Gary Condon is one person who has found something he can do. He, along with his wife and 12 others from the area, rounded up tools, paint, paintbrushes, rollers, and other miscellaneous supplies and took a 15- passenger van with a trailer to Community of Hope, a mission for homeless families in the inner city of Washington, D.C.
Community of Hope was established in 1970 by Tom Nees, an old college acquaintance of Condonís. At the time, Nees was the pastor of a church in a community surrounded by black neighborhoods torn apart by the race riots triggered by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He saw the need in the neighborhood, purchased a gutted out building, and since then numerous volunteers, including the Condons who lived there for a year in 1986, have worked repairing, counciling, building a complete medical clinic, and other tasks too numerous to mention. The ultimate goal of the mission is to help families acquire permanent housing while attending to their personal needs. The social services department as well as numerous foundations, churches, and individuals provide financial support and human resources so the mission is able to offer medical, educational, child, and career services.
For many years the Condons have kept in contact with Community of Hope. Last year Condon received a letter from Deanna Durham, director of Community of Hopeís social services, telling him about the repairs that needed to be done. The memorandum was extensive.
Paint hallways, build a new front desk, replace or repair doors, lay carpet in chapel, reroute wiring, spackle and patch crumbling walls, build small closet for coats and supplies, build countertops, convert closet to media room, build shelves, install ceiling fixtures, replace two faucets and one toilet, fix drain in lab sink, repair leaks and drips, replace screens and storm windows in all 13 apartment units, repair locks on apartment windows. These were just a few of the jobs that needed attention, and Community of Hope had received $5000 from the Abell Foundation for materials.
They all stayed in one of the apartments upstairs, and were there for 10 days, repairing and building. Tom Ruhland from Eden Valley offered his help with the wiring and plumbing, Roy Kalkbrenner from Anoka did carpentry work, and the others, including a couple in their mid-70s from Litchfield, did whatever they could, from painting to carpeting.
One of the biggest tasks they undertook was converting a room into an early childhood center. Community of Hope hadnít had one before, but now that so many mothers began going to work and school, there was a need for child care services.
When the mission started it was run by white people, and although those in the neighborhood came there for help, they had no trust for the workers because of the times, and the prejudice they encountered from so many whites. After almost 30 years, Condon said there is finally trust between them, not only because Community of Hope has continued to be there for so long, but also because many of the people who work there now are also black and live in the community. They know firsthand what the families face. Condon said, ď(The neighborhood) is so much better since the last time I was there. People are taking pride in their neighborhood." Rather than going for a handout, more people are taking responsibility and learning skills so they can not only work, but give back to their community.
One of the highlights for the group was the gospel church service they attended on Sunday. Condon said everyone greeted each other with huge hugs, ďnot the kind where we hug at arms length, but big bear hugs. And you know theyíre genuine."
Three Willmar High School girls took off school to go with the group. They told Condon they had never experienced love and joy like they did in that gospel service. They had never even come close to it in the midwestern mentality. Christianity and salvation are very real to the people there because they know what itís like to be free. To walk into that chapel away from the crime, drug dealers and poverty of the city is like actually being released. ďA lot of people around Minnesota are Christians," Condon said, ďbut most of us have never really had anything like that to be saved from." Being there was like being at a celebration. Kalkbrenner was amazed. He said, ďIíve never seen anything like that in my life. Iíd drive all the way to D.C. just to go to their service.
One thing that showed Condon the trust that had developed, was the evening a few of the neighborhood kids introduced themselves to the girls and asked them if they could just hang out and get to know them. ďThey exchanged high school cheers and sang songs," Condon said, ď they all had a great time."
The trip enforced the positive rather than the negative aspects of inner city life showing, among other things, all people have aspirations and dreams. Maybe we're not so different after all.
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