Loving your city means loving your neighbors

In Norcross, GA, weaving has become a city-wide affair. Every week in an apartment complex mostly occupied by Latin American refugees, a group gets together to provide support with whatever residents need. Sometimes that is helping youth with homework, other times, it’s about helping the adults find better jobs. Some volunteers live in the apartment complex. Others come from the wealthier neighborhoods around it. They see each other as one community.

They are part of a program called “Love Your City.” The stated goal is to help youth reach their full potential by creating a support system around them. But the method is to weave everyone in Norcross.

“If you attempt to serve a young person but don’t involve the family, you can do more damage than good. And if you’re going to serve the family, you have to then also fight for the community at large. So we found there was no real way to do it well without being more holistic.” says Josiah Johnson of the nonprofit Boy With a Ball that is guiding the project.
In Norcross, neighbors, churches, and businesses are providing resources to whatever neighborhoods need it the most. People across the city are involved and everyone wins.

People from wealthier neighborhoods gain a deeper sense of belonging through the relationships they build, says Johnson. “[The challenged neighborhoods] may be lacking finances, but they have strong family dynamics and strong levels of neighborliness. A lot of times we see how that can be healing or provocative to an upper middle class 17-year-old who was raised behind gates by a maid.” There is a mutuality built in, he explains. ”Each person brings what they have to the table and it usually is beneficial to everyone.”

Love Your City starts by building trust in hurting neighborhoods. Volunteers reach out to neighbors and slowly build relationships with them. “We tell them, ‘We are here to serve. You are the experts,’” says Johnson. Soon, residents take the lead, he says. “It’s usually some family or an older woman – a grandmother who everyone trusts – who takes you in and starts to introduce you to the other neighbors. And the ball gets rolling from there.”

As the sense of community expands across neighborhoods, everyone in the city benefits. According to Johnson, ”We’ve seen that graduation rates have risen by over 40% in the community. Unemployment rates have dropped by about 7%. In 2017, when we first started working in Norcross, there were 111 reported cases of crime. In 2020, there were zero reported cases of crime.”

While weaving may start on a block or in a neighborhood, as people come together in relationships, their sense of community expands in ever-widening arcs. People see their interdependence and recognize that the community includes people and places they had not seen as “their community” before.

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