Streets Ministries: Delvin Lane

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ local paper, ran this story yesterday.

Delvin Lane has been deeply connected to Streets Ministries for many years. He’s the type of figure about whom one hears tales long before meeting him. He is the stuff of legends. Yet when you meet him, he’s down to earth, dialed into his work and his calling.

One of the many privileges of working with Streets is learning from incredible ministers like Delvin. Urban ministry is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen or experienced. It’s intimidating, demanding, and, some days, discouraging. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s messy, and yet it’s beautiful.

Delvin’s story is one of struggle and change. It’s a gospel story of beauty. Delvin has been impacting Memphis for years. I can’t imagine that ending anytime soon.

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Nashville and Obesity

If Christians are to focus and work on holistic community development, the topic of health must eventually enter the conversation, and, as discussed in previous blog posts, one of the most urgent health issues is obesity.

Recently, this special highlighted some of the positive steps that Nashville is taking to combat obesity.

As the clips suggests, the development and layout of our cities can and does have a direct impact on the amount of physical activity that occurs. This, in turn, impacts the overall health scene of a city. Bike lanes, good sidewalks, and ample greenways encourage the people of a city to be active.

Our cities have been designed for commuters and those traveling by motorized vehicles. In order to create a shift in people’s habits, our cities must come up with new and more accessible ways for people to travel and commute, ways that are more physically active.

Thankfully, the city of Memphis has been taking steps to encourage these types of activities. Bike lanes have been popping up around town, even to the chagrin of people. This is just part of the vision, as even more bike lanes are planned. The Memphis Greenline is a hit among many in Memphis, and is utilized by bikers, runners, and walkers.

While most of us can’t pave our own bike lanes or pour our own sidewalks, we can choose to bike or walk. We can run, not with the goal of 26.2 miles, but just to stay in decent shape. We can choose to eat healthy, which impacts those around us who see our example. Not everyone can have a great impact on our city, but we do all have a small impact, and that impact must be used wisely.

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The Church and Poverty: Part Two

Several weeks ago, we began a series entitled “The Church and Poverty,” aimed at educating the church about the hidden side and secret facts of poverty, something that far too few Christians are prepared to engage.

We ended with two series of two questions:

1.) What do people in poverty do with their time? What types of businesses do you see in communities of poverty?

2.) What do people in the middle class do with their time? What types of businesses do you see in middle class communities?

Here are our answers from that first class. The inner circle represents the group’s perceptions of how those in poverty spend their time. The outer circle represents what our group sees when they are in communities and neighborhoods of poverty.

As we discussed our perceptions, we learned about the layers of poverty and how poverty is frequently a system that traps people.

As we discussed transportation issues, we learned that riding a bus can take 60-90 minutes to travel a distance that would take 10-15 minutes if you traveled by car.

As we learned about the time that is spent securing food stamps, welfare, and other forms of aid, we learned about the great time restrictions that exist here.

Factoring in travel time and time spent with various assistance agencies, it quickly becomes difficult to have time to work 40 hours a week, and without working at least 40 hours a week, it becomes difficult to feed and care for your family.

So what do you choose? Do you go to work in hopes that, at a low-wage pace, you’ll eventually be able to build up an income that will be suitable to care for your family? Or do you skip work to secure aid, with the knowledge that at least you’ll be able to feed your family for a few more weeks?

In poverty, time is spent putting out today’s fires and caring for today’s needs. There is little to no consideration for the future, which leads to a lack of effort in education when you’re younger, which puts you behind the 8 ball when you’re older, which traps you in the cycle of poverty.

This also explains a lack of long-term financial planning. How can you plan for the future, when today seems impossible? Financial planning is truly a tool of the middle and upper class.

Our discussion boiled down to two points:

1.) Poverty focuses on relationships, friendships, caring for your neighbor (even at your own expense, financially and otherwise).

2.) The middle class focuses on ownership and achievement. From soccer at age 4 to academics in school, from business and financial success to newer cars and bigger houses, the focus is on success and achievement.

Now…which one looks more like the biblical church? Certainly, individuals in poverty could love from those in middle class: financial planning and management, the value of education, etc. We must realize, however, the opposite also rings true.

When the people around you have few material possessions, you are forced to define their worth in a different way. A person becomes valuable for who they are and not what they own.

Those in poverty do not need to learn from the middle class. We all need to learn from each other, and in some way, the church will come to life.

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Darden Restaurants: Doing Good

Darden Restaurants, which includes Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Longhorn Steakhouse, are doing something incredible. At an increased cost to their bottom line, they donate leftover food.

Check out the following story from RockCenter or, if you dislike reading, watch the video. Then go out to eat at one of their restaurants. While you’re there, ask where they donate their food.

On Assignment: Restaurant chain donates unserved food to needy families

By Chelsea Clinton  Rock Center Special Correspondent

Every day, more than 50 million Americans are at risk of not having enough to eat; yet, each year in the United States, 40 percent of our edible food is simply thrown away. Today, in the face of unprecedented need, there is no one face of the hungry – they are children, parents, grandparents and even the working poor.

Many of us think about hunger when there are canned food drives around Thanksgiving, but hunger doesn’t have a season. Year-round, there are millions of pounds of unserved food that could be put to better use. At one Fortune 500 restaurant company, excess food is being put to use.  The food is finding its way from restaurant kitchens to the places where people need it most, including missions, shelters and after-care programs. I saw this program firsthand in Orlando, Fla., earlier in April.

