I have just returned from The Work of Our Hands Summit in Fresno California. Fresno and the surrounding communities have one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in California plus a concerning level of gang violence.
However, given the creative leadership of Randy White, Executive Director of the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University, and his collaborators over the past decade 450 churches, 75 church based organizations, 400 business people and scores of young millennials are working together to create a much more effective way to empower neighbors than church handouts.
In fact they have created the largest church centered birthing process for launching an innovative array of social enterprises I have found anywhere. They are not only changing people’s lives and families but lifting the well being of the entire community.
At this Summit I not only met a number of young changemakers, church leaders and business people. Together they are creating new forms of social enterprises that are not only empowering the poor but also providing vocational alternatives for former gang members.
For example Tree of Life Cafe offers fresh farm to table meals showcasing local foods grown in the valley. They train and employ men and women who have successfully completed a drug and alcohol rehab program.
Valley Edible Landscapes is a social enterprise that they created last year to create edible landscapes throughout the community that increase the health of residents while reducing water use and creating jobs for the unemployed.
This conference was sponsored by Fresno Pacific College and Seminary and the Center for Community Transformation. Randy White both teaches at the Seminary and heads the Center for Community transformation.
This Summit hosted about 150 students, business and church leaders. At this gathering we were excited to spend time with Ivan Gonzalez a social enterprise consultant from Chicago. Ivan not only outlined concrete ways churches can move from handout to those in need to empowering them…he involved participants imagining new ways their churches can be more a part of this changemaking celebration.
In addition to this gathering the Center also hosts an event called Spark Tank , which is the birthing process to enable churches to collaborate with business and community leaders in creating new forms of social entrepreneurship the not only change lives but causes the entire community to flourish. Thank God for an entire community who are creating new ways to live like they give a damn empowering their entire community!
In what ways have you seen churches engage their community and join the changemaking celebration?