Several weeks ago I was talking to a group of my parents’ friends and coworkers. It came up that I was doing a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA and a couple chimed in lauding me for my selflessness. One excitedly retold their story of working in a soup kitchen when she was in college, reminiscing about how formative the experience had been and how she hoped that one day her daughter could have the same experience. An older colleague gave a quick rebuttal, “No, what you should really hope for is no soup kitchens when your daughter is in college because they are no longer needed.” The statement was acknowledged but then the conversation quickly moved on.
I had not given much thought to that quick but insightful rebuttal until recently. So far, my year as a VISTA has been largely filled with promoting and attending events to promote community connections. At times the events seem to come together without too much hassle on my part. However, once-in-a-while the phrase, “it is like pulling teeth” comes to mind, having four of my own pulled (on separate occasions), I know the kicking and screaming that can go along with being dragged to something you are not looking forward to.
Last night was different though. We had been planning a end-of-the-summer “party” (for lack of a better word) at the Cannon River Mobile Home Park in Faribault. In mid-August we had met with the neighborhood leaders and each picked certain events or parts of events that they wanted to help out with. During the meeting the speed-bumps were on everyone’s mind, how could they not have been? After almost four years of work to get them installed the plan was finally coming to fruition, how could that not have been the focus of everyones energy and attention. So the “party” jobs were taken up by some leader but were mostly forgotten, at least in the office. During the first week of september we went over things that needed to get done, the “party” was mentioned and everyone gasped. How could we have forgotten! Slightly panicked we called the neighborhood leaders and asked about how plans were going and if they needed any help from us. The response we got was a resounding “No, no, no, we have everything under control, don’t worry about it. . . Well, perhaps you could bring a couple of prizes for a game we have planned.” Alright, prizes, we can do that.
Their success also brought back to mind what my dad’s colleague had said, “you should really hope for no soup kitchens . . . because they are no longer needed.” This got me thinking about all non-profits, especially Growing Up Healthy, our goal should be to put ourselves out of work. It is not our goal to always be around serving people, it is our goal teach people how to build social connections, so that one day we no longer have a job because they are better off at making connections than they were when we were around. That is what I got to witness the other night, a group of individuals who were are coming together in community, without having Growing Up Healthy at the core. Yes, we were there but, we got to participate rather than lead. That is what we should be striving for everyday.So we showed up to the event last night and found that the leaders had really grabbed the bull by the horns, or in this case the hog. There was lines with balloons hanging from the trees, tables set up with a large array of home cooked rice, beans, salsas, and of course pork, kids running around playing, and adults talking to each other, many whom I had never seen before. It was amazing, I didn’t feel like I was responsible for anything, it was all under control. They had been right, they had everything under control and had gotten more people to attend this event than we had ever seen at any of our other events at Cannon River.
I hope that one day I no longer need to go to events held in the Cannon River Mobile Home Park, or anywhere for that matter. Not because I don’t enjoy them but, because I am no longer needed to facilitate the events due to the social connections that have been made in each neighborhood.
I hope to go to events because I am invited, not because I am facilitating. The “party” last night is just the beginning of all of the great things that can come out of this neighborhood.
There is so much potential for great things and this is just the beginning!