Monday, December 8, 2014

The Pure

The Pure 
by Sara Swisher

      I sat down with Leslie Barker one afternoon at Caritas Village. Pen in hand, I scribbled everything she told me down hoping to formulate an aspiring article. Leslie works with the Peacemakers, an after school art program at the Village.
            "Caritas Village…" trying to contain her tears, "is one of the pure places left."
            Through out the rest of the interview, I thought about that statement. I liked that idea; it intrigued me to think that I am working with one of the purest places left in Memphis, in Tennessee, in the United States of America, and in the world. I agree with Leslie. The Village is a pure place, full of people who love community and want to make a difference. But what does it mean for a place to be "pure"? In my investigation, I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defined "pure" as "not mixed with any other substance or material and free from contamination or physical impurity." Is the Village truly free from contamination
or impurities? Well let's define an impurity; it is something morally unclean (OED). Could poverty, hunger, loneliness, and addiction be impurities? I would argue that they are. Poverty is morally wrong and no one should be subjected to it. The Village combats poverty with programs such as a free health clinic on Tuesdays and free after school programs like the Peacemakers (an after school program at the Village ran by Theatre Memphis). The Village is filled with people who have experienced poverty, hunger, loneliness, and addiction in some way.
            Does this mean that the Village is impure and that it is in fact not one of the pure places left? I don't think so. I think the fact that the Village associates itself with those in proximity with impurities and tries to defeat the impurities themselves makes the Village pure. I think purity in this sense means mixing with the "contaminated", the Village mixes with contaminated because it craves to make a difference.
            The Caritas Village Mission Statement:
            To break down walls of hostility between the cultures, to build bridges of love and trust   between the rich and those made poor and to provide a positive alternative to the street corners for the neighborhood children.
            There is no question that the Village is mixing with the adulterated of society. Hostility between cultures and the economic classes is definitely adulterated with hate, grief, and grudges.
Leslie Barker helping a peacemaker.
The Village chooses to associate itself with that type of impurity because it sees the purity of "breaking down the walls of hostility." Defeating hostility brings peace, love, and trust. Not only does the Village want to combat impurities but also create the pure. The Village makes itself into "a positive alternative to the street corner for the neighborhood children"; they want a pure and safe place for the children, free of impurities of the street corner. They want to create an environment for growth and learning and eliminate the boredom and vulnerability of the street corner.
            I see the pure when I walk into a restaurant full of smiling faces. The faces are different colors, believe in different gods, and come from different cultures. The pure is when a child is smiling when they show their mom what they made in the Peacemakers. I see purity when a child is eating a cookie their neighbor bought for them. The pure is when someone expresses their gratefulness to me on Facebook when I tell them the doctor will be in at the free clinic tomorrow. Caritas Village is the pure. I want to save the world. I want to live in Caritas.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Breaking Stereotypes with Art

