What's in a name?

People often ask, “How did you come up with the name Sustainable Alamance?”  Several people have gone as far to suggest that the name needed to be changed because they thought we were farmers.   Rightly or wrongly, and perhaps stubbornly, Sustainable Alamance has refused to change its name.  So, the next obvious question is “Why?”

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Several years back, when I was involved in the textile industry, I was privileged to work with some great people that taught me a lot about the environmental impact of the industry.   We discussed at length about what our part was in the system that was polluting the environment, and why it had to change if we were save the planet for future generations. We needed to have a better understanding of how we used and managed resources, natural and economic resources… my introduction to sustainability as it was defined.

Later, after the textile industry all but disappeared, I got involved with helping men and women on the margins of our community. What I found was dozens of men and women that were wonderfully talented people who had so much to offer our community.  Most of those I got to know shared that personal decisions were the primary factor that led them to a life on the margins of our community. I came to understand that they were living within the confines of a system that was preventing them from participating fully in the local economy.    So, in order to identify, develop and restore these talented citizens,  I started to ask a different question;  “Can we say we are working toward a truly sustainable economy if everyone could not participate?”  The answer was a resounding NO!

The term “sustainable” had taken on a meaning that was too narrow for me.  It left out “people” as a resource to be preserved, harnessed, and developed just like air and water and sunlight.  I saw people as a greatly underutilized resource.  And besides, why have clean air and water, if not for people to breath and drink?   People, human resource,  had to be added to the mix when we discuss sustainability. 

While Sustainable Alamance was founded to help men and women pressed to the edges of our community because of criminal records, what we find ourselves working on is a sustainable community, a community that has learned to harness the resources buried, sometimes deeply, within our citizens. 

We know that harnessing sunlight can produce electricity, but it takes investment and infrastructure.   The same applies when working to harness the power within people.  Sustainable Alamance is investing in people, people that are too often forgotten or even thrown away because of a “past”.  Just as we should not waste electricity or water, why would we ever want to waste people, the very reason that we want to talk about sustainability.

The sustainability dialog MUST be expanded beyond windmills and solar panels.  Sustainability is only meaningful when the wise use and development of the human resource is included in the dialog. Sustainability is found where environmental impact intersects with economic and social well being for all.

Investing in an underutilized resource, especially human resource, is critical for a truly sustainable community. So, rightly, wrongly, or stubbornly, Sustainable Alamance will, for the time being, hang on to its name.  It’s who we are.

Restoring Lives, Restoring Community

Many know about the work Sustainable Alamance does connecting people to employment.  It was, after all, the issue that launched the organization. The “Restoring Community” piece is less well known, but vitally important.

 If you try to put the work of Sustainable Alamance in as few words as possible, these would be the words.  

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We know that jobs don’t “fix” people…this takes what we call a head and heart change.  

We also know that when we place someone in meaningful work, knowing that the only place they have to live is in the same broken and hurting neighborhoods that gave birth to them, that person remains in a high-risk situation… risk of failure and relapse. This is why Sustainable Alamance is focused not only on restoring lives, but restoring community as well—we believe you cannot truly do the former without also doing the latter.

What does this have to do with you…the reader?  Let me share a story rooted in history, but very relevant to the present.

Part I:   Around the first of the year, I received a call from the pastor of the Latino church that shares space with us at Beverly Hills Church (our headquarters).  There was someone outside their home (the original Beverly Hills parsonage) shouting obscenities.  I headed down to see what was going on.  My first thought was that the gentleman was intoxicated, and my experience told me that the Burlington Police probably knew him.  I called the police and asked them to meet me there.

It turned out that the police did know the man, a known alcoholic but with no previous tendencies for violent behavior.  He just happened to be a little farther away from his usual neighborhood.   After meeting up with the Pastor, and the police, we decided to let him sleep it off nearby, because the only other alternative was jail.

Part II:   About 1950, a local Burlington businessman donated the land for Beverly Hills Church.  In fact, the building that hosted the first church gatherings is still on the property. It was his desire that the newly developed neighborhood, Beverly Hills, needed a church as a centerpiece for the community.

