Prioritizing The Mission

Being a constant idealist, I tend to see the bigger picture, and forget about all the in between, nitty-gritty detail work. I was reminded of this again by a couple people I know. I havent fully worked out the details as of yet, and anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised by this.

One idea brought to my attention however is to break my mission up into phases, working one aspect at a time, before adding in another area I see the need for improvement.

So I thought, I have a few areas I’m looking at:
1. Neighborhood Beautification- renovating public areas, store and house fronts. Whether it’s a lawn in need of regular mowing, taking down old dead trees and replacing them with new ones, painting or siding a house, replacing broken windows, whatever

2. Education- between the tutoring, school supplies, and college trust, there is a lot to be worked out just in this arena alone, and I’m sure it will have to be pared down further as well

3. Job Apprenticeships/Mentoring Programs

I believe that area number 1 is an absolute immediate priority. By improving the aesthetics of the neighborhood, it will become a more desirable place to live, and something to be proud of. Maybe I’m wrong?
As for areas 2 and 3, I don’t know exactly how to prioritize these, as portions of my ideas for both tie into each other, between educational mentoring, job mentoring/apprenticeships, and graduates through the program coming back to the neighborhood t be that example to younger kids that coming from “the ghetto” doesn’t predispose you to a life of mediocrity outside of being a star athlete or rap star, or whatever other stereotypical ventures are put out there to dream of.

I am currently working on networking with some people within the neighborhood I am targeting, in the hopes that I can test the waters to see if my ideas would be received positively, and to further reach out for answers as to what is truly needed there. Since the residents of that community would be the ones ultimately affected by any measures I may attempt, they should have the bigger say so on guiding my efforts. Hopefully, I am looking towards incorporation as a non-profit in early 2010, and will be seeking volunteers and paid staff to help get this project off the ground.

Speaking about ways to aid poor neighborhoods

Most often when the topic of impoverished neighborhoods and people come up, you get complainers. Those who live their complain, sometimes rightly so, other times not so much. Those who see those people as the problem tend to complain about how the poor need to do more for themselves. For some that may be the case, for others, not so much. But sooner or later, the complaining from all sides needs to take a backseat to actually trying to do something about whatever problems may need tackling.

On Mother’s Day, after taking my wife and kids out for lunch, and a trip to the park, I took the long way home, meandering through one of our poorer neighborhoods in Des Moines. I was pointing out how some houses looked nice, while sitting right next door to a string of houses that were boarded up, abandoned, or in otherwise poor shape.
Even some of the schools and churches looked as though they could use some working over.

I also showed her how a lot of the apartment buildings had bars over the lower windows, and many businesses had their windows and doors barred over as well. Most neighborhood business districts weren’t decorated in such a drastic measure, but this one was disporportionately so.

I explained how it is this type of neighborhood I would like to target with a non-profit organization. She asked me some of the things I wanted to do.

I told her how I wanted to start a program where we go into the schools and find out what they need, mainly speaking to the teachers. That way we could find out if new textbooks or reading material and other school supplies might be needed. I figure more difference can be made at the classroom level than at the school board administrative levels. Surely they wouldn’t object to our mission. And in addition to that, we could provide a network of tutors for some of the students who were struggling with their course work, to help give them a bit of a hand up in pursuing their own personal success.

I also told her that I wanted to start an education trust to maintain a constant stream of scholarships. Not necessarily for the cream of the crop students who would undoubtedly get all the help they need, but to some of those that were more on the average, but wouldn’t always be able to get the financial help needed to go to a 2 or 4 year university, or some trade school if they so choose.

And eventually I would like to start a mentor program for kids, that went beyond life activities, but also for working under local professionals, be it in yard work, plumbing, electricians, contractors, etc. That way the kids could get some life experience, and a little cash in their pocket. If we had a fund, we could give the teenagers a minimum wage job while they learn, and the professionals they worked under could teach their trade without having to pay for what they might deem unnecessary help by themselves.

