Putting Their Best Faith Forward

By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View

Two years ago, hoping to revive a dwindling congregation, new pastor Dan Allen encouraged his Leon Springs Baptist Church flock to think of innovative ways to reach out to the community. In response, Rebecca Muegge, a longtime cyclist, and her husband, Frank, pitched a novel idea to Allen: a twice-monthly breakfast for weekend riders.

“We’d always parked at the church to ride Boerne Stage Road, and it just seemed like a good notion—to offer cyclists a place to park, some coffee and a little bit of food,” says Rebecca. “Frank thought of the name, ‘Bike and Brunch.’ We typed up an outline [for Allen], and he approved it. We started out with a more elaborate sit-down meal but found it was better to have something simple near the road, so we bought a tent and gave out hummus, orange juice, water and muffins.”

“People come and go, in small groups, and we just talk with them,” says Frank. “It’s a nice way to meet new people.”

This type of no- or low-pressure outreach is increasingly typical of local churches seeking to capitalize on the area’s rapid growth by serving the community first, proselytizing second. Especially visible of late have been the activities of Leon Springs Baptist and Cross Mountain Church, both situated on Boerne Stage Road—the Main Street of Leon Springs, if you will.

Even strictly secular activities are regarded as an opportunity to connect with the community. Allen reports that when local officials approached him about setting up election polls inside his facility, he eagerly agreed, hoping that voters would take closer notice of the church’s activities once on the grounds. Borrowing from the Book of Matthew, he says pointedly—and repeatedly–of his church’s outreach approach, “I like to say, ‘Let them see our good works before they hear our good words.”

Allen’s tactics have paid off, with weekly attendance having almost tripled within the last two years. The church continues to explore new outreach initiatives. In fact, the church’s innovative “Bags of Blessings” program—for which members offered prayers for homeowners along with cookies, pasta, bread and other goodies just prior to Thanksgiving—was so well received that other San Antonio churches reportedly plan to copy it.

“We learned a lot from the Bags of Blessings program,” says Erik Kuykendall, Allen’s associate pastor. “Every house has its issues—cancer, divorce, loneliness—everyone needs prayer. It was a reaffirmation that we all face challenges, no matter how wealthy we are.”

Jerry McNeil, reaching and missions pastor of Cross Mountain Church, regards the area’s affluence as both an obstacle and an opportunity when it comes to outreach.

“How do I help those people in the Dominion know that there’s a God that can help them, and the experience is something that they just can’t buy?” says McNeil. To answer his own question, he pulls out a small card bearing the phrase “This is a simple way of saying that God loves you.” “We distribute these to our people and encourage them to just do something simple, like pay for the next person behind them in line at Starbucks or to buy them lunch. You don’t really even have to say anything, just hand the card over. I’ve done it so much that the Starbucks counter staff knows to just go ahead and take the next person’s order because I’m paying for it.”

In keeping with the spirit of random kindness, McNeil oversees the delivery of buckets filled with cleaning supplies to homeowners in the newest subdivisions. And while MapQuest may lag behind in cataloguing new streets, McNeil has a firm grasp on the changing landscape. “I work with the developers’ offices and have maps of each subdivision,” he says. “I know when a house is finished and about to be moved into. Then, at the start of the month, we send people out to leave the buckets on doorsteps as people move in.”

In assuming the traditional role of community welcome wagon, McNeil ensures that his organization is top-of-mind as a resource for newcomers. Moreover, he is ever ready to discuss the many events and services that his church makes available for the community-at-large, including an annual Easter egg hunt, faith-based counseling, and monthly Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meetings. Cross Mountain also makes its facility available to nascent civic organizations such as the Walnut Pass Homeowners Association. Yet the community initiative for which the church is most well known, however, is the annual harvest festival, held on October 31.

“We had over a thousand people here last year,” says McNeil. “It’s a safe, free alternative to Halloween, and lots of children come in costume. We have people dressed as cartoon characters and really go out of our way to make sure everyone in the community knows that they are welcome.”

It may be argued that in a suburban area with no civic center, no discernible annual community events, and a dearth of social service organizations, local churches are making the most of the opportunity to be social hubs. As a famous sociologist once noted, it’s no accident that the root of “communion” and “community” are one and the same.

Yet the local pastors demure from those high-falutin’, secular notions, redirecting the conversation ultimately to their true mission: saving souls. And in the end, faith—not hot coffee or free housekeeping supplies—is the biggest draw for true believers.

“We appreciate that [Allen] is following God’s lead in opening up the church and letting the fresh air in,” says Rebecca Muegge. “He wants us to bounce new ideas off of him, and, say, if we wanted to do outreach with go-go dancers, well, he’s definitely not going to allow that to happen! It all comes back to doing what is in keeping with God’s word.”

