The following are stories briefly retold to create a mosaic, not to draw attention to ourselves, but to share what we are in the process of learning, namely, what it means to be a community. We hope to tell stories that plant seeds in your imagination — seeds that will blossom into relationships between you and your neighbors and provide you with the fruit of a flourishing community. Take a brief glance at these stories unfolding in the neighborhood…
I. A furnace after the flood of ‘09
As most residents of Holland will recall, in June of 2009 we were hit with seven inches of rain in a few short hours. People throughout Holland experienced record amounts of water in basements. The crisis of the flood brought many of us together. We helped each other sand bag & bail water, push cars stalled in the middle of flooded roads, and lent and rigged pumps & wet-vacs. Unfortunately, not everyone had connections and many were stuck trying to repair and rebuild on their own. Five months later, in November of 2009, 3sixty learned of a family that lost their furnace in the flood and were unable to replace it. The father was working two jobs, the mother one, and they had two school age children. The family hired someone to fix the furnace but that person failed and took their money. The family resorted to using electric space heaters for their entire house — not the safest situation! 3sixty stepped in, made connections, and found someone who sold a new furnace at cost to our nonprofit. With our neighbors, we raised the money to cover this cost and a friend of 3sixty generously donated labor and installed the new furnace before winter.
II. Generosity reciprocated
Those of you who lack handyman skills know how frustrating it is when things around the house break down and you are faced with bills for repairs. One neighbor took the initiative to fix some things for a single mom. First, he fixed her bathroom, then her kitchen, and later replaced her broken stove—all at no cost to her. She was deeply grateful and sent her daughters to display their appreciation by coming over to mow their lawn for a summer. She has dropped off a meal, or snacks, and even cleaned on occasion. Community-building reciprocity in action! Another neighbor discovered that the mom’s son enjoyed running but could not afford a pair of running shoes. One neighbor’s connection with another neighbor (who happened to work at a shoe store) resulted in the gift of a great pair of running shoes…a pair of socks was even thrown in! The best part? These neighbors still maintain a friendship!
III. Celebrating transformation together
Community is an efficacious instrument in helping us live into the way of Jesus. We are privileged to be a part of the lives of a courageous couple who are recovering from a drug addiction that caused them to lose custody of their children. Through many relationships and ministries in the city, God has transformed their lives. They are now working, settled into a house in the neighborhood, and have regained full custody of their children. We were able to facilitate some connections in the neighborhood. As a result, the family received some cash assistance, tools, and work opportunities. They are a great addition to the neighborhood and continue to give to us as neighbors. We continue to learn how to walk together as friends and neighbors, seeking to bring out the best in each other.
IV. Granting a wish
One of the tougher stories to retell involves a neighbor who battled cancer. A young wife and mother had terminal cancer. She had a wish to remodel her old, ineffective kitchen. With medical bills and chemo treatments sapping their time and money, they lacked the funds and energy to remodel their kitchen. With a heart full of love, a neighbor stepped in and volunteered time, labor, materials, and coordinated some friends to see the kitchen project finished. A local church also partnered to purchase the woman a new refrigerator. The new kitchen was completed two months before her passing and continues to bless her family.
V. Transient but touched
As we have become friends with many diverse people in the neighborhood, the differences in education and work opportunities each family has had quickly becomes apparent. For example, one young couple with a baby girl was living on the streets. Their history involved countless moves, jail time, broken families and, eventually, living in the home of a family connected to 3sixty. Their history made work and support scarce. The heart of their story, however, was a search for a safe, caring, and trustworthy community. The young mother shared at one point that she had never had a cake prepared for her birthday in 18 years. A few neighbors in the community held a small party for her and baked a homemade cake; she was brought to tears. Since then, the family has moved, but they call to update us, letting us know they are in search of a community like ours that showed so much love and hospitality.
VI. Hiring unemployed neighbors
One of the neighbors in our community purchased his first home in 2010 — a condemned house with many issues. Although he had the construction skills, he did not want to take on the job alone, nor did he want to use his money to simply hire the work out to contractors. He instead envisioned sowing into the community by providing work for unemployed neighbors and using this opportunity to build relationships. Through the process of this house restoration, unemployed neighbors earned the means to pay their bills, camaraderie was developed, and genuine relationships were born.
VII. A tangible space for community interactions
While many nonprofits utilize buildings and offer programs to assist their communities, 3sixty has intentionally opted to focus its mission and time on the intangible realm of relationships. Neighborly community and lasting friendships are difficult to define or replicate with mere programs and schedules. Neighborhood relationships can take a multitude of forms, and we feel it is critical to let God bring us together in creative ways. That being said, our donated office is @ 74 E. 16th Street and offers a community space which has been utilized to encourage relationship-building. We’ve hosted cooking classes, CSA pick ups, birthday parties, Seder meals, poker games, and prayer meetings. Keep your eyes peeled — we’ll continue to use our space to bless the community and foster neighborly relationships!
If you haven’t already picked up on the common denominator here, we want to make it as explicit as possible: everything is done in relationship. We are dedicated to encouraging and connecting our neighbors. Through encouraging and connecting individuals, we hope to create momentum for the whole neighborhood and the city. We are present as neighbors ourselves, and we spend much of our time helping neighbors develop deeper relationships and work together to strengthen this community from the inside out.