Darden owns the largest number of casual dining restaurants in the country, including such well-known brands as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster. In 2004, Darden management noticed that some of its restaurant managers were engaged in what they called ‘random acts of kindness.’  Instead of throwing away unserved food at the end of each night, some managers were donating it to local food banks and hunger relief organizations. It was a small percentage of places, but Drew Madsen, Darden president and chief operating officer, told me that it was enough to make the company take notice. In 2004, donating became a company-wide policy and today, in every one of Darden’s more than 1,900 locations, staff members stay extra time to prepare, package, freeze and store food for pickup by local food bank partners. Darden calls it their ‘Harvest’ program.

Darden’s now systematic acts of kindness come with a clear financial benefit – it receives a tax benefit for its donations. The company is also protected from legal liability if someone becomes ill from its donated food through the Good Samaritan Law, provided restaurants have properly prepared, packaged and labeled the food. When I asked Madsen if it would be cheaper to just throw the food away, he admitted it would be, but said that his company sees nourishing its communities as part of its mission. It was something I heard echoed in the kitchens and dining rooms of the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouses I visited. It’s clear that for the people who work throughout the Darden brands that harvesting the food for the hungry is as much a part of their job as making and serving food to their customers.

Dave Krepcho, president of the Second Harvest Food Bank, told me he thought more programs from more restaurants like Darden’s could make a significant dent in our hunger challenge.

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Good Things in Memphis: Soulsville Charter School

Every once in a while, you hear about someone or something that is making a great difference in the world. It just so happens that this time, it’s happening in our own backyard.

Soulsville Charter School recently graduated 51 seniors, a modest number. However, of those 51 students, 100% of them are going to college and have at least 1 scholarship.

Here’s the story from the local fox affiliate:

Soulsville Send Entire Class to College

Memphis, Tn – Founded in 2005, the Soulsville Charter School, a tuition-free public charter school, is doing exactly what they set out to do, send every graduating senior to college.

College Guidance and Alumni Support Councilor Ashley Holmes says, “It just means that what we are doing is right. We are taking students out of their current situation and just giving them options to higher education.”

100% of the graduates are going to college and all of them are receiving scholarship money.

Many of the students who attend Soulsville, say they didn’t know what to expect when they stepped on campus, but they are very grateful for what their teachers expected out of them.

“I thought it was going to be a performing arts school cause everybody was like, ‘Oh Stax, it’s performing arts,’ and then when I came in that day it was no, college prepatory, you’re going to college no matter what you say, your going and I really think that message got through the whole class,” says student Jasmine Mack.

Of the more than 50 seniors at the Soulsville Charter School that will be graduating Thursday, all have college scholarships. But, 80% of them will be the first member of their family to attend a university.

When asked how they have achieved these fantastic results, executive director NeShante Brown cites the freedom that they have. “We have freedom with respect to curriculum, freedom with respect to hiring, freedom with respect to the culture we establish.” (For the full Commercial Appeal article, click here.)

Soulsville has high expectations of their students, one substantial example being the time spent at school. The school day begins at 7:30 and ends at 4:30, and it’s not uncommon for there to be Saturday activities as well.

Jackson Sprayberry, a personal friend and a Teach for America teacher in Memphis, recently told me about several teachers that are achieving amazing results by setting high standards that demand the best from their students. Their strategies range from teaching calculus concepts to algebra II students to working through LSAT logic problems with their students.

I am convinced that education is one of the keys to breaking the cycles of brokeness in the world. From poverty to disease, from crime to broken families, education helps break these cycles. Soulsville is just one example of education that is breaking these cycles.

Each of us has the opportunity to engage the community around us, especially when it comes to education, and this is not confined to those individuals that are teachers. There are many agencies in Memphis that impact people through education. HopeWorks works with adults as they try to find employment. At Streets, we work with teenagers in many facets. Volunteers can come weekly and help a student for years as they work towards college, or they can come when available and help a student with whatever they need that day.

If you’re not in Memphis, find an agency around you that empowers through education. Not only will you change another life, your life will be forever impacted.

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Tragedy and Triumph

There are moments when your entire worldview shifts in the blink of an eye. I’ve experienced it when I first realized that the homeless have names and stories. My world changed in a classroom in Ghana when I had one textbook and 24 students. I’ve continued to experience these challenges during my time in Memphis and at Streets Ministries.

For several years, my ears and heart have been open to the stories of immigration. Stories have been told in my Spanish classes, both as a student and as a teacher. Reports have scrolled across news tickers. From time to time, the DREAM Act becomes a hot button issue.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that these stories became people and students that I know. For many of our students, their documentation status is a roadblock to college. I could tell story after story of students who are more than qualified to continue their education. They are qualified in every aspect (GPA, ACT, behavior, etc.) except one: they are undocumented.

Last week, I met a student with an immigration story of deep pain and sadness. He’s a senior, preparing to graduate this Saturday. He’s been coming in for help with his senior capstone project. As I helped him wrap up his project last week, I asked him when he was going to do after graduation. He wants to be a technician for the police department because he wants to do good in the world.

When I asked him about his story, he didn’t hesitate to tell me. His mother was deported years ago. His father is an alcoholic. His younger sister is pregnant. His younger brother is messing around with gangs. Yet he has chosen to rise above his circumstances.

I now know the names of students that are undocumented, and I know the names of families that have been torn apart because of system, and I know that my life can never be the same.

These are the stories that drive me to do what I do. I look forward to watching kids walk across a stage and knowing that God has used me to have a hand in their life. I look forward to seeing success stories that highlight the good that God is doing through Streets, the stories of students rising above the circumstances of life.

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Composting With Worms

This video teaches a “do-it-yourself” method of using worms to create rich soil for your garden. Jenna and I have been planning and brainstorming our future garden, and I can’t wait to use this technique.

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