This month, Forward Wayne County is focused on Neighborhood Development. We asked Paul Lower, Director of Grants and Data at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County, to write about his experience with our NICE! Program and how he uses what he learned about neighborhood development in his work!
I imagined a move from Florida to Richmond would be life-changing. But I had no concept of the self-discovery to follow.
It started in 2015 as I traveled home to Ohio and Indiana to visit, care for, and say goodbye to close family members. I discovered that I missed seeing all four seasons and being close to family, so I hatched a plan to move closer to home. The first step of the plan began in early 2017 from an office overlooking beautiful Tampa Bay. There, I explained to my seemingly confused co-workers: “no, I was not moving to Richmond, Virginia.”
The move included setting up a small real estate investment business, but after a 30-year grind pushing profits for corporate America, it was challenging adjusting to little structure and an abundance of free time. That is when I found my way to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County and began my part-time dream job doing simple data entry. Soon circumstances changed and I was presented with an opportunity to become the Club’s grant writer. Given the new path I was on, I felt compelled to say yes, as if this was a preordained step along my new journey.
New training introduced me to ACES (adverse childhood experiences.). This was something I had never heard of, and a test during a training course led to quite a revelation. Turns out I had seven ACES as a child! Upon learning this, I felt a moment where the room, although full of activity, seemed absolutely still. I heard the instructor say, “If you have had five or more aces you have probably struggled, at times.” As I absorbed this new information, I thought to myself “Have I struggled?”
As my new role progressed, a whole untapped plane of learning was opening to me. For most of my partners in the non-profit world, I imagined these lessons were basic tenets of the work they do. But for someone who spent a lifetime climbing the corporate ladder and apparently suppressing the trauma of many ACES, the lessons were personal.
The NICE! Program
My work on the Neighborhood Involvement and Community Engagement (NICE) initiative presented by Forward Wayne County continued my self-realization. Following the training, the Club decided to work with teen members to place Little Free Library boxes at two clubs in Richmond. We had the good fortune to partner with Sharrie Harlan Davis from Reid Health. She coordinated setting up a resource fair during the unveiling of the free library at the First Bank Club in the reverend James M Townsend Memorial building. Sharrie also helped us partner with Mt. Olive Baptist Church to include the placement of a free food pantry.
Through the project, several connections were made to bring it all together.
We contacted someone who might have a lead on some old Pal-Item paper boxes, and two phone calls later we had boxes at the Club ready for rehab. Along the way, we decided the library boxes should have a bench next to them. We contacted the Women’s Workshop of Richmond and Shana Nissenbaum helped Club teens build benches.
Through collaboration and word of mouth, the project eventually reached beyond where it had begun. It has been fulfilling to see folks contribute to the project and to know that our Club neighbors could more easily access food or something new to read.
I continued to wonder how I had navigated the ACES I had experienced. As my knowledge grew, I came to realize that as a child I had become resilient. The trauma from my ACES may have been mitigated through protective and compensatory experiences, but what were those experiences? The dots were being connected.
Building Trust in Neighborhoods
When I was going through those challenges as a kid, someone who knew me said “Come and sit on my porch with me anytime you need to.” Someone who saw that I needed a positive influence said “Go running with me. Forget everything that may be troubling you and just run for as long as you can keep up.” In the midst of my circumstances, I was building resiliency through adults, who were my neighbors. They offered trust, support, and positive opportunities as I was subconsciously figuring out how to process the events of my childhood.
Before my journey to Richmond and the NICE project, neighborhood development, for me, meant new homes, stores, or restaurants. Now I see it differently.
The NICE initiative taught me that neighborhood development can simply mean creating a safe place or a positive activity that could have a lifelong impact on someone. When neighbors and community stakeholders work together the impact and energy are amplified, and wonderful things can happen.