He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
The Newport-Mesa area in Orange County is an area that has always triggered mixed emotions. Having worked there for almost a year, I can definitely appreciate its nice restaurants, its busy pubs, its luxurious marinas, and its natural beauty, the area being so close to the ocean. Yet, the distinct divide between the wealthy and the poor that I have so often observed as I have ventured out into the area’s diverse neighborhoods has left me perplexed, troubled, and burdened by the deep lack experienced by so many whilst others live in great excess.
For the past few months, my fiancée has been interning at a small non-profit based in Costa Mesa: Mika Community Development Corporation. Their work and mission immediately drew me to them, as it seemed that their heart had been broken for things similar to what had been breaking mine. In a nutshell, Mika’s focus is on loving those neighbors that many find it difficult to truly love. And because true love empowers, strengthens, and heals, these neighbors have been able to shine and to set off much needed transformation in their communities.
Founded in 2003, Mika’s founders and its current team believe that Costa Mesa’s social issues need to be addressed locally, and this by acknowledging and involving not only the rich but most especially the poor. Over the last years, Mika’s staff has developed and invested in relationships with neighbors in four low-income communities residing on Shalimar Drive, Center Street, Maple Avenue, and Baker Avenue. Their work is mostly focused on Neighborhood Development and Youth Development, with Mika’s broader mission being to identify and equip leaders in low-income neighborhoods to build communities with VISION…
- Vision: neighbors share and agree on a desired future for their community
- Interdependent Relationships with God and Each Other: neighbors support one another in all facets of life: spiritually, emotionally, socially, and economically
- Servant Leadership: leaders are committed to serve, listen, trust, collaborate, and empower other neighbors to serve effectively
- Impact: neighbors identify, design, fund, manage and evaluate sustainable initiatives that transform their community
- Organization: neighbors have established efficient and effective local systems and structures to reach their shared goals and vision
- Networks: neighbors collaborate with public and private partners from inside and outside the community to maximize the impact of their initiatives
A few weeks ago, Mika trusted me with the redesigning of their website, which I am doing in tandem with building a new photo portfolio of the neighborhoods they work in. The main focus of my work has been to communicate Mika’s mission and vision as clearly as possible, with the desire that more will be drawn to their work, and to partner with Mika in however ways they are able to. As I captured these images with my camera, I yearned to communicate the beauty that is found amongst much hardship, the familiarity that can be experienced amongst those most unknown to us, and the close-knit community that is formed when strength lies not in living alone but in living peacefully with others, walking together towards a common good.
Today I share some photos taken on Shalimar Drive, where I spent a few hours getting to know the neighbors Mika has been working with over the last few years. The next few weeks will feature faces from the other three neighborhoods.
The Shalimar neighborhood is comprised of three streets that are blocked off on three sides, creating a safe atmosphere for children and youth to interact and play. These boys, first generation Americans of Latino immigrant families, were more than keen to be photographed; a great way to break the ice!
The neighborhood’s park, once used by drug users and gangs, has recently been returned to the children of Shalimar. Together with Mika, the neighbors were able to meet with the Parks and Recreation Department to ask for support in upgrading and remodeling the park.
Recently, the neighbors planted a community garden behind the park that encourages families and generations to work together and provide vegetables for individuals and families in need.
While the neighborhood is still fighting a reputation of crime and violence, a new history is being written, one telling of neighbors working together. Shalimar’s weekly block party is one event that clearly witnesses this. This block party allows for families to cook and sell food, allowing for another source of family income. And the food is good!
Two of Mika’s seven staff members live on Shalimar Drive. Their presence in the neighborhood speaks not only of their personal commitment to their neighbors, but also of their willingness to experience at first hand the neighborhood’s hardships and needs.
***Mika’s work can be read about in further detail on www.mikacdc.org. The new website is still under construction, to be launched next month.
Story by Nathalie Borg Seale | Photos by Joshua Seale