A time to give thanks

It’s that time of year when I always try to draw a close to the past year and think about what went right and what went wrong, what I should change and what I should back away from, but this year I want to focus on giving thanks. Giving thanks for life and breath. Giving thanks to my family, that doesn’t always appreciate my humor nor my opinions, but always have my back and grace me with their love.

I want to give thanks for everyone that passes through my life each day, friend or foe, antagonist or protagonist, each enriching my life in their own way. I want to give thanks to the place that I was born in, Kansas City, Kansas. A blue collar town for sure but a place where neighborhoods exist. Where people talk to each other, host BBQ’s, welcome thousands from the surrounding neighborhoods on Halloween, have Christmas lighting contests, support the local schools through volunteerism and come out in droves to mourn our fallen. It is a unique place for sure.

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I want to give thanks to the organization I work for, Community Housing of Wyandotte County, for giving me the freedom to develop a new line of business, Community Building & Engagement, that didn’t exist before. For the last 6.5 years, I have been given the opportunity to use Art as an engagement tool to enlist youth and challenge youth to use Art as a tool to address social concerns in their neighborhoods. Conduct Art classes on street corners, in gardens, parks and even on an urban farm.  It has been 6.5 years of talking with residents, government employees, and non-profit organizations to focus on projects that engage residents, help them define what they  want in their neighborhoods and work towards achieving their goals.

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I want to give thanks for all of the young folks that believed they could make a difference. That they could be agents of change in the place that they live. I want to give thanks to all of the funders and individuals that have made donations to support the cause. The teachers that have allowed pre-school children to visit a small urban farm next to their school where they learn about plant science, grow vegetables, eat fresh berries, talk to the bees, and harvest fresh organic produce for their classmates. I want to give thanks to all of the partners that have been a part of making so many things happen that just didn’t exist before.

spfw5spfw10I want to give thanks to our young CB&E team, and the 400 plus volunteers that help us each year to create low-risk environments where neighbors can meet and get to know each other,  like the EPIC Clay Studio on Strawberry Hill, or the Community Garden in the St. Peter’s neighborhood,  Waterway Park,  Splitlog Farm in the Bethany neighborhood, and most recently the coffee shop, A Cup on the Hill,  on Minnesota Ave in our downtown business district/Riverview neighborhood. They are all different and unique projects in the Grandview Corridor.

I want to say thanks to all of the interesting characters that come to our Friday morning coffees to make new friends and share stories about life experiences. I also want to give thanks to all of those that wrote stories, took pictures and made videos of our projects and helped us promote the cause. Like the one shared below giving tribute to the programs and some of the folks involved.

It has been a rewarding 6.5 years for me, for my mind, for my heart and for the love of my community. So what happens next? I can’t really say, but if there is one thing I know — there is plenty of work left to do and I want to give thanks for that too!

Click to view video   Meet Steve Curtis

 

 

Can Public Spaces make Healthier Communities?

I recently read an article by Alex Smith, Can restoring Parks lead to better health in Wyandotte County, it mentions Waterway Park as an example of a park making a comeback in downtown Kansas City, KS. What is not mentioned is that the revitalization of Waterway Park was made possible by nonprofit agencies, grant funding, a few thousand hours of volunteer labor and summer programming.

IMG_1996wCommunity Housing of Wyandotte County wrote grants, recruited volunteers to plant trees, add landscaping and install benches, put in a bike rack and nighttime illumination. Added wheelchair accessibility, started walking clubs, and provided weekly Art classes in the summer. They also partnered with the Latino Health for All nonprofit organization to help fund a soccer field. The parks department installed workout stations and the YMCA held soccer clinics and IMG_1997wprovided personal trainers to help residents get the most benefit from the stations. Free Wheels for Kids, another nonprofit, held clinics and helped bring bike races to the park. Today Waterway Park is a shining example of what a neighborhood park can be when the residents and community organizations are engaged in community building.