I have big ideas and plans, but I think that after incorporating, and getting fundraising activities ggoing, the biggest step I would have to take, would be to speak with the people in the community to get their thoughts and ideas on just what the neighborhood needs, and how they think we should go about it. I have quite the ego when it comes to professing what I know, but without living the experience the local citizens live everyday, I can’t possibly know what all is needed, and would welcome all the help I can get. And not just from the community leaders, but also from the everyday regular people as well.

More Random Thoughts

Often when it comes to dealing with issues of race and the poor, many viewpoints get thrown into the mix.  Some are great, others are laced with extreme views that don’t really benefit anyone outside of those who choose to push their ideas into the public square just to hear themselves speak.  Others are just random observations, that are neither good nor bad, per se.

Some say that minorities and poor people use their situation as an excuse, and if they’d just suck it up and make their world on their own, they’d be better off.  Others preach the idea that we need to throw money at it, via taxpayer money, and that is the way to solve the problems.  Some others yet, recognize deeper philosophical differences that need to be worked out, and that maybe the solutions lie somewhere between the first two viewpoints.

We’ve ended slavery.  We’ve established civil rights.  We’re a free country, so we can accomplish anything we want to, if we just put forth the effort.

Many of these arguments have been used by those who wish to keep their money and not support these supposed welfare queens, and blacks, hispanics and other minorities who find themselves in the blighted, and often neglected communities.  They argue that charities and churches are supposed to help those in need, not “my tax dollars”.

But, at the same time, they forget that all things are run through human created organizations.  The people who run the organizations often run things according their own priorities, whether they be pure, or just for a public spotlight to say “see, I’m helping”, or for limited actions designed to help one situation that is a symptom, but not another closely related situation that may actually be the problem that brings about the symptoms.

Some exude the need for more tax dollars going to fixing problems in these communities.  They argue private institutions and contributors just aren’t doing enough.  Often times, it is these same people who argue for government intervention, who themselves often feel they can not help through private contributions due to their own economic situations, or that they need not, because it truly is the government’s job to provide.  They say it is a job of the collective society to take care of loss less fortunate, or those being wronged due to racism or any other number of reasons.

Of the above arguments, one statement is clear.  We are living in a free country and can do anything we want, if we put forth the effort.  But who’s effort is needed to lift entire segments of the population up to a standard of decent living?

Some say it lays on the shoulders of the individual, others say all members of society are responsible.  I would argue that both are right to a certain extent.  A collective responisbility does exist, but should comprise of vast amounts of individuals being responsible.  Not through taxation necessarily, as most fo my readers here know I prefer to keep government out of our daily lives as much as possible.

I’m not saying that we need to eliminate all government programs, but that we should work to eliminate such a large need.  For those who truly need the help, by all means let some of our tax dollars go towards programs.  But individually, it is our responsibility to do as much as we can personally to elevate our own position, and also to team up with our neighbors and/or friends to mutually benefit each other to get where we’d like to go.

Here in Des Moines, many of the schools in the poorer neighborhoods saw less help than other schools in more well to do areas of the metro area, rather than equating the disbursement of monies to where they were most needed.  Some have commented that the school board made their decisions based on economics of the local population and attendance.  Others have made comments that it is the poor, and more minority driven schools that were being shafted by politics as usual from the White power structure in place.

I would love to be able to say they are wrong, but I would most likely be wrong in saying so.  And in that instance I can find automatic arguments against those who say the government should support the people’s needs.  It’s obvious that the government, running down through the school board, showed their hands as to what ranks in importance.  Why help those schools where the kids don’t care, have high dropout rates, truancies, vandalism, etc?  On the surface, from a strictly economic, on paper assessment, this argument CAN make sense.  Unfortunately, those decision makers are looking merely at paper documents, and not at the social problems and needs.  Maybe if they allocated more money to these schools, giving them new equipment, or providing an extra program or two to help the students make it through school, the kids might again see a reason to actually give a damn, when they see that those in power also care.