Stitched Together Suburban quilt store crafts a sense of community

By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View

Surrounded by a Quizno’s, a package store and a saddlery, the Sew Special Quilts storefront suggests it’s just one more small business, one of several that comprise The Market at Boerne Stage. Yet walk through the front door, past the colorful fabric and sewing machines, and you will discover at the back of the shop a bright, cheerful classroom that buzzes with folks seeking something more than batting and bobbins. You see, in an expanding sea of subdivisions, traffic lights and fast food joints, a lot of people come to this hidden room to create and connect with others through various classes and activities.

“I think women in general have a need to be creative. Quilting gives us that outlet through choices in color and texture,” said shopkeeper Laurie Mangold. “We also have a need to commune and share. The classes help fulfill that need.”

According to Mangold, there are two independent groups, or bees, that use the classroom regularly. The shop also sponsors embroidery and sewing clubs as well as regular quilting classes. And beginners are welcome.

“In our $5 Quilt Class, everyone is a stranger at the start,” said Mangold. “But by the fourth class, I can’t get people to stop talking. Before you know it, they’re going to Starbucks before or after class. One of the women in a recent class just found out she’s having twins and that got everyone talking and offering advice. It’s more than just a place to learn, it’s a place to have fun.”

Long-time customer Algine Perry got hooked on the $5 Quilt Class a few years back.

“Every month you get a package and can put together a block,” Perry said. “At the end of the series, you can put together a whole quilt. The monthly class is a wonderful time for people who don’t know how to quilt to learn…and the store and its classes offer a nice sense of fellowship.”

“My husband calls the store “Cheers for women”,” said Mangold. “We don’t drink, but we come together with common interests and come to appreciate one another.”

Mangold sees a rise in the number of quilters in lock step with Leon Springs’ rapid growth.

“We see little community groups forming all the time in the area,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many women who, when they first move somewhere new, look for a quilt shop to visit, maybe even before they pick a church. Every church can be so different, but most quilt shops are pretty similar and it’s easy to get acquainted with people. I know one woman who moved here recently whose own daughter threatened to drive her to our shop personally if she didn’t get here on her own before last Christmas.”

While Mangold concedes that most of her customers are women, she is quick to add that there is no “typical” quilter.

“I’ve taught people—of both sexes—from ages seven to over seventy,” she said. “And, yes, we occasionally have a man in the classes.”

“I have a twenty-year-old son,” said Lenora Daly, another store regular, “and he started quilting about eight years ago. He’s made four of those fringe-y quilts for girlfriends. I joke that before he gets married half of the girls in Boerne will have a quilt from him.”

“My perception when I was younger was that quilting was only for older women,” said Perry, whose adult son recently took up sewing. “I think there are a lot of young people [quilting] today who never would have tried [it] before.”

Mangold credits quilting’s initial appeal to most of her customers with a desire to leave a legacy to family and friends.

“I made my first quilt when I was pregnant with my first son, over forty years ago,” said Daly. “I finally put it together and finished it just a few years ago, to give to my grandchild. I guess you could say that I came full circle with that one!”

In addition to helping her customers create family heirlooms, Mangold helps quilters find simple but useful ways of volunteering their skills in service to the community.

“We try to undertake some sort of project at the end of each year. Once, we made lap quilts for chemotherapy patients,” said Mangold. “We open up the project to anyone who is willing to come work.”

Last December, twenty quilters made 150 pairs of colorful pajama bottoms for St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in just a few days. During the project, the classroom was filled with laughter and activity as each participant dedicated herself to one or more tasks, including cutting, piecing, sewing, ironing, and folding. For all of the labor, the room took on a festive air as the quilters shared their work, caught up with old friends, made a few new ones, and enjoyed a bounty of cold cuts and other snacks.

“I think it’s awfully nice of Laurie to arrange [this service project],” said Perry, who was one of the volunteers. “And she donates, too, the machines, the thread and a lot of the fabric, too.”

“Almost all of the sewing guilds are making things for others in the community,” said Mangold. “There are women making quilts for our returning servicemen. We make quilts at my church for Meadowland [Residential Treatment] in Boerne. People ask me all the time ‘When do you stop? When do you run out of quilts to make?’ And I say there are always people who need to be comforted.”

There seems to be no shortage of women willing to help comfort, especially when the rewards are so immediate.

“Women who like to sew like to be around fabrics…and we enjoy the fellowship of a special project, too” said Perry, with a chuckle. “So pretty much anything that goes to a good cause, we’ll do.”

Postpartum Anxiety Options

By Pamela Price
Mothering Magazine
August 2006 Online Bulletin

Healthcare practitioners are becoming increasingly savvy to the fact that moms may encounter more than just the “baby blues” in the weeks and months after birth. Postpartum anxiety, characterized by classic symptoms such as hot or cold flashes, dizziness, tremors and feelings of helplessness, is an often frightening condition that may exist alongside or independent from the more commonly diagnosed postpartum depression.

