GraceWorks Completes the 2020 Summer Moving Forward

On Direct Service and Indirect Progress
By Janice Washington

It is hard to believe that my summer assignment with GraceWorks is coming to a close. As I reflect back on my Summer of Service there are so many things I could talk about. This summer our team celebrates:

  • The successful re-laying of over 2,000 bricks to continue the wheelchair accessibility of the community garden
  • The construction of a rainwater catchment system that will be used in future efforts to combat food insecurity
  • An organized two-room food pantry
  • The successful construction of a portable hand washing station to help Woodlawn’s homeless combat Covid-19
  • Research and data collection to inform future grant narratives
  • A cleared fence line to preserve the dignity of a local/historic cemetery
  • A maintained community garden, such that it continues to yield a harvest of tomatoes, peppers watermelon, cantaloupe, and peas
  • Teambuilding exercises that serve to grow our strengths as both individuals and group members.

These are projects that we can collectively ascribe a checkmark next to. Sweat on our brows and determination in our beings, there is marked evidence of the work we’ve done. What happens, however, when that evidence is not so clear? This too, I’ve learned to celebrate:

GraceWorks is repurposing an abandoned church. It will ultimately be a center for worship and workforce development. In short, community members will be able to walk in under-resourced and walk out empowered, walk-in with little experience, and walk out certified. The building, as it stands, leaves much to be desired. While sledgehammering some plaster with my coworkers a couple of days ago, I watched as plaster, wood, beams, and nails fell to the floor in a puff of cement dust. This church has been gutted. There are tools lying about, windows are boarded up, and wheelbarrows are parked here and there waiting for a load of rubble.

To a stranger, GraceWorks is hammering away at a lost cause, a mess, a building that will never live beyond its former glory. My coworker points to what appears to be the framework for a doorway. “Why are they putting a door here when there is nothing but a wall behind it,” she asked. Our supervisor responded, “It’s a temporary support wall. Our goal is to replace the load-bearing wall behind it. A support wall has to be put into place until the old wall is replaced with a wall strong enough to sustain the weight.”

That illustration is what I leave this program with: Sometimes the work we put our hands to seems silly and useless when the results aren’t immediate. Sometimes when you’re standing in the middle of a mess with a sledgehammer, a hardhat and dirt-streaked face, the muddle of where you are eclipses the vision of what it is to become. In short, we are called to be the support wall, to stand in the gap, to bear the weight. We are called to take a position, even when doing so invites scoffing. We are the support wall—nothing fancy about its appearance, nothing lofty about its function. You see the presence of a support wall guarantees a few things: the old will come down. The process will be messy with weak spots along the way. But a new wall is coming and it will be strong enough to fortify the building wherein we stand. The presence of a support wall is a quiet declaration in the midst of chaos that new things are being done.

Now, if I point to the abandoned church and say, “We’ve done a lot of work there” or “This building will change lives,” you may look at our dirty clothes and the gravity of what is remaining, and chuckle. The way GraceWorks has approached this building is the way GraceWorks approaches the community that surrounds it and (dare I say), the way God approaches the broken. I know it looks bad, but something assures me that that the good work that has been started, will in fact be completed. Something tells me that be it a shattered window or a shattered person, GraceWorks will continue its commitment to bear the weight until the building and the people it will serve can stand on their own.

So wait for it: The old will give way to new. Shall you not know it? It will spring up like a building once forgotten, a person once dismissed, and an evergreen in the desert.

I celebrate our definitive wins this summer and our baby steps towards a bigger win later in the season.

Summer 2020 Update & Reflection

As GraceWorks enters the midpoint of the modified 2020 summer ministry we would like to do a shout out to Saint Luke’s youth. They have worked with us every other Thursday. Together we have been clearing a historical cemetery’s fence line. We have also had the Mize family join us one day a week. Together we mowed, weeded, and maintained the vegetable beds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, watermelon, herbs, and peppers. Many days the youth and children have learned new skills and enjoy surveying and talking about their accomplishments.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GraceWorks has only AmeriCorps Vista members and a graduate camper preparing to be staff next year on the campuses each day. Our AmeriCorps staff performs direct service and administrative tasks during their 40 hour week at the GraceWorks site. We would like to share one member’s first impressions of GraceWorks and then her reflection as we came to the midpoint of the summer ministry. 