But then where does the individual responsibility come in to play, you might ask.  And it starts with YOU, and ME, and your neighbor, your friend, the guy or girl down the street.  The children themselves, and their parents as well, also share a huge part of the responsibilities.

I read in The Black Sentinel’s blog that a white male, who is a high school dropout with a criminal record has a greater chance of getting called back for a job interview than that of a black man with a clean criminal history and a college degree.
Does this mean, that black people need not even try? Absolutely, positively HELL NO. If anything, it should cause us to work harder at flooding the job markets with more qualified black people. Is it an uphill battle? Unequivocally the answer is yes. Right or wrong, any stereotypes held by those in power within the dominant community, must be overcome with a greater effort than should be required. It has also been argued on The Black Sentinel’s blog, that many of problems stereotypically assigned to blacks and other minorities actually affect the white community more, not only in sheer numbers, but also by percentages. While the facts don’t lie, perceptions and people’s reasoning often play a bigger part of life than facts. Ask anybody who’s ever argued politics.

Blacks and minorities must fight back with actions, not arguments. They must form a tighter bond, like they did with the fight for the Civil Rights movement. Not to the exclusion of the white community, but in spite of members within the white community who prefer their dominant role, while including those who do mean well.

It seems, over the past couple generations, that simple things like respect for elders has lost its place in society. We all say it takes giving respect to get respect, and yet, we always seem to apply it to everyone else. As if we ourselves must be given the respect before we give it out. As parents, it is our job to instill in our children the opposite of that new found individualistic hubris. No matter how pressured we as parents may be, trying to maintain our lives, be it with our jobs, or our money, or health issues, we must focus on making sure we stay on top of our kids’ lives.

We’re put into a position by default as parents, not to be their friends (like we promised our parents we’d be much cooler parents than they were to us), but to guide them through their childhood to make sure they take advantage of all that is being offered to them to make them better prepared for life later on. We have to make sure they go to school, they do their homework and study if need be. We make sure they get the food they need, and that we educate them on life lessons so that they may do their best to avoid the pitfalls life throws at us from time to time. We can’t be worried about whether it hurts their feelings or if they get mad at us because we didn’t let them go to a party, or buy them the new Nintendo Wii, or newest expensive sneakers we couldn’t afford. It might do them some good to go without some of what “everyone has”.

We have to teach our kids on teh benefits of being a good neighbor. Whether its something small like not riding over the neighbors flower garden, or something bigger like watching over their house to make sure noone is breaking into it. Offering to help out our neighbors in need, whether its lending them some milk for their baby, or seeing if they ned help with yard work or minor repairs if they are elderly, or handicapped in some way.

If we look out for our neighbors, they will tend to look out for us when we need the help. We should be working to make our neighborhoods be, and look to be, a better place than what it was when we moved there. Working together to make sure people’s roofs are fixed when in need of repair, or helping clean out the gutters for them, mowing their lawn, whatever the tasks may be that are needed to make our little place in the world a bit more beautiful, can be a great teaching experience to our kids. We show them compassion through our own actions, and we teach them some skills if they actively help to do this work. And if we involve the kids in some of the work, they are more likely to take appreciation in what they have done, and where they live, and are less likely to do something to damage their hard work. Plus, with certain skill sets, these same kids, when they are of the age to have an actual paying job, have armed themselves with a better chance of getting work at the places of business in their neighborhood. we also need to teach them respect for each other. For when kids hit puberty, guys are a bragging type, and won’t hesistate to disrespect a girl by taking advantage of her nature to give and receive love, just to sleep with her. We won’t tolerate another man disrespecting our mother, but then turn and try to treat a girl like a whore. And the girls, oftentimes in search for the love and acceptance they crave, will disrespect themselves and give in to the first slick talking guy who comes around, and maybe more guys after that, hoping to find someone who really does care.