Breaking Stereotypes with Art
written by Sara Swisher and edited by Tiffany Corkran
       St. Louis resident Tiffany Johnson Cade paints intricate lines of her friend's son Malik. When she is painting, thoughtfulness comes with every stroke. Her desire to make a difference radiates throughout her heart while paint fumes fill her nostrils. She's not just painting a man who is a dance instructor in Nashville and dances in a dance company. She's painting positivity and breaking down racial stereotypes like "thug".
Malik by Tiffany Johnson Cade
            Cade's portrait collection Paradigm Shift incites conversation about how African American males are portrayed in the media. She painted African American men in a positive light and projected their "atypical qualities", like her son Camden the saxophone player and member of his school's robotics team. The illuminated saxophone carefully placed in Camden's hands show us who he is as a person. Camden is a teenager that likes to play the saxophone, and he can be and do anything he wants. She says she is breaking down the stereotype that African American males are destined to be criminals, and the only way they can become successful is by being a rapper or basketball player. Camden shows the world that this stereotype isn't true. Camden can be a saxophone player or a robotics engineer. Not only did she create a space where people can talk about the portrayal of African American men in the media but also, Paradigm Shift is her reaction to Michael Brown's murder in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.
            "I want them to think, that is someone's child," says Cade. The lump in her throat makes her voice shake.
            "Right," I say while I think about Brown's murder. Michael Brown is a human being with
Camden by Tiffany Johnson Cade
rights and his rights were violated.
            "I purposely used big canvases so people are forced to look at their faces. Just don't shoot," She says.
            I was amazed by her creative thoughtfulness.
            "I had to sit down with my sons and tell them about the 'do's and don'ts's' of behaving around the police," choking, "That could've been my son."
            When Cade learned of 18-year-old Michael Brown's death and that he was unarmed and shot by a police officer, she thought of her son. She thought of the fear that an officer won't see her son the way she see's him, a saxophone player. When Cade heard of Michael Brown's death, it resonated with her on a personal level. That could've been her son, the member of his school's robotics team. She could've been in Michael Brown's mother's place: dealing with the media, funeral arrangements, and the loss of her son. At the time of his death, it resonated with me but not on a personal level. It was horrible what happened to Michael Brown but I knew it would never happen to my future son.
        Caritas Village has given me the ability to interview amazing people like Tiffany Johnson Cade. Cade gave me a magnifying glass and helped me to see her perspective with her portrait series. I was forced to see that these successful men are sometimes subjected to racism because they are African American. Sometimes racism turns into tragedies like the death of Michael Brown. Cade let me look into her heart and see the fear she has for her own sons. Her sons are African American young men from St. Louis just like Michael Brown. Cade could've easily gotten that call from the police department. Cade was forced to teach her sons how to act in front of police; that is unacceptable. The police are suppose to protect citizens not terrorize them. Cade made me think about what it would be like to be in her place. What if my white brother was portrayed as a "thug" in the media? What if police shot my brother for his race? Those thoughts sent chills through my spine that radiated to my stomach. No one deserves to think about that. No one should be afraid of their loved ones being devalued by media and shot by police. Cade is changing people's perspectives and forcing us to ask questions with art. She is showing the world who these men are. She is revealing to us their humanity with every stroke of paint.  Cade made me ask tough questions. How can we change the way African American men are portrayed in the media? Caritas Village provides a place for these artworks to inspire others with their Artist Reception that is every first Friday of the month. This month's artist reception is Leila Hamdan's Civil Rights Photography in Memphis, which features photographs taken from the sanitation strike in 1968. I want to save the world. I want to live in Caritas.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Caritas Village Auction Items for 2014 Benefit


Silent Auction to benefit Caritas Village

Friends, family and supporters of The Village will host a fun-filled evening of live music, entertainment and a silent auction at the Parish Hall of The Holy Communion Church located off Perkins Extended just east of the intersection of Walnut Grove at Perkins. 





***Purchase tickets at Caritas Village or go to***


The Village will host it's first Annual Fundraising Event on Friday, November 7, starting at 6:30 pm. It will feature local news anchor Joe Birch as the Event Emcee and dinner will be offered by Chef Mac Edwards of The Elegant Farmer. Dance troops, artists and musicians will perform throughout the evening to stimulate your mind and soul while representing the common bond and spirit that we know as Caritas.

In addition to the ticket admission of $50, a Silent Auction will be held to include the items presented below.  Any item not sold at the "Buy it Now" price will be available for bids during the Silent Auction.  Note: "Buy it Now" items may be purchased in advance from Caritas Village during normal business hours.  

The Silent Auction will close promptly Friday, November 7, at 8 pm.  Auction officials will declare the winning bids, i.e., winning Bidder, and payment is immediately due. The winning Bidder need not be present however full payment must be received once the winning bid is declared. ALL SALES ARE FINAL.  

Thank you for your ongoing support of The Village.  We anxiously look forward to you joining us for an evening of fun, food, music and more as we raise funds and celebrate Caritas 2014: Live, Love, Share & Learn.