Clear a Path: Reflections from an AmeriCorps Member
By Janice Washington

AmeriCorps brings me to Grace Episcopal Church. Conceived by President John F. Kennedy, brought into fruition by the Lindon B. Johnson Administration, it is the domestic version of the Peace Corps. From nonprofits to municipalities, from educational institutions to faith-based organizations, AmeriCorps members serve at the intersection of capacity building and direct service across the nation. Countless volunteers have rolled up their sleeves in service to America since the program’s inception. Its mantra is simple: “Go where you’re needed.” This summer, I am needed at Grace Works. I would quickly find that in many ways, I in fact needed Grace Works too.

Imagine this: I began the program at a strange time in our country: America—the one immigrants flock to for opportunity, the one refugees seek for asylum—was on fire, literally, metaphorically, politically, and morally. The news had become a mosaic of Corona Virus death reports, Black Lives Matter signs, peaceful protests, broken windows, emphatic rioting, and militarized police brigades. I could not hear e Pluribus Unum over the sound of police sirens and heated rhetoric debating whether right was a shade of blue or a shade of red. There was much to grieve, much to process.

Dawned in my neon yellow work shirt, I’ve spent my first week learning about the needs of the community and the way Grace Episcopal Church has positioned itself to meet those needs. Taking interest in the whole human, this church undoubtedly embodies the “Go where you’re needed” sentiment that AmeriCorps champions. While weed eating the greenspace next door to the church, the director walked over and showed me a technique that helps blend the grass to give it a neater appearance. “You have to clear a path,” she said as she showed me a more efficient way to maneuver my weed eater.

Those words stuck with me. While I’m working, I’m often in deep thought about the state of our nation as well as that of my internal disposition. As I employed her technique, “Clear a path” continued to resonate. Sometimes the path is littered with trash and overgrown with weeds. Sometimes those weeds are our yards and sometimes they are in our justice system. Sometimes the path is rocky where it should be grassy and grassy where it should be paved. Sometimes the path is unclear, and you simply must take what you’re equipped with and clear it yourself.

Armed with a weed eater, I cleared a path. In doing so, I left the environment in better condition than when I found it. And just like the director, who offered up effective methodology for getting the job done, it will be my responsibility to share the wealth, when the weeds get high and good fruit is threatened. That day, I was proud to be a part of a team that continues to do the work needed— come heat or rain, Corona or Flu, protest or riot, discipline others to do the same. This type of work points to a narrow path and bloodshed of an altogether different nature. This is Grace Works—grace, at work.

It is my honor to spend my summer of service in her midst.

One Man’s Trash: Janice Washington’s reflection midpoint of GraceWorks 2020

As an AmeriCorps Summer Associate for GraceWorks, I’m finding that our projects are diverse, but our aim is singular: To meet the needs that present themselves. One day we’re preserving the Integrity of a Historic Cemetery, the next we are constructing a rainwater collection system, the next we are organizing the food pantry, and the list goes on.

One particular day we were working on making the community garden wheelchair accessible. The endeavor involved lots of patience and lots of bricks. My fellow service member, who had been chiseling off some of the bricks accidentally broke one and called out to inform Ms. Kay. “I think I may have overachieved a bit with this brick,” she said in her lighthearted way.

Ms. Kay responded, “Place it in this pile over here, we may be able to use it.” What I’ve discovered is that her response is the same for everything, not just the bricks.

Exhibit A: A cart breaks. Response: Pulls out power tools and refurbishes it instead of tossing it out. It’s limited in what it can carry, but we still use it to transport items that we need.

Exhibit B: Multi-gallon Mountain Dew syrup canisters are no longer in use. Response: Refashions them to store water that will be used to maintain fruit-bearing trees for the community in the food forest.

There are countless examples, but at the heart of this habit is a statement: “Not all things labeled “trash” should be discarded. GraceWorks reconsiders. GraceWorks recycles. Point, Blank, Period. This program ascribes value where others see nothing more than garbage. It unlocks potential. It assigns purpose, calls forth a mighty army out of dry bones.

GraceWorks remembers the forgotten, sees humanity in the drug addict and looks on the hungry with compassion. Society may say “trash,” GraceWorks whispers “treasure.”

It is as simple as repurposing a broken brick. Sometimes, we have to reevaluate the category that we place people, places, and things in. Sometimes we must cease from our haste long enough to re-envision the people we pass, places we disregard, and things we consider useless.

