We often look at the big picture of community development but when I think of community transformation I think of individual community members making changes by being better neighbors, being more active in the community. People who chose to change their lives so that the whole community will be affected.
Adrian (better known as FATZ) worked at the Winton Community Center through the “Welfare to Work” program. He had come a long way, from being a rich young man with a paid for brand-new home at 20 and all the ‘bling’ you can imagine, to a Welfare recipient at 26.
Adrian learned the hard way that a life of crime, no matter how successful, does not meet the greatest needs in a family. Both he and his girlfriend, were on drugs, both were about to lose their children and Adrian, who had been incarcerated several times, realized that he was heading for ‘hard time’ if he did not change. His final breaking point was when he missed the birth of his child. Adrian ended up on welfare, at that point had 5 children and a girlfriend that was going through recovery.
When we got to know Adrian we saw so much more than a former gangster, we saw a community organizer, a person willing to work with our at-risk-youth, a person willing not to stay at that low point in his life.Adrian became our AmeriCorps member and just last week finished his term. Through his service he brought community members together, broke down some of the age barriers and had a big passion in helping at-risk-youth. The Winton community is being transformed because a gangster turned community organizer stepped out of his comfort zone to be part of the solution.
He headed up the graffiti abatement youth team that connected with senior citizens who would bring them home-made cookies; he connected with officials to let them see that community members are active to ‘put Winton on the map for something good’. He helped clean up the community and worked tirelessly to make it a better place, often times being surrounded by young people who would help and his own 6 year old son who wanted to be just like dad.
Yesterday Adrian called me all excited! He has big dreams and they are becoming a reality. He enrolled in school to become a chef! His dream has been to be a cook, a job he has been doing for years, but now with the scholarship for his AmeriCorps service he can go on to school and get the right training.
This spring Adrian and Liz got married, but as of today Liz chose to return to a life of drugs, leaving Adrian with his 6 children under10. But he is not worried! He has a community that surrounds him, plans for his future and new understanding that there might be a God who is involved in the everyday part of life. (Although as he would state it, he not yet convinced). But we are not worried because we know that we build the road as we walk it.