Life 103

Sunday, September 10, 2006

no strings attached

Yesterday our church joined some others in the area to throw a block party for the south side of Newberg. Not your ordinary block party.

Our pastor has been getting together to pray with some other area pastors for a while now and this little group of mother hens hatched an idea to have a party on the south side with music, food, games and chore services – all for free to area residents.

Now, I’ve always lived on the north side. Way north. Out of the city limits north. I went to junior high on the south side but that’s because there was only one junior high in town at the time. Everyone knows (or thinks they know) that the south side is the poor side of town. Not all of it to be sure but enough. People on the south side don’t have as much money or power. They don’t own monstrous houses with manicured lawns for the most part. They rent or bought small and affordable. Crime is higher on the south side. People park their trucks on the street and put blue tarp over their leaky cars and roofs. Over sixty percent of the kids qualify for free lunch at school. Lots of south side residents don’t speak English as a primary language. They don’t own the businesses where they work and many work for peanuts with no benefits. Which is maybe why the bypass is eventually going to go right through their back yard but that’s another issue.

Our church is on the south side, just barely, and several years ago we had some long, hard conversations about moving to the burbs like many other churches had done by then. It would have made sense – dump an ancient edifice (aka historical landmark) and start over with a low maintenance sanctuary big enough to accommodate everyone at once instead of time consuming, resource sapping shifts. We decided not to do it. We stayed where we were with a commitment to be good neighbors.

And yesterday we finally did something real, something tangible, for our neighbors on the south side. We threw a party and gave away our services as best we knew how just for the opportunity to meet our neighbors and say hi.

My family, me and a couple other photography types agreed to take senior pictures for high school students. We agreed to take the pictures, burn them onto a CD and print one for them to turn in to the high school yearbook. We thought we’d have a couple takers. That was the plan. We turned the first couple of groups of giggling girls away because that’s not why we’d set up shop. Then, after more and more requests for group shots, we caved and started doing anyone who signed up. At one point we were so overwhelmed with people crowding around the table that we didn’t know who was doing what.

By the end of the afternoon, we had photographed 22 groups – mostly families, some friends, a couple of soccer teams and a couple of very young teenage moms with their babies. One woman had ovarian cancer and several hard luck stories. She’s my age. From my high school class, actually. A single mom came with two boys and a pale little girl who had been in the hospital the day before. She wanted a picture of the boys for their dad. “Just them together. I’m sure he doesn’t want to look at me anymore.” We did them all together first then the boys by themselves, making them hold out their arms like airplanes just to get them to stand together and look in the same direction.

One group of little girls tried to explain how they all knew each other – we’re sisters, these two are friends from school, those two are friends from church, these two are neighbors. As they talked and pointed from themselves to each other I pictured a big net over their heads connecting them all through different threads.

Two little Hispanic friends had their pictures taken with their siblings first then with each other. When I asked them what they want to do when they grow up, they both boldly said, “Teacher!” They are in third and fourth grades at Edwards Elementary where they have an amazing bi-lingual program to help Spanish speakers learn English and progress academically at the same time. One said, “maybe or a doctor……..a doctor of……animals.” I said, “Ah, a veterinarian.” She said, “Yes, that.” The dreams of little girls have not changed so much in 35 years.

One girl looked like she was about twelve years old and asked if she could have her picture taken with her baby. We took a few shots of the two then another little boy, about 6 years old, joined them saying he was Sergio, the baby’s brother. How could that be? When the girl chose four pictures to be printed, we did it. How could we say no, just one. To us, it’s just ink and paper.

Several times Steve had to reassure people that the pictures were free. Everyone expressed deep appreciation. Twice, we were told we were a blessing. One woman said we should open a shop and do this for money. What, and ruin a perfectly good hobby!!

By 5:00 we had figured out a respectable system to organize what had turned into utter chaos for a while and we were exhausted, thirsty and hungry. Two helpers had baled out. My kids were beyond ready to go. And one last family came by. They’d been hanging around on the fringes for a while. I had told the boy we were done for the day so he went away but the mom came by a minute or so later and looked so disappointed that I said we’d go ahead and do them if she could get the kids together. She had a hard time rounding everyone back up. Her baby was sleepy and wanted nothing to do with me. Her son finally found us and said, “That lady said you couldn’t do us!” “She was mistaken,” I said. Yes, she had made a mistake. The woman’s daughter was toward the front of a long line for free coffee and so we waited. Steve and I needed to be packed up, cleaned up and looking respectable for the Tilikum Potlatch (aka fundraiser) where we were to meet our hosts and schmooze with the donor types. We waited anyway.

As her kids trickled in, the woman said to me, “Thank you, you know, for doing this.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Elizabeth had greeted our work groups affirming that we were there to offer our services, no strings attached. Except for heartstrings, maybe….

5 Comments:

  • I never had so much fun being stressed out before. I didn't have much of a chance to look up between printing pictures and burning CD. But it was all worth it hearing words of thanks and appreciation. Then I wondered who was helping who. I enjoyed the opportunity to serve as much as those using our service enjoyed the pictures. Oh and thanks Kathy for asking me to help. it was fun.

    By Blogger Steve Watson, at 9:00 PM, September 10, 2006  

  • What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it!

    This reminds me that blogs are kind of like windowpanes - you can see through them, but you can't reach out and hug the person on the other side.

    By Blogger Robin M., at 9:28 PM, September 10, 2006  

  • Thanks guys - Michelle too who is still working on becoming a registerd blogger. :) Life is Good.

    By Blogger kathy, at 4:29 PM, September 12, 2006  

  • I love the idea of taking digital photos and printing them right away... or having them available on CD, or both! What a great ministry--even if it didn't end up as you had expected. (Just another sign that God was working through you, maybe...)

    I'll want to tuck this story away and pull it out for next year's National Night Out--our block looks for interesting ways to connect the neighbors to one another. A "photo booth" like yours might help with that.

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

    By Blogger Liz Opp, at 8:51 PM, September 15, 2006  

  • Liz, this really was a great way to meet people and it opened all kinds of good conversation that would otherwise be awkward or weird. The setup was fairly easy with a laptop and color printer. Our coordinator bought a pack of discs, protective sleeves and photo paper which we didn’t use all of. It was a little hard to see the computer screen outside and having a canopy helped with that.

    We thought about setting up a backdrop but our lighting expert never materialized and I’m only experienced with natural light. So we just used the buildings and shrubs that were in the area. It worked out great that it was a little overcast most of the time.

    Having an extra person to help situate the kids was also really helpful. Next year we’ll organize the sign up line/list from the beginning. :)

    By Blogger kathy, at 7:28 AM, September 17, 2006  

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