Recently, at our city aptly named "Heart Of The Bay" here in San Francisco Bay in California invited a group of us from local community to share some insights from our humble work in the local community The day long event started with our city mayor sharing some stories of local heroes. One story in particular deeply moved me. It was about an elderly man volunteering for several years to walk the community as neighborhood safety team. Not only he walks few times a week with the team, everyday he walks around his neighborhood and cleanup the graffiti. He lives an area that's situated between two waring gangs. Recently, as he was cleaning up a graffiti, he was attacked by some people from one of the gang, he was knocked down, kicked and received serious bruises and had to be hospitalized. From his hospital bed where he's recuperating (which we were told he's getting well and can't wait to get back to his safety walks and graffiti cleanups) he sent in a personal letter to the event that had an answer he shared when someone asked him "what you do is so dangerous, why do you still put yourself again and again through these walks and community clean-ups?", his response was "i do this simply because I believe in leaving this place a little bit better than how I found it" -- wow! what a conviction and courage this man is showing by example!. Mayor also highlighted some challenges among the neighborhood safety team of volunteers in that how there are some who are "walkers" and some who are "talkers" and the friction that ensued among them which eventually was smoothed out as walkers took initiative to step up the inclusive work they are doing.Mayor ended his short sharing with a fitting quote - “Democracy is not a spectator sport. We are put on this earth to leave it in a better state than when we were put on it.” This I thought was a beautiful start for the event.
Next, we had an inspirational speaker share some subtle observations from her long experience of bringing communities to come together, work together for a common purpose. She spoke on the theme of "Being prepared for....anything". I loved the energy, enthusiasm she invited into the space, soon can see it ripple out all over inside and outside the large conference room. She invited everyone to actively participate, cracked some jokes and seem to have a blast in doing what she was doing at the moment. She shifted people's perspective on how to look at any situation with a fresh set of lenses to learn and grow from it. To highlight one, her reflection of her recent conversation with her grandson was really cute I thought. She said -"I was visiting my grandson recently & as any grandma overflowing with love for her little grand-kid, I wanted to take him to Disney-land", when he learnt about this, this little kid turns to grandma and says - "grandma, you know what, lately I have been going to Disney-land quite a bit, my parents also took me there several times, everyone wants to take me there for some reason, it's kind of becoming boring, is there something we can do about it?", she said she learnt a beautiful lesson from this little boy about expressing love, as in this case instead of throwing tantrums at Disney-land after unwillingly going there, this kid chooses to prepare for possibilities by opening to a honest conversation with his grandma. There's some feeling deeply connecting as this speaker shared about this experience and other real-life experiences.
Everyone were served simple nourishing meal. Post lunch session included an interactive panel discussion that included representatives from "Neighborhood Alert", "Elderly Care in Fairview Community" & "Urban Community Gardens". It was such a humbling to learn that the neighborhood alert group has several elderly in the community contributing their volunteer time since several years. The enthusiastic lady from the fairview community shared this beautiful story (she called it as sweet card story) about how their community worked as one unit to bring a healthy food outlet to the local community. The story goes that this is one of our local neighborhood where a lot of elderly and low income families live. The only grocery there got closed a while back, it was a bitter sweet for the community, although it wasn't the best place for healthy options, it still served some basic needs of the families within a walking distance. So, closing of the only place caused a lot of stress on the community as a lot of elderly couldn't drive and had to depend on others for their needs. Community started getting their acts together to change this situation towards better. They learnt that a new store that offered smaller, healthier and fresh produce is interested to consider opening a store here. The community was overjoyed, however, the project never took off due to several bureaucratic reasons. In response, community decides to step up their reaction, many in the community started writing regular letters & cards (called "Sweet Cards", similar to "Smile Cards") and wrote personal stories with pictures of children, families and elderly walking into the future store, took personal pictures of people connecting and enhancing the community life with the store as the epicenter of lot of such activities, and sent them to CEO directly. Days rolled by, but the community kept up the hope and kept sending these sweet cards even more regulalry. They had fun writing these stories and sharing with everyone. The CEO was deeply moved and very soon the dream of the local store came to fruition ahead of their planned schedule for opening. At the opening ceremony, the CE O personally came by and in his address to the community said -- "Thank you, I am here, this store is here because of all of you, because of all these letters, cards and pictures all of you have been sending us, we we so belonged here. So, here's your store, we dedicate this in honor of this incredible community!." This was such a sweet story -- everyone in the audience had a big smile listening to this story. To be continued.....in Part 2
Photo courtesy: Open web.