I have so much more in my heart and mind to say right now, and I don’t even know how to say it all, or how to at least make it sound as though their is any clear direction.

All I know, is that if the poor and minority are going to rise up, and become equal to, or an even more powerful force than their counterparts, the time has come to stop with the words and put forth great efforts. the tiem has come to take individual responsibility, regardless of what others do, instead of waiting for someone else to do it first. If only to gain their rightful place in the world and society, or to more directly show those who don’t believe in them, that they were wrong to underestimate.

Looking for Advice

SO as I think, and think, and re-think the processes of this program, I find myself right now concentrating on the idea as a whole.  Looking forward, past the initial structuring of the organization, and process of growth.  I know that the nitty-gritty details are important and will require much focus, if I am to help develop this into a great organization and cause.

But as I said, I find my mind wandering into the post-beginning side of things.  What would I say to groups of volunteers, would-be beneficiaries of the program, the supporters, and the neighborhoods/communities involved with making this cause a real life success?  IF you had an audience with these supporters, volunteers, a and members of the community, what would you say to them in order to further the mission of turning blighted communities (the residential, business and overall beautification thereof) and schools into what might be deemed a “more desirable” neighborhood or school? 

Read through my other posts and pages first.  Then imagine you were giving a speech with an audience.  Would you share your speech with me/us? 

No limits on length.  No parameters.  You can be as politically correct, or hard-nosed as you please.  I would love to see what people have to say to push forward a positive message or persuade community wide pride and involvement.

Thank you in advance for your readership, and any contributions you have to offer!


Mike Lovell

Have We Done Enough, Or Are We Just Cowards?

A post by The Black Sentinel today regarding Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent speech on racial issues in America, addressed the response to this speech in which Holder called America a nation of cowards.  In essence that we strive to be competitive in conquering any problems we have, and yet when it comes to the issue of race we tend to have avoided our natural competitive nature and shied away from dealing with and solving the racial problems that our country has been facing for decades and decades.  the same can also be said about poverty.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  As a free market capitalist, I’m not really in favor of redistribution of wealth, or monetary reparations.  While some may disagree with me, I find that private motivation is far more effective than expensive government intervention, which is often times provided for the sole reason of buying votes down the line.  It’s about photo ops, and perceived power.

 I fully believe that those who can afford to give, even the slightest amount, should work towards helping those with less.  Not just indiscriminantly giving to charities, but find the charities that most directly target certain issues.  Especially those that work hard to make sure most f the money goes directly towards fixing the issues, not to a huge administrative conglomerate that sucks a huge portion of the money away before it gets down to the levels where it will do any good.  And if money isn’t available to give, maybe consider your time and efforts which can be utilized to save money on projects that help those less fortunate.

And programs such as this one shouldn’t be considered another one of “those” programs that are designed to help just blacks, hispanics, or other minorities, at the expense of white America.  These programs, instead of promoting an unequal edge for minorities, specifically look to eradicate the segregation of minorities from the larger white community, by providing a way for EVERYONE to help integrate the separate societies into one mainstream, yet diverse, community of Americans.  When statistics get compiled, we always see how things are broken down into racial blocks, and compared with each other.  Well maybe we need to help the minorities and poor folks integrate into the mainstream society a little bit more, by helping them to help themselves, instead of constantly resegregating them, even if unconciously.   Instead of breaking down every little difference, we need to start looking at issues as how they affect Americans as a whole.

Contributing To A Similar Cause

After having redone this page yesterday, in an attempt to make my ideas more clear, I have noticed an uptick in the traffic.  I believe that is clearly the result of networking with another blogger, TheBlackSentinel (you can find her page here— — a link is also provided in our blogroll in the right sidebar), who routinely addresses racial issues in our country.