Caritas Village uses art, music, hospitality, theatre, classes, and connections to creatively join people together in common goals from many different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

$200 Certificate to Jay Etkin Gallery

Contemporary & Ethnographic Works of Art
942 South Cooper St.
Memphis, TN 38104

Jay Etkin returns to Memphis in the Cooper Young area with a new gallery named Jay Etkin Gallery Contemporary & Ethnographic Works of Art at 942 S. Cooper. This gallery is aimed at representing local, regional, and international contemporary artists and also important African collections. Etkin, a painter and gallerist, has dedicated his career to abstraction, spending the past 20 years or so on two immense painting projects, "Radio Days" and the "Primal" series.

Starting Bid:         N/A
Value:                  $200

Buy It Now:         $200

Collage Number Two
Artist:  Dani Harris

Collage Number Two is a 16 x 20 original acrylic.
Dani Harris, originally from Chicago, trained at Memphis College of Art  where she perfected her skills as an illustrator. This ability was further developed during her early career working as a medical illustrator at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
When asked to sum up the thought process behind her work - “When someone looks at my work, I want the viewer to see beyond the technique and feel some type of emotion; whether it is happiness, sadness or discomfort.” I recently read a quote by Dutch artist Roderique Arisiaman – “If you like what you see, it’s good. If you feel what you see, it’s awesome”. My feelings exactly!!

Starting Bid:          $75
Value:                   $300
Buy It Now:          $300

Looking for that special wedding gift or house-warming present?

Caritas presents this heirloom quality 9" square decorative crystal bowl by Cristal d'Arques.


Starting Bid:               N/A
Value:                         $50
BuyItNow:                  $50


Some people give up for Lent.   Artist, Suzanne Henley, gives small gifts from her heart and soul. 
"It's very humbling to me to do the work I do," she said. "I am just so grateful to be able to do it and to see these things that you have no idea are in you and the way they just sort of percolate up and suddenly you are in the middle of a piece of work that you have no idea how you got there. To be part of that mystery of creativity is awesome, truly awesome."
For Caritas, Suzanne Henley was inspired to create this matching earring and necklace set using a combination of turquoise, carnelian, agate geode and amber stones.

Starting Bid:                 $75
Value:                          $325                       
Buy It Now:                 $325


The Happy Butterfly
Artist:  Tammy Groves Thornton
 The Happy Butterfly is a 24 x 30 orginal acrylic.

Tammy Groves Thornton loves to use bright, vibrant colors to visually electrify and to draw you into the stories being told on canvas.

"I would like to think of my art as a catalyst of change; inspiring and uplifting the spirit and encouraging the heart to love, to see things lovingly, to feel things lovingly, and to change things lovingly. I hope to make the world a better place one picture a time."

Starting Bid:                      N/A
Value:                               $250                      
Buy It Now:                      $250

Military Man with his Daughter
Artist:  Morris T Howard

Military Man with his Daughter is a 20 x 25 original oil painting. 

Artist, Morris T Howard, channels his former milltary experience through his eyes, heart arms, hands and the very tips of his fingers to capture the essence of the emotion of his subjects in this powerful painting. The artist's intense detail simply commands attention.

Morris T Howard began drawing at the age of five by posing his brother for portraits drawn on paper bags. He recalls the Art Instruction Schools TV series hosted by Norman Rockwell as an early influence. 'He made people look real and that had quite an impact on me.'

Morris prefers to draw and paint the human figure in all its complexities. He considers mastery of draftsmanship to be the greatest asset an artist can possess. The artist believes that drawing is the very foundation of painting. 

Starting Bid:                  $300
Value:                             $700
Buy It Now:                    $700



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Caritas Village
2014 Benefit: Live, Love, Share & Learn
Live Performance and Silent Auction!

Caritas Village uses art, music, hospitality, theatre, classes, and connections to creatively join people together in common goals from many different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Join Us: Nov. 7, 2014, 6:30 to 9:30pm
Holy Communion Parish Hall
4645 Walnut Grove Rd., Memphis, TN 38117

**Purchase tickets by Nov. 3 at Caritas Village or
go to

Dinner by Mac Edwards
of The Elegant Farmer

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Want to Live in Caritas

written by Sara Swisher
Edited by Madeline Faber and Carl E. Moore

Memphians don’t go downtown or anywhere at night. Downtown is dangerous and most people are up to no good at night. Haven’t you seen the news? On August 11, 2014, a man was beaten on Beale Street while a crowd of onlookers recorded it on their phones and stole his wallet, phone, and clothes.

