Revitalizing a community

first_imgLANCASTER – When Tuesday comes, 11-year-old Joseph King-Mauldin eagerly looks forward to the Bible club meeting after school at the house around the corner. Family members say the Piute Middle School student “breaks his neck trying to get” to the Gingham Avenue house that serves as the church. Church leaders rented the home and hired a staffer to live there as part of a grass-roots program to restore and revitalize the distressed east Lancaster neighborhood. “It’s fun. It teaches people about Jesus, God and the Bible,” King-Mauldin said. “First they let you have fun and play, then you go to Bible study and then you go back and play.” Joseph’s mother, Elizabeth Mauldin, praised the Neighborhood Impact program, a joint effort by two churches, Grace Chapel and Central Christian Church, that started 21/2 years ago. The program also has adopted three schools, Piute, Linda Verde Elementary and Antelope Valley High School, where church members have volunteered in cleanup and repainting projects and brought in treats every six weeks for the entire school staff as part of what is called “Monday Morning Muffins.” The churches have put on community events at the schools and Pierre Bain Park, formerly Eastside Park, such as Easter egg hunts, barbecues, carnivals and sports camps. At the Gingham house, activities including Bible study, sports activities and story times for children. Last Christmas, the house was the site of a gift boutique where residents could buy presents at a discount. Free Christmas stockings and backpacks were handed out. The program in part grew out of a meeting of pastors and the then-principal of Antelope Valley High School, who talked about the challenges students faced and increasing community involvement. Johnson said he was moved to help the neighborhood after driving by it. “I drove by it every day to church and had a burden for it. There was another pastor who felt the same way. The Lord just put that on my heart,” Johnson said. One Saturday, Johnson and the other pastor bought a girl’s and a boy’s bicycle to raffle off, an inflatable jumper and other prizes, and set up a carnival in an empty field where apartment buildings were razed next to the old Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. “We went there and said, `Let’s just meet people.’ That’s how it started,” Johnson said. Grace Chapel began renting the Gingham house in August 2006. “There’s an advantage to showing up and being a neighbor and getting to know people,” Johnson said. “We want to be a neighbor, not one that just shows up and does projects.” Grace Chapel’s Stacy Waddle, who has been working in urban ministry since 1998 and is related to Johnson by marriage, came from Kansas to live there. “We wanted to understand the neighborhood. We asked Stacy to come train us and make sure we didn’t offend people,” Grace Chapel Assistant Pastor Pat Tanner said. “It’s pretty simple. You live with people you care about,” Waddle said. “It’s no us-them.” They said neighbors have been welcoming and receptive, although one resident didn’t want anything to do with a faith-based program. The program ties into the city of Lancaster’s Strong Neighborhood Initiative, a plan unveiled last year to help residents of deteriorating areas improve their neighborhoods. City Manager Bob LaSala said the neighborhood around Piute Middle School where the churches have focused their efforts is among those targeted by the city. “I think it’s a great example of a grass-roots, faith-based initiative, partnering to outreach into at-risk neighborhoods through youth and family work,” LaSala said. The city of Palmdale also is trying a neighborhood approach by establishing city-owned “neighborhood houses” as part of its anti-crime initiative, Partners for a Better Palmdale. The first such home is set to open June 25 at 503 E. Ave. Q-3, an area where a teen was fatally shot in November and where shots were twice fired at deputies last summer. No one will live at the storefront operation, but it will serve as a place to do tutoring, hold community meetings, provide information on city services, and provide flu shots and other programs. “It’s an area that continues to have problems with lower property values, higher crime rates, higher incidences of vandalism and graffiti, rental activity as opposed to home ownership,” said Mike Adams, Palmdale’s housing manager. “It’s an area that we can go into and make a difference.” Schools are also part of Neighborhood Impact’s focus. Linda Verde Principal Lorraine Zapata said church members first approached her at the beginning of the school year and said they wanted to help. Initially she was skeptical. They said they would start by bringing in treats for teachers about once a month, like muffins, fruits, bagels, Zapata said. “They said, `Start thinking about things you want done around the school.’ They said, `Would you like a tree?’ I said absolutely, and they brought me a tree,” Zapata said. Before Christmas, they asked her to make wish list of what she wanted done at the school. Zapata did and volunteers showed up June 2 to repaint a U.S. map on the ground, remove gum with a putty knife, and help move supplies and textbooks around. One student walked by, saw the activity and stayed to help, Zapata said. “The student now has ownership of our school because he helped take care of it,” Zapata said. [email protected] (661) 267-5744160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “I think it’s wonderful. It gives children positive things to do in the evening. It gets neighborhood children to be friends and not fighters,” Mauldin said. “It teaches them about the Bible and how to love, honor and respect themselves as well.” Mauldin said when her father died, people from the program brought food and sodas to her house. “They are here for the whole neighborhood, not just for the children,” she said. Neighborhood Impact is about churches being involved in the community and making a difference in the lives of people, Grace Chapel Pastor Chris Johnson said. Grace Chapel, with 1,300 members, started the program, and 2,200-member Central Christian has been part of it since last year. “The hope is that every church in the Antelope Valley will do the same thing, that they will go out and adopt a neighborhood,” said Concepcion Harris, minister of outreach and evangelism at Central Christian. “What kind of impact would that have? What kind of change if people actually see people caring about other people?” last_img