In the spirit of Grace Episcopal Church, “Put it in a [different] pile. We may be able to use it.”  

Modified GraceWorks for Summer 2020

A note from program director Kay Williams:

I want to update you on the decision we have made in regards to GraceWorks for the summer of 2020. GraceWorks will continue although modified. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we will not have our usual camp of young children. Instead, GraceWorks has partnered with the AmeriCorps Vista program for college students. GraceWorks has been authorized to have up to four AmeriCorps college students employed to ensure GraceWorks continues to move forward for the children and community.

The AmeriCorps staff will do their administrative assignments from home and also complete their on-site hours by working with me to utilize the vegetable beds to grow and harvest fresh produce for Community Kitchens and Grace’s Food Pantry weekly guests. The green space, Woods historic cemetery, Food Forest, rain catchment systems and Grace Place building will all be maintained and continue the work needed to move our projects forward.

Currently, I have scheduled times for individual families to come with their children and help prep the gardens for the growing season. Keeping to this plan of working with only one family a day allows us to follow strict physical distancing while allowing the children to continue to participate and learn. Additionally, we will be back working on the Grace Place renovations next week. (Just a few at a time. The building is big enough for a few to work in different areas and be isolated from each other doing different tasks.) If the community does not see anyone over at the building it will become tempting for some to try and break-in, even though we have an alarm system.

I have developed an Amazon wish list for items we will need this summer to continue our modified GraceWorks ministry. I have also included the AmeriCorps link for any college student interested in applying for a summer position at GraceWorks.

Blessings, and stay safe,

Summer 2019 Program Completed

A huge THANK YOU for all who supported, prayed, participated, and contributed to providing the 20 participants of the 2019 GraceWorks summer ministry a fun, educational and spiritual time of growth. From the stipend-supported young adults serving as staff to the youngest participant: all grew in self-awareness and the knowledge they were loved unconditionally by God.

When asked what they had learned this summer, some of their replies were: “I learned how to use a reciprocating saw, how to fix a bike, how to garden, how to pick vegetables, how to paint, how to build new things, there are a lot of new things I can learn to do like mowing, and how to use a weed eater”. When asked what did they learn about themselves this summer the children and teens replied they learned: “how not to react when I get mad,” “how to stay unbothered, how to have self-control,” and “I can do hard work until it is done.”

Although the kids have completed the summer portion of GraceWorks, the program  continues to move forward in many other areas. The GraceWorks Oversite and Building Board meet monthly to ensure progress in the repurposing of the Grace Place Building.

We have partnered with other Episcopal Churches, and youth groups to bimonthly help maintain the green spaces, work in the food forest, cemetery and in the Grace Place building. We have partnered with the Woods Cemetery organization to clean up the back alley fence line and cemetery. Since the back fence line has been cleared, the amount of loitering and litter behind the church has already decreased.

The GraceWorks fundraiser committee has set the date of October 5th, 2019, for our first annual fundraiser, Catfish and Karaoke. The fundraiser will take place at Willow Woods park and recreation center 1 to 5. As always, volunteers, sponsors, and partners are needed and welcomed!

Our next scheduled workdays are September 7th and October 5th. More will be added as the building progress warrants the volunteer help.

Thank you again to all with willing hearts to serve the children of GraceWorks,
Kay Williams

Phase 1 Complete!

GraceWorks, with the help of many volunteers, has completed the first phase of remodeling the “Grace Place” building on 57th Street. All plaster has been removed, usable wood harvested and the walls we planned to take down have been removed. We are ready to begin phase two of the renovation.

In phase two, the exterior back wall and a portion of a side wall that have water damage will be replaced. Currently, we have partitioned off the back portion of the building in preparation to rebuild the outer back wall. When the outer walls are repaired we will then be ready to begin phase three: replacing the roof. At present we are $20,000 short of having the funds to meet the $50,000 cost of replacing the roof. We have several ways to donate to this project if you’re interested.

Our upcoming work days in 2019 are January 26th, February 23, March 16th, and April 6th. As the weather improves more work days will be added to the schedule. Our workdays are usually Saturday and volunteers work from 9 am to 12 pm. No building experience is necessary (although it is appreciated) and we have tasks suitable for a variety of skills and physical capabilities. Please let Kay Williams know if you would like to volunteer – or (205) 305-4179.