“This city is falling a part and we’ll never get it back,” they say while changing the channel in disgust. There are certain neighborhoods Memphians don’t go to, neighborhoods amidst poverty, Injustice, and heartache. In one of “those neighborhoods” lies a wonderful place called Caritas Village. The Village is a vibrant community center adorned with art and positivity and features appetizing food, smiling people, and optimistic volunteers who are trying to change the world through after school programs, art workshops, bible studies, and etc.

I drove down Hollywood Street like I always do, eyes glazed over and with my hands accustomed on the steering wheel. My thoughts were focused on my new classes, my new internship, and my need for a nap. My eyes adjusted to trash thrown on the street, weathered houses, and chained dogs in front yards: blight. I made a right turn onto Harvard Avenue; blight lost a well-fought battle to an attractive building adorned with signs that have words like “peace” or “love” painted on it. A warm message, “love never fails” greeted me on the entrance door; it was love at first sight. I knew this was a place where the community met to interact with each other on an emotional and spiritual level. I could feel its presence from the moment I walked in. I felt it when the other volunteers took sincere interest in me and asked me questions about my life. This was really a place of “Caritas” which is Latin for “love for all people.

Public art pieces by local artist Frank d Robinson, Jr.

“Are you hungry, Sara?” Wayne, a regular volunteer in the kitchen asks me as I walk into the Village for my internship.
“I already ate but thank you,” I reply shuffling to a nearby booth, ready to start on a new article for the newsletter.
“How has your day been?” Wayne asked.

“Good, thank you.” Wayne always takes sincere interest in me. Every day he always asks me how my day or weekend was and if I'd had lunch yet. He cares about everybody that walks into the Village and he treats everybody the same. He asks me the same questions he asks homeless men who walk in off the street.

Lee is a regular at Caritas Village. He is in a wheel chair and was homeless for twenty years. He is a recovering alcoholic and was bounced around to different foster homes when he was a child because his parents were abusive. Lee believed what his parents and other people said about him, which made him bitter. He ultimately hated losing people all the time, which was what led him to leave homelessness behind and ask for help. His friend told him he wasn’t going to enable his homelessness. He told him that if he wanted to continue to be homeless, that was fine but he could not continue with their friendship. He told Lee if he wanted to get off the streets, he would help him get situated into society. While he told this story in detail, he gave me the image of himself in a West Memphis hotel room, on his knees, praying for God to help him with his decision. He left the streets behind for good that night, October 1, 2007. His friend helped him get situated into an apartment in Midtown and he has been off the streets for almost seven years. Currently, he lives in the Caritas Village Community House and loves his roommates. Lee is a Marine and loves to sing, laugh, and play cards.

“I have the Cadillac of Scrabble boards,” he says.

“I don’t believe you,” I say in my usual sarcastic tone.

“Here,” he shows me this unbelievable blue Scrabble board. He opens it up, it’s made of plastic and draped with perfect plastic squares that hold the letters in place so they won’t slip of the board.

Caritas Village

“That really is the Cadillac of Scrabble boards.”

 Despite Lee’s rough past he still continues to smile and make people laugh. He says Caritas Village is a real community and is one of the best places in Memphis. Lee regularly eats and hangs out at Caritas. He plays cards with volunteers and his fellow neighbors He says people really care and are concerned about your well-being. Lee has taught me that one should never give up. Even in the darkest of times it is possible to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and continue on.

Caritas Village is full of colorful individuals from the neighborhood that teach you about fancy Scrabble boards and how one can always manage to smile despite their dreary past. The volunteers teach you about kindness and what it means to truly serve everyone. The Village is welcoming and full of life. “Caritas” means love for all people and this place has it. I want to save the world. I want to live in Caritas.

