Washington residents come together for renewal
in the nation's capital
"The question is: Who will start?
"I am. Now I sow smiles and I reap smiles"
When Teshome Buta moved to Washington, D.C., from his home in Ethiopia 13 years ago, he was disappointed that his new neighbors were not as friendly as he had hoped.
“I live in an apartment building and people do not even greet each other or help each other. I want to see that change,” he said.
Buta was wondering if everyone in the capital was unfriendly when he had a flat tire on his way home from work one day. He is a front-desk registration clerk at the Morrison-Clark Hotel and usually does not leave there until late at night. He pulled out his jack, only to find it broken.
“A man stopped in a pickup truck and I got scared. But he stopped to help. I asked if I could pay him, but he told me to go do something kind for someone else.
“I took the Community Renewal Haven House training and now I stop and greet people and smile and ask them how they are doing. And they are all very friendly. I think everyone was waiting for the opportunity. The question is: Who will start?
“I am. Now I sow smiles and I reap smiles.”
Buta is one of a growing number of people in Washington, D.C., who are not only joining Community Renewal, but who are also actively working to establish a CRI presence there. The need is undeniable. The newest D.C. Kids Count Collaborative reports that more than 30,000 of the city’s 100,000 children live in poverty. A recent Washington Post story told of a young mother who would buy a $14 bus ticket to New York each night so that her 2-year-old could sleep safely on the bus. When they arrived, she would buy a $14 return ticket and they would get another few hours of sleep.
“This is the capital of the nation and the whole world is looking here. Anything that happens here will get attention and have a big impact,” he said. “I am fired up and very excited about this.
“Helping people and doing good for people was put in my life in Ethiopia when I volunteered for the Red Cross. I like opening doors to work together as friends and not enemies. The principles and philosophy of CRI goes with my life very well. I love it. With one intentional act of goodness, we can have a big impact. We can change the world.”
Last spring, more than 200 businessmen, public servants, community leaders and other caring citizens came together at the Army & Navy Club to launch Community Renewal Capital Area. The Hon. John Dalton, former secretary of the U.S. Navy, is a Shreveport native who has long followed the work of Community Renewal in his hometown. Now he is leading the effort to bring renewal to the nation’s capital.
“We have a process and a working model which we know can start, grow and sustain caring communities with measurable results. We can do this by activating and empowering local residents, neighborhood by neighborhood, including our own,” he said.
CRI Coordinator Mack McCarter conducted a Haven House training session in Washington this summer and 14 people attended and are now actively sharing a “We Care” attitude in their neighborhoods. Haven House leaders are residents who volunteer to reach out to the people on their block to help build a safer, more caring neighborhood with a greater sense of community.
When Janie Jeffers met McCarter more than 10 years ago, she knew she had met a kindred spirit. She not only believes in the idea of neighbors helping neighbors, she lives it.
“Growing up here in Washington, we knew everybody on the block and that was an anchor for me. I loved that. When I moved to New York, I chose to live in Queens because I needed that sense of community,” said Jeffers, principal in Jeffers and Associates LLC.
“In New York, I would give my apartment key to my neighbor. Some people thought I was crazy, but that’s the way I was raised. After I moved to a house, we had neighborhood cookouts. I looked for that again when I came back to DC. I live in the smallest house now that I have ever lived in, but I am in a great neighborhood and I need that.”
In Washington, she has served as a volunteer in one of the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods, working with others to establish a mobile health care center, open a day-care center and build a KaBoom playground. She sees Community Renewal as a natural partner for these types of efforts.
“Some organizations parachute in, borrow your watch, tell you what time it is, charge you what they want and then leave. Community Renewal brings people together, uplifts the community and values the community. You are planting love and resources and then you walk together and that’s impressive,” Jeffers said.
“I see our next phase as training, which has already started, and building relationships in the community. We will hit some bumps in the road, but we will trust each other and keep moving forward. Once people know what we are doing, there will be no shortage of people who want to participate.”
Maggie Edwards is general manager at the Morrison-Clark and is so supportive of Community Renewal that she has a box of brochures and other information in her office.
“I think this is just incredible. It’s such a simple and practical way to create a framework that will help our children. So many kids have no family structure and this can have a big impact on them,” she said.
“I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, in a wonderful neighborhood where everybody knew each other. It was a great way to grow up. And now a lot of people don’t even feel safe knocking on their neighbor’s door. Society has changed and people are insecure. But Community Renewal is taking a step in the right direction. Community Renewal can bring people together.”
Tony Hollinger learned a great deal about D.C. neighborhoods through his job as general manager of Comcast Cable. Now he would love to see those neighborhoods more united for a caring cause.
“Washington is a hectic and vibrant city and that can overwhelm the dynamics of people getting to know each other and become neighbors. But we are moving in the right direction and there is a growing group of people who will work with us,” he said.
“My hope is that sooner rather than later we can have a Friendship House in Washington and see the power of CRI here. Seeing will be believing. I am highly confident this can have a big impact.”
Hollinger and his wife, Kathy, have a 5-year-old son and they want him to grow up in a safe and caring community. After visiting the Community Renewal model in Shreveport, he made a commitment to help take that model to Washington.
“I liked seeing people in action in Shreveport and seeing how they transformed that area. As individuals, we spend a lot of time accomplishing tasks and doing jobs,” he said.
“We need a unifying and guiding force to help us focus on the relationships in our homes and communities. If we don’t, we may have material success, but we will not be together and that will lead to a fracturing of our American society.
“My neighborhood growing up in Philadelphia had the same challenges as DC has. It was key, sincere, loving relationships that made the difference for me. There was a spirit of community and it required neighbors knowing and caring about their neighborhood. Today families are trying to survive and they need help nurturing those relationships.”