Treatment options vary, but many women find relief by combining proper nutrition (especially B vitamins), an exercise regimen, and cognitive behavior therapy. Others may seek seemingly more aggressive treatment through prescription medication, which may or may not be compatible with breastfeeding. Be aware, too, that it can take up to eight weeks to see effects from medication alone. In addition, the drugs are typically more effective when used in tandem with the above treatments.

What’s a new mom who finds herself on shaky emotional ground to do? Don’t go it alone; ask for help. Find a provider who will thoroughly assess your situation. Enlist their help in working with you to create an appropriate, effective plan of action that values your commitment to natural living. For more information and for resources, visit Postpartum Support International’s web site at www.postpartum.net or call their helpline at (800) 944-4PPD.

Next Generation Civic Groups Community Involvement in a Post-Rotary Club Era

By Pamela Price
The Next American City

In 1999, a twenty-something engineer named Bill Carson faced an increasingly common decision: to stay or go. Having moved to St. Louis seven years earlier in a job transfer, he didn’t have strong ties to Missouri. He toyed with the idea of returning home to Pennsylvania or venturing to a seemingly more exciting city like Seattle, but St. Louis had started to grow on him. When Carson finally decided to stay, he committed to forging deeper roots. He joined Metropolis St. Louis.

Formed as a non-profit civic organization in 1997 in part to address the city’s brain drain, Metropolis St. Louis strives “to create and promote an environment in the City of St. Louis that attracts and retains young people.” Today its over 1,200 members rehabilitate rundown buildings, sponsor architectural tours in the city’s urban core, and place members on non-profit and governmental boards. The organization puts special effort into involving and empowering young people. Carson, in fact, took the reins of Metropolis’s leadership development initiative within six months of joining the organization.

Carson’s story runs counter to political scientist Robert Putnam’s theory that young people are not interested in civic engagement. In his 2000 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Putnam cited declining membership in community service groups nationwide as evidence that communities are facing a decline in “social capital,” the personal networks and channels of trust that individuals can draw upon as a resource. Yet while the phenomenon that Putnam documents may ring true overall, the popularity of groups like Metropolis St. Louis suggests that more traditional organizations simply may not know what young adults seek in civic life.

A Growing Movement

Consider the statistics: Young Leadership Council of New Orleans has almost 1,400 members, most between the ages of 21 and 42, and has raised over $14 million to support the community since its inception in 1986. Less than an hour away, Baton Rouge’s Forum 35 recently reached 600 members and celebrated its tenth anniversary. Meanwhile, Young Professionals Milwaukee, only three years old, has over three thousand members. “We never anticipated such success when we launched,” says Shelley Jurewicz, Young Professionals Milwaukee’s executive director. “Our growth rate is five to eight percent per month right now. They just keep coming.” In over twenty cities around the country, these new civic groups are expanding dramatically. While only about twenty percent of the membership is very active in the clubs, that still means that a significant core of young people remains heavily involved.

Most cities sporting these new groups face heavy population decline. Motivated by the need to retain young talent, these organizations serve as incubators for new forms of civic engagement centered on service and social outings. Activities typically reflect the needs of the community in which the organization develops, and include visual and performing arts shows highlighting local talent, volunteer opportunities with local charities, and group trips to athletic events.

Leading the charge to put a fresh face on civic groups are young people themselves. While a few such groups came from local chambers of commerce eager to attract and retain young professionals, most developed organically.

“Our organization was started eighteen years ago by a small group of young campaign workers,” says Gerald Duhon, executive director of New Orleans’ Young Leadership Council, one of the first of the new breed of civic groups. “They had just finished working on a mayoral race, enjoyed the experience, and wanted to stay involved with the community on a permanent basis.”

Since its formation, Young Leadership Council has inspired the launch of two other groups, Baton Rouge’s Forum 35 and Mpact Memphis. Similar organizations, including Metropolis St. Louis, formed independently in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Keeping it Local

Although these next generation civic groups vary in origin and size (Young Professionals Milwaukee is the largest), their similar missions, goals, and projects reveal a great deal about the attitudes of young people toward civic engagement. Each group is homegrown, rather than chartered through a national office like Rotary, and designed to help people capitalize on local assets and opportunities.

“Our model is to be a portal for individuals to engage with the city,” says Dawn Lopez, a founding member of Mpact Memphis. “We like to say that if you are from here, we can show you things about the city you’ve never seen before. And if you’re not from Memphis, we’ll show you even more.”