Well, last night as I was doing the dishes with my wife, a knock at our door gave me momentary respite from the mundane chores (albeit my wife left me the dishes to be dried and put away!).  I opened the door to find a young black standing there with a clipboard.  At first I assumed this was another round of magazine sales people that routinely hit our neighborhood.  He introduced himself and let me know that he was working with Urban Horizons.  Urban Horizons is a small organization that works with innercity youth, providing tutoring and other programs to help these young people to succeed, and to avoid the gangs and streetlife that can easily suck misdirected youth into a tailspin to mediocrity.

Now, as written in a previouws post, the services Urban Horizons provides are a small part of what we here at Creative Community Renewal intend to provide.  However, not being established yet, I believe that this other organization is the only one of its kind currently operating in the Des Moines, IA area.  I found myself in a bit of a mental conundrum.

A little background, first.  I have recently had my hours cut back, along with a pay freeze at my current security job.  My wife had been semi-promoted in the latter half of last year at her job.  Her company had been taken over by a larger company, and they instituted a pay freeze.  And then just yesterday we learned that, in spite of my wife’s company being almost the sole reason the larger company posted a profit, that they would be taking paycuts as well (hers was only 2.5% paycut).  So I was now losing a few hundred dollars a paycheck myself, but now my wife is losing some money on top of all that.  Like most everyone I know, we have all had to tighten our belt.  I’m stuck trying to pay the same bills and ever rising costs on less money, as well as save money up so that my family can experience any form of quality of life, and also to set aside money to start this experiment I call Creative Community Renewal.

But then, here’s this kid standing in front of me, wanting a contribution to go toward a worthy cause, that expressly addresses the same concerns I have.  My conundrum only lasted a few seconds, and I doubt the kid ever saw the flash in my eyes as I mulled things over.  He was asking for $36 as the low amount (just $3 a month), or for some little bonus prize incentive, if I could give up to $4 a month equivalent of $48. 

Apparently me picking up my checkbook and writing on it hadn’t convinced him that he had convinced me.  Afterall, I’m just a white suburban guy, and why should I care?  I’m almost sure that was the thought going through his head.  I think he’s knew at this volunteer money drive thing, as he seemed pretty unsteady about himself.  But When he left, he left with a $48 check in his hands towards his program.

I realized, that while I may not be flush with money at this point in my life, and that eventually I expect to contribute more to my own program than this one, I can’t exactly stand on my principles and morals, and then turn down a kid who’s trying to raise money for the same purpose.  I had to get past the normal feeling of greed on a couple levels, and see the bigger picture of whats going on in our world, and where the help is needed.  And while I’ll take all the help I can get, I realized it was kids like that young man who need the cash a bit more to help provide himself and others like him a few more opportunities that might not otherwise be available to him.

Our Main Goals


1.  Providing direct support through donations to local schools to help with acquiring new books and supplies for children to use.

2.  Set up Scholarship Fund through donations for post high school education.  This can include 2-year and 4-year college education, trade or technical schools.

After-school/Mentor Programs:  We would like to provide not only activities for children to participate in, but also a group of people within the community to mentor the children to help lead them down the right path, and to stay out of trouble.  Activities could be physical sports or games, tutoring, or group volunteer work within the neighborhoods.

Job Training:  For those who wish not to continue their education past high school, or those already in the job market, we wish to find people willing to help with providing additional job-related skills training, whether it is computer program training, or on the job apprenticeships. 

Neighborhood Development:  This can involve something as simple as (re)painting houses and businesses, to cleaning up trash in the neighborhood, landscaping, and a variety of other services to make the blighted neighborhoods more desirable places to live.

No details are final on any of these areas.  All options/opinions will be considered, so feel free to let yur voice be heard.

Also, we are currently looking for people willing to help make our ideas a reality.  Volunteers for any area will be welcome, and eventually, after incorporation paid staff positions will be made available.  We are especially interested in people for fundraising and marketing, for spreading awareness of our cause.