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 www.caritasvillage.org.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Caritas is Thankful, Too!

       Only two weeks out from Thanksgiving, you are more and more likely to hear about what everyone is thankful for in their lives. Family, friends, perhaps a meal to enjoy, or a jacket to keep warm in-- and of course, we are all thankful for Caritas. Not only is it a restaurant for some and a kitchen for others, but it can also be a home away from home. Caritas provides warmth as it continues to get cold outside, and is a place where one will always be welcomed. But, as much as people cherish Caritas and the surrounding community, it is easy to overlook just how much thanks Caritas has, too. 

        Caritas Village has a lot to be thankful for-- volunteers, whether it be college students or retired military; donations of fresh garden produce; workers who cook, clean, and set up everything day to day. However, one of the most prominent aspects always seems to be the happiness and love every individual walks into Caritas with. All of these contributions, whether tangible or not, allow Caritas to continue to progress and help everyone. The relationship between Caritas and the family that congregates here is cyclical-- everyone does their best to give back to Caritas for what it has given to them.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Best Job in Memphis

       Although my time working at Caritas Village has been relatively short thus far, it has been nothing but a learning experience. To give a little bit of a back story, I am a freshman at Rhodes College working as a community service work study student, which is how I found out about Caritas. Prior to coming here, however, I had a position in the library to check out and shelve books. Around the middle of August, a very close friend of mine passed away, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. He was, without a doubt, the most genuinely kind person to anyone.  Not a few weeks after his passing I heard about Caritas, and that I could still do work study off campus for them-- it was perfect. As stated on the ‘about’ page of the website, the term “Caritas” is translated from Latin and defined to mean “love for all people”. I felt as if it was something God, as well as my friend Hollis, were leading me to do. Caritas is a place where love is open for everyone without prejudice-- the type of love Hollis exhibited, and the type of love I’m learning day by day to demonstrate myself. I feel that working here is a way that I can honor him and further myself to be a person as outstanding as he was.
Needless to say I love working here. After my first time returning, regulars began to remember my name already and show a genuine interest in who I am, where I am from, and how I enjoy life in general. Everyone here works so hard at what they do, and it is so inspiring to push myself more in work as well as at school because of their determination. It is a community where everyone wants to truly help each other regardless of circumstance, and I am so happy to have become a part of it. Not only do I truly enjoy deciphering Onie’s calendar to make sure all events are announced for everyone, but the homemade soups and quesadillas are always a plus. 
I hope to be here three years down the line when I am a senior, and I hope by then not only has everyone here made an impact on me, but that I can make an impact as well. 

Virginia Ariail
Rhodes College 
Class of 2017

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Somew(HERE) South of Sam Cooper

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”

-John Lennon

        This summer the Caritas Village has its very first Student Artist-In-Residence, Michael Joiner. Michael is a native Memphian, pursuing his B.F.A. in Theatre at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. While many collegestudents may jump at the chance to spend a summer on the beach or to just take a break from life’s everyday chaos, Michael is determined to spend every moment with purpose. He has returned to the city he calls home, moved to Binghampton, and has set out to create a documentary that tells the stories of the neighborhood and its people.
I have only known Michael for a little over a year, but am blessed to call him an artistic collaborator and a friend. I know this to be true – he has an abounding love for yesterday and an even greater passion for tomorrow. When I first met Michael I noticed the faded bumper sticker on the back of his Jeep announcing, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I quickly discovered that I had met a fellow artist, listener, true Memphian, and dreamer. He is the product of family, Beatles’ records, beat poetry, handwritten letters, classic novels, independent films, and the soul that only comes from Memphis.Right now, he is becoming a product of Binghampton. He is gathering the stories of the people that live and work within the walls of this neighborhood. Michael aims to tell their stories well – with truth and clarity and love. He would probably tell you that he aims to stay out of the way (as good storytellers do) and let the stories speak for themselves. He would also say that this project is not about his perspective. However, I would like to spend a few moments sharing his very inspiring perspective. Currently, his days are spent interviewing others and asking them the questions that open up real dialogue. I am going to attempt to follow his lead and step out of the way, so that his voice can be heard clearly. I urge you to stop for a moment, maybe grab a glass of tea, put a record on, and look through his lens.

Describe the project that you will be working on as the Caritas Village Artist-In-Residence.
I’m shooting a documentary called Somew(HERE) South of Sam Cooper. It’s a film about stories, about life as the people inBinghampton know it…how they see the world and how they see themselves and the importance of all the very intricate dynamics of their community that most people don’t realize is there. It’s a film that is meant to personalize statistics and news reports and negative connotations and stereotypes.
Hopefully, when it’s done, the people of Binghampton will say, “Yeah – I made that.”
Hopefully, something beautiful will come from it.

You are in the middle of gathering the stories of others. Could you share some of your thoughts on story?
Good writers are very, very good at writing without any knowledge that their words are even there…at capturing what it is that they are talking about. The words never get in the way.

Could you describe yourself as an artist?
As an artist I consider myself to be a kid in a creative candy store. I’m interested, intrigued, and fascinated by everything and only get disappointed when it’s time for me to go.

What are some of the questions that you ask during interviews?
The questions are basic, super simple. Questions like:
What does Binghampton mean to you?
What are your hopes for the people that live here?
Where do you see the neighborhood ten years from now?
How does art influence the neighborhood? How can it?
What do the words service, love, and community mean to you?
What is your favorite word?
It’s not about what I think the neighborhood is. I just want to give people the opportunity and the platform to say exactly how they see it in their own words. If you get all of those perspectives and they are varied enough, you’ll probably find some commonality between all of the people that live there. It’s my theory that those similarities will be very shocking.

What is your favorite word?
Revelry – To me “revelry”means that you find personalized pleasure in something that is otherwise seemingly mundane…something that could be universally great or universally ugly, but you still find something about it that is absolutely captivating or worthwhile.

How has growing up in Memphis influenced you?
I could talk about that for hours…Something that Memphis has,that is so influential in the medium of art, is soul. It’s that quality that everyone possesses here. It’s sort of gritty, rough-edged, tough, no-nonsense – It’s just a Memphis thing. You can’t really quantify it. I think that a city that is steeped in so much history – the Civil Rights Movement, the birth place of rock and roll, all the artists the artists that have come through. Elvis, the trolley line, the Peabody, high rise buildings– everything in this city has influenced me, from the smallest, seemingly insignificant detail to the Memphis bridge or the pyramid or something iconic. It’s all important and it’s something that I take pride in.
I said when I graduated high school and moved off to Nashville, when I was much younger and more foolish, that I would never come back to Memphis. I didn’t want to. I had bad memories from growing up. But I tell you, after I said that I was never coming back, the first time that I saw the city again, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

What do you find most exciting about this documentary?
The most exciting thing is that it is not about me or any one individual. It’s about everybody. Everyone is on an equal playing field.
In short, we want this film to be a conversation starter. There’s this feeling that I’ve got something big to say. These people have something big to say and together, as a group, we have something really, really big to say, but no one has heard us say it yet. The anticipation of the response is the biggest inspiration – Are people going to get angry about it? Are they going to love it? Are they going to do something because of it?

If you are interested in supporting this project or sharing your story with Michael, you can find him every afternoon at the Caritas Village. Please join us in August for the screening of the documentary. We look forward to sharing 
stories with you.

By Leslie Barker