catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 13 :: 2012.06.22 — 2012.07.05


A side of patience

We created a Facebook event, distributed posters and sent out a press release.  We canvassed the neighborhood, made announcements at local meetings and extended personal invitations.  We did all the right things to get the word out about our free, weekly event and yet, for our first Family Fun Night at the Huss Project, two kids showed up (for part of the time).  The second week, a few more adults came (for a little while), but the staff still outnumbered participants and most of our turquoise Adirondack chairs sat empty in the shade.  Seriously: what’s wrong with our free snacks, crafts and games? Lately, it feels as though our most successful effort is entertaining local vandals who find great delight in tipping over our garden shed and breaking off our brand new apple trees — and that’s certainly not the kind of family fun we had in mind.

Beyond Family Fun Night, what’s wrong with the vision for the Huss Project? In this our fast food nation, even community development non-profits are under pressure to raise money, produce results and generate data as clearly distilled as a statement of nutrition facts.  I feel like we should be further along by now.  By some measures, we might be failing.

And yet…a self-professed “weird kid” has perfect Family Fun Night attendance so far and then some, popping in whenever he sees anyone at the building for any reason.  He’s bright and creative, with incredible dance moves and innumerable stories to tell.  “I’m kind of a nerd,” he said around the campfire last Friday night.  “Nerds are welcome here,” we assured him, surveying the circle of faces and remembering our varied appreciation for sci-fi television, mini-horses, 80s hair metal.  “In fact, we’re all pretty nerdy.”

And last Friday morning, three kids showed up unexpectedly on the front lawn (one more than the first Family Fun Night, but who’s counting?).  It wasn’t the free snacks that drew them in, but rather, a safe place to wait while the police came to take a domestic assault report from their guardian, who held an ice pack against her swollen face.  I raided the Family Fun Night supplies for a playground ball, sidewalk chalk and bubbles.  Lured away from the tone of crisis in their caretaker’s voice as she recounted the morning’s events, they chattered away in their PJs, drawing hearts on the concrete and popping each other’s bubbles. 

Earlier this spring, I wrote about “slow organizing” as a way of understanding the trajectory of this project — a trajectory so gradual that some folks (ourselves, even) might wonder whether it’s worth the effort.  Will these tiny, struggline seeds ever blossom into the bustling community center we imagine?  If we only took the short view, we’d have given up by now, but moments such as these, with nerdy kids and with our neighbors in their moments of crisis, remind me why we need to persist. 

It’s easy to feel discouraged when grand dreams fail to materialize according to the tried and true Non-Profits for Dummies timeline.  It’s easy to spend five minutes scanning the ravaged houses of the neighborhood and make an assessment that it doesn’t count, missing the love and hope and joy that spring up between the cracks.  It’s easy, as an adult, to forget the power of a few toys and a little bit of attention to transform a moment of fear into a moment of play. 

And so, we’ll continue to practice faithful presence even when the numbers don’t add up, to be good friends even when fear of the unknown threatens to swallow us whole, to be joyful though we’ve “considered all the facts.”  It’s not about a heroic effort to save a neighborhood; rather, I hope it’s about becoming a community of people who can hold our hands open to the promises of radical hope and perceive signposts of success that portend the mysteries of eternity — and I’ll take that work with a heaping side of patience, please.

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