About Me: Sara Swisher, Media Intern

Caritas Village has opened me up to different lifestyles. I have come into contact with people that haven’t had the same advantages as me and those who have dedicated their lives to service. These various perspectives make me think about my own life path. I have always felt uncomfortable picturing myself in a “traditional” lifestyle. I don’t like the idea of pursuing a career solely for money and not to develop as person. I want to learn about other people and help society. The people I have met at Caritas Village have helped me feel comfortable with wanting to help others. I want to preserve the environment, educate kids, and eliminate violence. I want to save the world. I want to live in Caritas.

My name is Sara Swisher and I am 21 years old. I’m a junior at Christian Brothers University studying English Education with a minor in Sustainability (Environmental Studies). I want to teach high school English or write for a non-profit. I am interning at Caritas Village because I want to develop my professional writing skills, grow as a person, and receive an English credit from my university. My duties as the media intern is to blog (of course), write and construct the monthly newsletter, and update Facebook. I grew up in Bartlett in the same house and was around the same people for 18 years. I was sheltered and believed that everyone had the same advantages and beliefs as me. Even in college, where different races, religions, and economic classes now surround me; I still feel like I’m around people who are like me. Even though we are different in some respects, we still have the same vision on how life should be lived and we're all on the same general path in life:
Caritas Village has shown me diverse lifestyles and people. This blog is an opportunity for people to experience the diversity and good work of the Village. Mainly volunteers run the Village’s kitchen. The kitchen only hires a couple of residents from the neighborhood. Artists often donate or display their art at the Village. After school programs for neighborhood kids are ran by volunteers from Theatre Memphis. Various art clubs, bible study groups, and a medical clinic host their events at the Village. Welcome to my digital flipbook of the Binghamton Community Center Caritas Village. I hope to inspire people to learn from volunteers and community members by telling my story of how these people impacted me. I hope this blogs inspire you to change the world and live in Caritas.

Our friends from the Indian Community Fund for Greater Memphis

The Indian Community Fund for Greater Memphis art project!, Making Holiday Greeting Cards!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

“It’s A God Thing!”

    If you know Onie Johns very well or if you are around her for very long – say fifteen or twenty minutes – you will most likely hear her say, “It’s a God thing!”  Indeed, the story of the beginning of Caritas Community all the way through to Caritas Village today is the story of Onie’s sense of calling and the faith to see it through.  In the context of a deeply caring community of faithful people surrounding and supporting her call, Caritas is, in fact, “A God thing!”  There is really no other way it can be explained. 

The story begins in the early 1990s when Onie left the comfort of her Germantown surroundings to join Everett Memorial United Methodist Church on the corner of N. Merton and Oxford (the building now know as “The Commons”).  At that time, it was a small “drive in” church with mostly elderly members that no longer wanted much (if any) involvement in the neighborhood.  When Onie connected with Everett, she joined the efforts of a very active and neighborhood minded pastor.  Onie and a few others were convinced of the importance of helping the church reconnect with the neighborhood.  The children and youth were especially on Onie’s heart.  In the late 1990s, Onie participated in a ten month formation class sponsored by the Memphis School of Servant Leadership.  That class was transformative for Onie.  One of those ways began when she and another member of the class along with Everett Memorial began talking seriously about developing A House of Hospitality in the neighborhood.  The House would be a hub for a growing community called Caritas Community in which children and youth in the neighborhood would come to be tutored, learn how to use computers, play, and simply be safe in a context in which safety was not always available.  (Caritas is Latin for Love for all people.)

The two original participants settled on a house at the Northeast corner of N. Merton and Everett – directly across from what was then called the Magnolia Apartments.  The Caritas Community had found a home!  Onie had not even moved in before children and youth were already overflowing with activities in the house.  The Caritas House was not merely a haven for kids and youth, though. It also became a place for community meetings: Thursday Evening Community Meals; a place for all the agencies and groups that serve the Binghampton area to work together in developing ideas that would strengthen the community; classes for the Memphis School of Servant Leadership; and concerts on the “East Lawn” open to everyone and always drawing the neighborhood together!  Onie’s response to the involvement of so many in the Caritas Community was simple:  “It’s a God Thing!”

