A holiday celebration for the Springwells Village community
By Dennis Nordmoe
Earlier this month we hosted our annual Christmas celebration and over 600 people showed up. Twelve years ago, this would have been a disaster, overwhelming meager human resources and an undeveloped venue. Now, after developing an extremely serviceable park, creating a neighborhood center out of an old chapel, and putting together highly competent staff and volunteer resources, we can just about cope with the experience. At the rate of growth of these annual celebrations, our agency will have to grow to survive next year.
What does a turnout like this say about the community? I think it means that people want more for their children than just home and school and clothes. They want their children to experience the joy and excitement of the season. They want to share with them a community that can be a great place to gather and to enjoy the company of others.
What does it take to meet this need? We had to create a venue that was spacious, attractive, trusted, neutral as to special religious or ethnic agendas, and safe. That took a million dollars of capital investment. Without All Saints Neighborhood Center and its companion park, Springdale Green Playlot, it just could not happen. It also takes competent staff to organize major events and large volunteer crews to carry them out. Without our amazing Human Development Director, Christine Bell, LMSW, and her incredible network of staff, interns, and volunteers, this event would not be possible. Without our multiple relationships through youth, adult, and community programs, the community would not know and trust us.
We developed these spaces, programs, and our organizational capacity in the context of a general strategy of comprehensive neighborhood improvement. A facility by itself is not a magnet for social gathering. Wonderful staff and programs without a venue do not a party make. Pulling it all together makes many things possible. Not just parties but concerted, united community action. Celebrations help build community and a united community is necessary for the bold new steps needed to bring us to the “community of choice” level.
Sometimes the route to where you need to go is not so obvious. Might the route to crime prevention and gang-free neighborhoods weave its way through community celebrations that make everyone feel happy about where they live? Might strong neighborly relationships evolve in response to shared experiences of joy and pride?
Where do we go from here? I want next year’s event to be, at a deeply human level, more exciting than ever before. The presents to be shared will not so much be candy and toys but gifts that touch the hearts of hundreds. I want to see horse drawn carriages and holiday brass and choral music that awakens young minds to a beauty that transcends the routine. I want the girl who asked me, “Who are these people?” while standing in front of the crèche to come to share the richness of her heritage. I want the family pictures with Santa printed out in color as soon as they are taken! I want parents who lack resources for exposing their children to cultural events to be delighted by what they are able to expose their children to in their very own community (within walking distance at that!). I want to share with my neighbors the experience of seeing for a day our Springwells Village community as a place of magic and wonder where animals transport people from another age, where bands march, choirs overwhelm us with beauty in sound, and people of all ages share delights of giving and receiving – at multiple venues throughout the community.
Yes, we have outgrown All Saints Neighborhood Center, but we have never been about a center. Our goal was always a glorious, beautiful, thriving neighborhood. Next year, we need to stretch out and become a community aglow with celebration at venue after venue where peace, love and joy will abound and set the tone for the year to come.
Dennis Nordmoe is the Executive Director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives in Springwells Village, Southwest Detroit.