Why the history lesson?  What is the intersection of these events?

 What struck me is the idea that in the 1950’s, a local Burlington businessman would have never thought that one day, homeless man with an addiction alcohol would be shouting obscenities at a Peruvian pastor and family living in the parsonage built on the church grounds.  But I believe God knew it.

Perhaps Beverly Hills Church was founded not only for the times that are in the history books, but precisely for the times we are experiencing today….. for the present day and time.  

As part of the “Restoring Community” vision of Sustainable Alamance, Beverly Hills Church can become a community-centered beacon of hope for this historic neighborhood.   Jesus tells us that “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40) 

This building, these grounds, this very location can be used for teaching, training, loving, caring and helping to teach and learn the art of “neighboring”.  If you are so inclined, come join us every week for worship on Sundays at 11am, and get to know Beverly Hills, not only as the community was and is, but what it can be.

Come help us restore a historic church, on historic property.   Come be part of a listening community, a community that believes in the gifts and assets already in the neighborhood, with the ability to solve problems and give thanks to God and to neighbors working together, so that no life should be at risk.

Sustainable Alamance… Restoring Lives, Restoring Community

 

What is Sustainable Alamance?

You can give a man a fish (charity), you can teach a man to fish (grace and mercy), but that changes nothing until they have access to the lake (hope and justice).

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In 2008, I visited a local ministry group, the Piedmont Men of Steel, a Bible Study outreach for men “on the streets” of our community.  This was the beginning of tremendous insight into a world I knew little or nothing about.

I was surrounded by men who were products of the criminal justice system.   When I say products of the justice system, I mean just that.   While their decisions and actions placed them in the system, the system took over and placed them on a path that had the power to change their lives forever … unless something or someone intervened.

I learned that there are economic sanctions placed on men and women in the justice system, probation fees, fines, restitution, and attorney fees (court-appointed attorneys are not free attorneys). But the catch was (and is), with a criminal history, few employers are willing to hire these men and women, and the “system” has now created a pathway that has economic penalties, but with little or no way to earn the money to pay. This too often leads to additional poor decisions and additional criminal activity—for many people in this situation without means and without a job, this may be seen as the only way to gain the means to make the required payments. (Not making the required payments, is yet another violation.) This is a true “Catch 22” situation for many people without economic means.

This seemed like the perfect the starting point. If we were to stop a cycle of criminal behavior as well as its impact on our community (poverty, expensive incarceration, absent parents in families especially in low income neighborhoods, etc.), what was needed was access to jobs, a legitimate means of earning money to pay the economic penalties.

But my education continued.   

People just don’t end up in jail or prison.  I learned that too often it was a journey. Their parents were often missing, incarcerated, or slaves to drug abuse.  Too often this led to abandonment or physical abuse.   Many children in this situation grow up coping with this trauma in the ways that were modeled to them, further extending a cycle of addiction or crime.

What is needed is not only a job, but healing and hope.  What is needed is someone to lean in and listen to the pain and offer the hope that life does not have to be this way.   What is needed is a belief that people on the margins of our community do not have to be defined by the deficiencies; that they can and should be seen as God sees them, with gifts and talents of their own, gifts and talents that have been buried in the mud and trash of life. What is needed is someone to help uncover a dream AND help with access to the resources to make them come true. This is what Sustainable Alamance does.

Sustainable Alamance is not about windmills and solar panels—Sustainable Alamance is not about renewable energy, it is about renewing lives.  

Sustainable Alamance sees people as the greatest underutilized and misused resource in our community.  

What we do comes from “why” we do it: we exist because people matter to God—ALL people. We have agreed not to do “to and for” our trainees, but to do life “with” them. When you walk with people, you get to know them.  You hear the pain and hurt of the past and help to heal; you hear the dreams and desires and you help build networks for success. 

When you teach a man to fish AND give him access to the lake, you allow him the opportunity to bring fish to the community pot luck, and recognize that our community is stronger with them rather than without them.

Sustainable Alamance… Restoring Lives, Restoring Community