Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

The Freret/Milan Community – Liz Jurey

Spring is in full swing at the Freret Neighborhood Center! Basil is blooming on the front porch, and we’ve been welcoming loads of volunteer groups to the neighborhood over the past months. The almost daily showers have been keeping people inside, so when our neighbors have been able to stop by, we’ve been even happier to see them.Spring is in full swing at the Freret Neighborhood Center! Basil is blooming on the front porch, and we’ve been welcoming loads of volunteer groups to the neighborhood over the past months. The almost daily showers have been keeping people inside, so when our neighbors have been able to stop by, we’ve been even happier to see them.

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In the world of nonprofits, sometimes we get lost in the schmoozing and the numbers and the grant writing and reporting and all of those other wonderfully tedious things that keep our organizations afloat. However, reflecting on the past 22 months that I’ve spent at the Freret Neighborhood Center, I find what has made my time here most valuable has been the connections I’ve made within this community. To be honest, I don’t think I knew the importance of community until more than a year of working here. Sometimes I think about the word “community”, and how this word has a completely different meaning to me now than it did a year and a half ago. I’ve found that everyone brings something to the table; that the last person you’d expect to be able to make a donation will throw in generously when they can. I’ve learned what’s worth fighting for — what’s not — and about the importance putting aside your judgements and being open to learning from the most unexpected of teachers. I haven’t always been the best student, the best teacher, or the best VISTA, but I do believe that this has been an extremely transformative year and I have a lot of gratitude.

Today, I’d like to talk about a few of our neighbors who have taught me about perseverance, keeping a positive attitude… and music!
Janice was dropped off at the Salvation Army on South Claiborne just a few years ago, after hitching a ride from the eastern coast. Before leaving, Janice’s son had experienced a mental break and became extremely violent with her. She was left severely injured, suffering from brain damage. Janice found out about the Center and our Community Computer Lab through the SA, and came by to see how we might be able to help her. Over the following weeks, she gained computer skills, registered to vote, got an identification card, and obtained a cell phone which we had mailed to the FNC and helped her to set up. Janice learned about Unity Housing link, which helps individuals to find affordable housing. She found a place not too far from the FNC, and continued to come by regularly. She set an email account and a Facebook page, and would often bring along her partner Steve, whom she met at the Salvation Army. In recent months, Janice and Steve have been stopping by to look at different homes for sale. Janice would often call us over to look at her “dream home” and hear how she’d like to fix it up. It was impossible not to catch on to her excitement — it was clear that this was something she’d been thinking about for a very, very long time. Just this past week, she stopped by the Center to give us some great news: she and Steve have bought a home in the East! We all hollered and hugged, excited for this wonderful success story. We’re so happy to have been a part of Janice’s journey from homelessness to home ownership, and although we’ll miss having her as a neighbor, she’ll always remain a part of our history.

Another neighbor who visited this past week is Mr. Chapman. He stops by the Center often, always looking for sheet music for his piano or trying to figure out a song he’s heard somewhere. Mr. Chapman is a cousin of the Neville Brothers. This little fact isn’t too surprising when you’re around him as he often bursts into a spontaneous song! Mr. Norwood received a replacement lung and was told he’d have 24 months to live. That was 11 years ago. He says it’s now much harder for him to sing, but it’s not something he’s going to give up. He’s introduced me to some pretty amazing musicians like Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson — older stuff, mostly from the 60s and 70s. I really look forward to my weekly jam sessions with Mr. Chapman. In earlier posts, I’ve mentioned my previous supervisor Eva, and her transition from her position as the FNC director. On Eva’s last day, Mr. Chapman made a special trip to the FNC with the sole purpose of singing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boys II Men. I can assure you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

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When I get frustrated with my certain aspects of my job, it’s important to take a step back and think of all the unique elements that make up the Freret Neighborhood Center. The people who walk through our doors, and the people whose doors we walk through. The people who love us, the people who sometimes don’t love us, the people who give, the people who take. I’m happy to be part of this community.

 

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2015 by in VISTA Field Reports.

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