In the photo, that’s me, Candace, on the left working with a great group of college leaders.
Having served as a dean of students at Rochester University for over 15 years, I had a dream that was motivated by a desire to give college students a real experience of what it would look like to intentionally practice being good neighbors. The art of community or even neighborliness seemed lost in our culture. This Community-Living Project that I was imagining would have included community-living in a diverse neighborhood situated close to schools and full of opportunities, where a family and a committed group of college students would seek to create ways to be good neighbors. That was 2006 and the well intentioned program never got off the ground.
In 2007 I transitioned from dean of students to direct nonprofit work in Texas. This thinking about purposefully living in a diverse community with intention never left me.
Hope House Detroit
In 2013, several Rochester University alumni told me about Hope House Detroit, a neighborhood ministry focused on youth in inner-city Detroit, Michigan. Hope House Detroit was very much like the Community Living Project I had dreamed of so many years before. Becky and Gary Gentry had purchased and renovated a home in a diverse neighborhood and took in college students as interns. Together they created ways to practice being a good neighbor. HHD began in 2010 and now has three homes that serve this particular area in Detroit. They have after-school reading programs, mentoring programs, weekend activities, workdays, and they are figuring out new ways to work together to make their neighborhood a cohesive, caring community.
Becky Gentry, executive director of Hope House Detroit was looking for a volunteer director for their after-school reading program and seemed to think I could do it. Despite my nagging doubt, I jumped in. Reading to young people and allowing these college students to develop relationships with these neighborhood kids was beautiful.
A Sent People
In 2016 I moved to Montgomery, Alabama. I continually had thoughts of starting a similar organization, but it seemed too big for me. Transitioning to a new place and attending to aging parents was my life. Yet each week at my Hunter Hills church, my faith community, I was reminded that we are a “sent” people; a people called to be good neighbors; that our faith does something, it holds the brokenhearted and empty-handed, it fans the flames of love, hope, and aspiration.
My problem was one of believing that I could not do what was repeatedly whispered to my heart. In September 2020, I shared my dream and thoughts with Ryan Lassiter about recreating a Hope House here in Montgomery, and he helped fan that ember into a flame. Through a Zoom call with the Gentrys, I became convinced that this was a way to practice the love of God and help others to practice a life of learning to become good neighbors. With this, I reached out to several other friends who were willing to jump in with me.
It is with this lingering dream, the opportunity to work at HHD, and with this thought of being “sent” that I have begun Hope House Montgomery.
Modeled after and in partnership with Hope House Detroit, we have started the journey. We have incorporated, put our board together, have our tax ID, and will submit the paperwork for a 501(c) 3 status. The Highland Park neighborhood is where we will begin looking for a house.
My prayer is that this work and experience will touch everyone involved. We want to practice openness and create space for connection and care in a diverse neighborhood focusing specifically on the youth. We know this intentional engagement will require much effort while creating opportunities for the love of Christ to be revealed.
This move is exciting and a bit nerve-racking, but we fully believe this can be a tangible way to practice our faith, be our brother’s keepers, and that this experience is very needed for our young people and for us.
Thank you from me, my mom, the HHM Board, our partners at Hunter Hills Church of Christ, and the Highland Park neighborhood, where we will daily attempt to practice being good neighbors.