The two original partners knew they could not manage everything by themselves, so thy “sent out a call” for those who had similar callings and a “Mission Group” was developed of people who would give direction and discernment about the vision of the Caritas Community.  Eventually, the Mission Group discerned a calling to buy some houses in the neighborhood that could house persons with mental illness, persons who were homeless, persons who were recent immigrants to our country, and others who had temporary housing needs for medical, or other reasons. 

There was always something new bubbling to the top of the Mission Group’s agenda.  One of the things on Onie’s heart was the dream of a larger Arts and Community Center combined with a Coffee Shop for the neighborhood.  The Mission Group appreciated the idea, but on several different occasions told Onie there just wasn’t enough energy among the group to undertake such a project.  When the “For Sale” sign appeared in front of the Masonic Lodge building down the street, Onie came back to the group and insisted this was the time and place.  The Mission Group promised they would pray about it for a week and discuss it again at the next meeting.  By that time, the Group was convinced this calling was not going away, so they asked Onie to send out a call to anyone she thought would  support the vision, saying that if there was a positive response, they would take that as a sign God was calling them to move forward.  The response was tremendous!  Within a week over $38,000 and a Van had been pledged, clearly validating the idea and shocking everyone who heard the story. Onie’s simple response was:  “It’s a God Thing!”

After acquiring the building it took over two years to get a zoning waiver.  During that time the building began its transformation from the lodge to the Village, a place called to “Breaking down walls of hostility between the cultures, and building bridges of love and trust between the rich and those made poor, and providing a positive alternative to the street corners for the neighborhood children."

One of the defining moments in the shaping of the mission of Caritas Village for me happened before it opened at a small house across from the Village where a Mexican family lived. One summer evening while we were working to get the Village ready for opening, this family with their brothers and their families were having a fiesta, when two heavily armed African-American men came up to rob them.  Two of the brothers were killed and a third was in critical condition at the Trauma Center with nine gunshot wounds.  This grief was felt all over the neighborhood.  The men who attacked the family were not from this very diverse neighborhood where relationships are strong across racial and cultural lines, and people care what happens to others!  Though one might think nothing good could come out of such an awful tragedy, God moved many who lived in the neighborhood and had relationships across cultural and racial boundaries to call others to a Candlelight March for Peace and Prayer, and a service on the Village lawn.  The goal of the march and service was to make clear that in our neighborhood such an act did not have to cultivate hatred.  Rather, it gave us as a community an opportunity to speak about the way God had called us into such diversity that love for one another would reign supreme.

On the afternoon we marched, the mother of the slain men and most of her family were with us.  The wife of the man still in critical condition at the Med helped plan it.  We began at the parking lot of Everett Memorial Church.  Everyone had a lit candle as we silently walked up the street to the spot where the shootings occurred.  At that point, prayers were spoken and tears flowed from most eyes.  Following the prayers, we all went to the yard of the Village across the street where the meaning of “Caritas” was already apparent.  There was a spontaneous worship service with over a hundred neighbors including African, Latino, Vietnamese, African-American, Caucasian, and Afghanis, some rich, some poor, all equal.  Everyone came together to say that we do not want divides and violence in our community; instead we want our neighborhood to be a diverse community gathered in love and support of one another! (Caritas!)  Following the service, we had an incredible Pot-luck dinner inside the building that brought us all together at the tables, talking and enjoying each other’s company while bridging any differences that might have remained between us.  When it was over, with a huge smile on her face, Onie’s simple response was, “It’s a God thing.”  

It was a few more months before the Caritas Village officially opened, though I felt it really opened that night with an overwhelmingly powerful preview of what Caritas Village would become. As Onie said then, “It’s a God thing.”  And since then, in an amazing and unbelievable way, one ministry, collaboration or experience of grace after another, The Village has become the incredible community place of love and hope that it is today.  Each time something new, incredible, or amazing happens, so many others have picked up Onie’s refrain:  It’s a God thing!’

                                                                                                 J. Jeffrey Irwin, Former Pastor
Everett Memorial Methodist Church
Member of the original Mission Group