“Poverty does not only consist of being hungry for bread, but rather it is a tremendous hunger for human dignity” (Mother Theresa)
This is Facia, a single mother of three boys and one of Mika’s key neighborhood leaders on Center Street. The passion and vision she has for her neighborhood are infectious, and my conversation with her – besides making me regret not knowing Spanish better – left me wondering why I don’t talk of my neighbors or my neighborhood the way she does. Facia’s commitment to bringing positive solutions to the issues that her low-income neighborhood is facing is undeniable, not only through her words but most of all through her actions.
For the last five years, Facia has been working with Mika staff and fellow neighbors to instill transformation and empowerment into the people of Center Street. She has participated in city meetings, planned community events, spoken to university classes, and been a key decision-maker in neighborhood planning – all because she has been acknowledged as a leader and empowered to identify her community’s needs and desires. Today, Facia is only one of many neighbors who actively participate in Center Street’s Neighborhood Action Committee (NAC), a group of neighbors who, together with Mika, identify, design, fund, implement, and evaluate sustainable neighborhood initiatives.
When the neighbors on Center Street began dreaming about what their neighborhood needed, a community center seemed to be a great desire for many; a safe place where children could get help with their homework, where adults could be educated on health and local resources, and where all could gather together as a community. And so the committee set out to search for both a location and the necessary funding to open a community center. After several months, during which parents volunteered their homes for in-home tutoring groups, the committee together with Mika opened the Centro de Esperanza, Vision hacia el Futuro (Hope Center, a Vision for our Future). In another couple of months, the floors were replaced, the walls were painted, and the Hope Center opened its doors to the community.
After school, K-12 students get assistance with their homework from tutors who fully volunteer their time. When not used for their children’s academic enrichment, the neighborhood leaders maximize the space available to them for their own growth and education. They have initiated ESL courses, health education classes, physical exercise classes, and healthy marriage classes.
In addition, evening meetings are held at the center by the NAC to discuss plans for the future of their neighborhood.
From its very beginning, the Hope Center has modeled the true interdependence of Center Street’s community. On their own, one person could not have accomplished this vision, but together the neighbors were able to dream big and see that dream fulfilled. Each year the neighbors take on an increasingly larger portion of the funding and actively participate in the operation of the center. Dignified, they are able to invest in what their community needs the most.
***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