many of the concepts and principles they explained are universal to how people feel whenever they are economically constrained and under-resourced.
"For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis [like the 2008 crisis]," said Banerjee & Duflo. This makes sense because the poor are in one colossal financial crisis after another, rarely having times of prosperity.
Banerjee and Duflo made the point - risk is everywhere in poverty. If there is political change, then the government programs that the poor rely on might be altered, then their lives can go from bad to worse. Violence, crime, food & price changes, health issues, are all constant worries for those who live in poverty, explained the authors.With these worries comes stress and cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in the body, and as Banerjee and Duflo explained, cortisol is actually proven to impair decision making and thinking. Therefore, the poor have many crucial decisions to make every day, but have a harder time making the best possible decision.
Moreover, some things, like saving, are just difficult for people in general by the nature of how we understand time (Banerjeee & Duflo). And when you come from limited means, what you have saved up by scraping and limiting non-essentials can evaporate with one small emergency, which discourages future attempts to save. For someone to save they have to have hope for a better future, and it can be exhausting maintain hope in the face of daily struggles. This is why people aren't meant to live in isolation, because we are meant to bolster each other's hope and provide a sort of informal network of support and insurance.
Reaching out to help one another in many cases is like a deposit in someone's bank of hope - I see this constantly with NeighborLink projects and with acts of kindness in general. It matters that we find ways to reach out to those who are isolated by poverty and other hardships and show them that they matter and people.
Moreover, when we band together we can strengthen our mutual resolve to do the right thing, whether it be a commitment to exercise more or spend responsibly. Life is easier when it is lived in a supportive community.
In my own life this plays out in a few ways. My friends and I have craft nights where we sit and work on whatever handiwork we want. Anything from painting and crochet to book binding and everything in between is welcome. Craft night allows us to have time together while still working on whatever we have been trying to accomplish alone.
Another way my own need for a supportive community plays out is with budget nights. Truly, I am a person who loves budgets and spreadsheets and the idea of a stable financial future. So, me and friends will periodically sit down to review our budgets and financial goals and discuss how we can be good stewards of what we have. Banerjee and Duflo's book on poverty explained part of why budget groups are effective: when we establish goals and norms in a group setting, there is a sense of social pressure to stick to them.
Based on other research I've been exposed to, though, my own financial sensibilities have shifted. I want to look for ways to become an investor in my own community, in local small businesses and in supporting my friends as they start their own. I also am doing research to figure out if I want to switch to a local bank. There are even resources to help rank banks involvement in the community (check out https://banklocal.info/ for more information). Even if I don't have much money, I want to make sure I am using it to make my community better.
One more lesson from Banerjee and Duflo that I am working into my approach of resolutions and research is moving past the three I's: Ideology, Ignorance & Inertia. I have to be willing to move out of what should be and look at things the way they are (ideology). I have to be willing to seek out information and learn where my assumptions are wrong (ignorance). Finally, I have to be willing to change course and possibly even stop entirely when new information arises (inertia). Because, as "Poor Economics" points out**,** information alone does not make things change, people have to be willing to accept the information and use it to direct their behavior.
I hope you all consider reading "Poor Economics" for yourselves - the Allen County Public Library has a copy! But more importantly, I hope you think of where you can build community to accomplish goals and support others in need in 2020 and throughout your life!