Monday, September 12, 2011

Neighbors Together

Come next week, I will be spending four afternoons every week at Neighbors Together, the community soup kitchen and anti-poverty organization serving Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

This afternoon I stopped by for a preliminary meeting. I interviewed with Nathalie, who manages both the Community Cafe, which provides hot meals in the afternoon and early evening, and the Empowerment Program, which provides health and legal clinics, counseling, and social services, among other things. She sought to know my interests and goals, my strengths and areas for growth, and my idea of what makes for an effective organization. She also wanted to know what I needed from Neighbors Together to have an excellent working experience there.

You may know I have volunteered at a homeless shelter and worshipped with spiritual communities of the homeless and very poor at outdoor churches. And I have been a community organizer at three faith-based organizations. Given my gifts, talents, and acquired skills, I think Neighbors Together, more than the other sites of ministry available to the Capuchin postulants, is the right challenge and the greatest opportunity for me.

Happily, it will be possible for me to assist Neighbors Together, not only in the Community Cafe (as all previous Capuchin postulants have done), but also in the Empowerment Program and the Community Action Program, which organizes campaigns to stop systemic hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Neighbors Together performs both works of charity and justice, all of which are part of the works of mercy. As an aspiring friar and former community organizer, I would like to be involved in both the pastoral work of feeding the poor and the prophetic work of ending poverty.

It is also important to me to get to know the community in which I live, beyond the walls of the Catholic Church I serve. I want to be a brother and neighbor to all. Working with the staff and serving the people who are members of Neighbors Together seems like a very good way for me to achieve this in the short time I have to live in Brooklyn.

Fortunately, the staff share my confidence that I can be of use to the organization in more ways than usual! Denny, the executive director, has already provided some initial suggestions of what I could do; I am pleased with the opportunities. And, as I wrote earlier, the postulant co-directors affirmed my selection of Neighbors Together as well as the way I came to the decision.

The staff are preparing an orientation to commence on Monday, Sept. 19, when I can assume my weekly schedule with regularity. At that time we will work out the details of my activities and be introduced formally to members, staff, and volunteers. Had I chosen to work at the parochial school, parish, or nursing home, I would probably have started doing things immediately. I can appreciate the need for the staff to prepare for my arrival. Organizers of small non-profit organizations have dense schedules, they are constantly in meetings, and they have precious little time to train and supervise any but a few interns at one time. They make a to-do list of twenty items on Monday morning, and they are lucky if they have finished ten of them by Friday afternoon. I am very grateful they are going out of their way to prepare for my integration into their operations.

You can be sure of dispatches from the soup kitchen and the occasional theological reflection on the practices of ministry I will ply there.

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