Neighborhood Strength Series: Expanding Community Engagement with Bethany United Methodist Church
Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Neighborhood Strength model aims to put grantmaking decisions in the hands of neighborhood residents -- starting in Crown Heights, the Foundation’s own backyard.
During the Fall of 2016, over 100 Crown Heights residents came together to identify the top challenges and potential investment areas for their community. Then, our Crown Heights Advisory Council of residents and community leaders selected Public Space as a funding opportunity to connect people, groups, and ideas. The Council recommended five grants totalling $100,000 in Spring 2017 to support inclusive public spaces and more green space for community gatherings. (You can learn more about the grants here)
As the Foundation’s Communications Intern for the summer, I was given the opportunity to dive into Neighborhood Strength. Earlier this Spring, the Crown Heights Council voted to renew three Neighborhood Strength projects. This summer, I’m stopping by each organization to document their space and learn about their process for engaging the community.
The three grantees are Bethany United Methodist Church, Repair the World NYC, and Haiti Cultural Exchange. My first visit was to Bethany United Methodist Church located at 1208 St Johns Pl.
I sat down with Reverend Narcisse Philips of the Bethany United Methodist Church at her office in the heart of Crown Heights. She laughed while she discussed her switch from lawyer to pastor and said she never thought she would have fallen in love with Brooklyn -- mainly because of the noise. But soon, she became accustomed to the noise and the diverse streets of Brooklyn, noting that now it's what makes Brooklyn feel like home.
In alignment with the goals of Neighborhood Strength grants -- to enable organizations based in Crown Heights to expand outreach and open up spaces where more residents can come together to build bonds and solidarity-- Rev. Narcisse wanted to make sure the church had an environment that was welcoming and open to the greater Crown Heights community.
Rev. Narcisse began by heading out into the community with other congregation members to see what the church could represent for the community. She referred to this experience as “G.E.M.” which stands for Glad, Excited, Mad. In their encounters, each resident is asked to say something they are glad about, excited about, and mad about. An overwhelming amount of responses came back desiring a place where community members can air their frustrations, hold cultural events like movies and jazz nights, have safety town hall events with local police officers, and host events for young people.
Rev. Narcisse and the Bethany United Methodist Church have prided themselves on creating a cross-generational impact in the Crown Heights community. There are events for all ages, from book fairs and school supplies giveaways for children (totalling 300 bags last school year) to “Senior Vibes,” which is held every Thursday for senior citizens to have health screenings, financial discussions, exercise classes, lunch and more. They have also opened up their space to Little Brother NYC, a volunteer-based organization committed to relieving isolation and loneliness among the elderly.
The Neighborhood Strength grant has allowed the Church to hold all events for free, and helped them to make the church more accessible. Going forward, they hope to expand their event offerings and begin holding family workshops to help families identify where there is conflict or disruption and work through these situations.
Want to learn more about getting involved with Bethany United Methodist Church? Get in touch at http://bethanyumcbk.org