 

So the question remains, Can restoring Parks lead to better health in Wyandotte County? and the answer is yes, they might, but they will have to be designed to invite people in. There should be places to sit, shade for hot days, water for drinking and restrooms so you can take the kids. They will need things to look at, things that move and grab one’s attention. They will need activity, programming for exercise, Art, educational opportunities, events. They will need to serve as outdoor community centers for the surrounding neighborhoods.

0730_1156wRestoring our parks is a great idea and can help some residents live healthier lifestyles but what is going to lead to a healthier Wyandotte County, is healthier neighborhoods. IMG_2725awAvailability of fresh vegetables and fruits in these urban neighborhoods through urban farms, gardens, and the availability of healthy snacks at neighborhood stores. Developing progressive vacant lot policies, addressing vacant structures, dealing with unethical slumlords, and engaging new residents to get involved in the greening of their community. Getting young kids involved in gardening, beekeeping, and recycling at school and at home.

IMG_2807awRestoring the health of our neighborhoods will have the biggest effect on the health of our residents and especially our children. 0504_4049wThey deserve clean streets, safe pathways to school, fresh produce, programmed parks and more adults showing them the way.

A moment of self-indulgence after #66

So yesterday was the birthday! You know that special birthday that comes at some point in your life, that makes you say ‘Damn I am Old’! What the hell happened? What happened to that ‘Whole life ahead of you thing’?

I don’t want to dwell on the past cause for one, it’s in the past, and two, regardless of what I have learned from it, it’s still in the past and I can’t change it at this point. Would I change anything if I had the ability? I would like to think so, but I don’t know. It seems circumstances find their way into our life and depending on your own state of mind, we respond positively, negatively, our indifferently and that’s when the critique starts. So I think I would rather not go back. Just accept it for what it is and move on.

The only question that matters now is’ What am I going to do with the rest of my life’? I don’t know about you, but every time I look around I see a ton of work that needs to be done. Young people who need a role model or mentor, a teacher, a counselor or just a friend. I see people my own age that haven’t been as lucky and could use a hand, a friend or just a smile. I see animals that need attention, caring and love. Neighbors, friends, families, without joy, happiness or hope.

Everywhere I go, I see cities struggling to make our streets safe, our schools funded and accredited, dealing with transportation for all citizens and tearing down buildings for parking lots. It’s crazy! There seems to be so much need to bring people together, to get people to talk to each other, make compromises and get things done. As for our public officials, our public servants? I don’t know what half of them are talking about or how they expect anyone to get anything done on any level without setting an example on how we should all work together for the greater good, but that’s not my arena.

So what about me? What is it that I plan to do with the life I have before me?  I don’t know, I suppose that as long as I am healthy or at least mobile, I will probably keep doing what I have been doing most of my life. Looking for that happy spot. That balance between work, family, relaxation and civic duty. I am pretty lucky really, my family loves me, they generally support my ideas and they even like me most of the time.

So for now anyway, I will keep greeting the early morning with relief and appreciation of another chance to do something, no matter how small, to make this space a better place to live for myself and for someone else. How about you? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

 

Community Engagement through Urban Farming

Last year two of Community Housing of Wyandotte County’s (CHWC) neighborhoods achieved their Quality of Life Goals set forth in the Neighborhoods Now program. CHWC has built affordable housing, provided Home Buyer education and conducted a Community Building and Engagement program lead by the Community Organizer and the ART SQUAD, a group of neighborhood youth that use ART and creative thinking to address neighborhood concerns, creating community spaces for residents to meet, mingle and learn.

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The ART SQUAD goes to Hollywood!

The ART SQUAD goes to Hollywood!

Actually they didn’t but I did go to the NeighborWorks Conference in Los Angeles last month to give a presentation about CHWC’s Art Squad and all the wonderful things they do for our neighborhood but lets start from the beginning.

It all started nearly 4 years ago when I took the Community Organizer job at Community Housing of Wyandotte County here in Kansas City, Kansas. My goal from the first day was to engage youth in our community through the Arts and to help them use Art as a tool to engage their community. First there were after school Art classes about creativity, technology and self-expression. We started an Art club and quickly had a small following.

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