Homegrown groups appeal to the desire of today’s young people to be part of something that is obviously “alive” and “responsive.” “From my research, there is definite interest in civic life that is simply not going to play out in Rotary clubs,” says Carol Coletta, a consultant and host of the city-oriented public radio program “Smart City” who recently wrapped up a report on the migratory trends of young people. “It is simply not true that Generations X and Y are disinterested in civic life. They [just] don’t want to regard things as ‘done.’ When they see buildings being built [in downtowns], that suggests a dynamism, that there is a ‘role for me.’”

The grassroots, civic orientation of these groups stands in contrast with the missions of their more traditional, chartered counterparts. Although local Rotary club members make significant contributions of time and cash to their respective cities, Rotary International is primarily a “worldwide organization of business and professional leaders” dedicated to humanitarian services, peace, and goodwill. Mpact Memphis, on the other hand, aims to “inspire, engage, and empower a new generation of Memphians to make their city a better place.”

Diversity, Dating, and Dinner

Just as important, the new breed of civic groups works hard to make all kinds of people feel welcome. Putnam never mentions in Bowling Alone that Rotary International didn’t open its ranks to women until 1987, when it was forced to by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although today many women are Rotarians, membership is often still offered upon invitation only and subject to review by current members. Some clubs even restrict membership to only one or two representatives from each industry or field in an effort to create a microcosm reflective of the larger community.

In marked contrast, the newer civic groups are openly—even aggressively—inclusive on all fronts, from professional occupation to sexual orientation. Seldom is more required for membership than a check—usually under $100 and often covered by employers eager to keep young talent rooted in place. Group missions reflect a commitment to inclusiveness, too. Among five focus areas defined by Mpact Memphis is diversity, with the goal of “a measurable increase in the number of interracial civic, political, social, and business relationships in Memphis.” Meanwhile, Metropolis St. Louis declares in its core belief statement: “We believe in a city, committed to its people, economically and racially diverse, that looks forward to the future without neglecting its history.” Ultimately, the inclusiveness these groups promote fits the definition of “bridging (social) capital” that Putnam argues is necessary to “generate broader identities and reciprocity” and yield constructive social change.

“We want our members to be intentional about diversity,” says Jurewicz. “And we define it broadly as ‘culture, profession, and lifestyle.’ Every once in a while, I get a call from someone saying that we’re too ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ When that happens, I point to our 2003 membership survey, which shows that our members are almost equal thirds Democrat, Republican, and Independent.”

This attitude of inclusiveness is also manifest in programming. In 2003, for example, Forum 35 assisted with the 50th anniversary of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, a significant event in the early Civil Rights Movement. More recently, Young Professionals Milwaukee hosted a six-part program series called “Mosaic Café,” designed, in Jurewicz’s words, to help people “live diversity rather than just talk about it.” Participants gathered around small tables, discussing topics such as segregation and education in fifteen-minute intervals before rotating to another group. Over 1,700 people participated in the entire series.

While innovative, socially-conscious, progressive programming is common to these groups, so is a more laid-back, casual approach to interaction. Many members are, at least initially, motivated to get involved by the frequent wine tastings, cultural events, and group dinners at local restaurants. Social activities provide busy young people with an easy mechanism for meeting their peers while exploring their respective cities. And naturally, more than a few love matches have been made, a fact not lost on 20- and 30-somethings interested in a safe atmosphere to find a mate. Ultimately, the integration of personal and professional networking opportunities with socially-motivated, locally-focused programming is the hallmark of these next generation groups.

Of course, how beneficial the groups are to their communities in the long run remains to be seen. Because the majority of groups recently formed, with localized projects and no national office collecting data or issuing press releases, the groups have generally flown under the national radar. It is not surprising, then, that Putnam did not recognize this growing trend.

Yet at a minimum, the membership numbers of these groups alone reveal tangible interest among young people in establishing a meaningful connection with their communities. If next generation civic groups continue to grow in size, number, and influence, perhaps Putnam—and Rotary—should take a closer look.

REFERENCES

Gottleib, Paul. “Labor Supply and the ‘Brain Drain’: Signs from Census 2000.” Brookings Institution, January 2004. A PDF can be downloaded at:

http://www.brookings.edu

Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Goverment, Harvard University. Prepared by Robert Putnam et al. “The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey Community Highlight Report for East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana” 2000.

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/saguaro

http://www.cfsv.org/communitysurvey

Forum 35 (Baton Rouge, La.)

http://www.forum35.org

The Memphis Manifesto

http://www.memphismanifesto.org

Metropolis St. Louis

http://www.mstl.org

Mpact Memphis

http://www.mpactmemphis.org

Rotary International

http://www.rotary.org

Young Leadership Council (New Orleans)www.youngleadershipcouncil.org

Young Professionals Milwaukee

ypm.mmac.org