Love is risk

Happy New Year friends and family!

I hope the holidays and the first days of this new year have been life-giving and invigorating.

As I look toward 2017, I carry with me the joys and challenges of this past year that have refined me and have offered me insight as I continue this vocational work of building relationships with kids in my neighborhood.

November and December brought some great challenges but significant joys as well, particularly with a set of longtime neighborhood friends. Instead of speaking on the specifics of programs I feel compelled to tell a few stories of these joys and challenges.

At the beginning of November, I was feeling tired after a very full October. I was looking forward to a visit from my parents and a day retreat following their visit. The set aside time of rest could not have come any sooner. The day my parents were coming into town, a Friday, held the usual rhythms of running Friday Fun Life and helping at Moriah Pie, the neighborhood pizza café. The evening at Moriah Pie unraveled quickly with a group of kids eventually having to ask them to leave the restaurant space after repeated disrespect. This left them to their own in the surrounding streets and the church piazza across from the café. Not too much later we were informed that one of the boys outside had become violent toward the son of a patron eating at the café. When a few of us approached the group outside about the incident we received a variety of stories and interjections about what happened, who started the violence first, what was said, and ultimately affirmations about why they were in the right with their actions. As we stood outside trying to reason with their unacceptable actions I could feel my emotions crumbling internally.

I recalled the weekend before their presence and smiles at the Fall Bash event and felt that their disrespect toward us now was a personal injustice. My neighbor Erin and I decided it was time to bring in parents by walking around to houses to inform their moms and grandmothers about the incident. It was apropos that my parents arrived in the middle of this. I gave them a brief update, hugging them and trying not to cry.

Ultimately it was decided that the boys would have to make things right by spending a few hours the next week working with Robert-resident urban gardener- in the gardens before they could return to Moriah Pie or other community programs. Erin and I would join as well.

The following Tuesday, election day when they were out of school, 3 of the 4 boys showed up at the agreed upon meeting spot at 1 pm on the dot. We spent time with them turning the compost piles, tearing down corn stalks and the bean vines climbing the stalks harvesting along the way, chopping wood, and processing tomatoes that would go in our pizza sauce at Moriah Pie. Robert laid the grounds for their purpose for being there, how they would successfully make things right by exhibiting hard work and respect during our time together. They loosened up as the afternoon went, asking questions about the activities we were doing, making conversation about school and the election, and commenting on the calming nature of the work at hand.


Working with Robert in the garden


One of the boys- Keith- who failed to show up for the work session, rearranged a time the following week to work one on one with Robert. I ran into them that Thursday afternoon as they were turning compost. I was on a break from the final session of a 12-week workshop in which I had been participating with the Norwood Drug and Alcohol Coalition.  Interestingly enough, we had brought Keith up earlier that day during our session, using him as an example of the type of kid we hoped to reach about the negative effects of underage drinking on the developing brain.

As I made surface conversation with Keith and Robert I decided to tell Keith about the workshop and how he came up in our discussion. His response was silent so I prodded, “Do you want to know why?” “Sure, why?”, he asked half-heartedly. “Well,” I continued, “we were talking about underage drinking and the negative effects it can have on the developing brain. We have been talking about how we can better talk to our young friends about this and you were one of the friends I named.” He seemed disinterested, but I’d like to believe that deep down in that preteen boy he was somewhat elated to know that he was being talked about, even if by a bunch of boring adults.

Later that evening, when I returned from the workshop session, I found Keith and another young friend Yolanda cracking walnuts outside of my house. This was a task that Keith had done earlier with Robert and he wanted to show Yolanda. After instructing them that they couldn’t just help themselves to the task without supervision, especially parking themselves in someone’s yard, I sat there with them cracking walnuts until I shut down the operation to head to a meeting at church.

The happenstance interactions with my young friends continued that night. After my church meeting I found my friend hosting a bonfire in her backyard that intersects with my backyard. Among them were a set of neighborhood kids roasting hot dogs and making conversation with a few adults gathered there. The hot dogs were provided by one of the boys who had run home to retrieve them. I hadn’t eaten dinner so I was happy to partake. I was smitten with their ease of conversation with a group of adults. Yolanda showed up forlorn, mentioning losing her backpack and jacket sometime during the evening of running around the neighborhood with other kids. She was certain one of the boys in the neighborhood had stolen it. I told her I’d look for it in the morning when it was light out and meet her outside of the café across the street before she left for school. This didn’t stop Keith from roaming around with his phone flashlight backtracking their steps looking for it. As it got later they headed home.

As promised, I woke a little early the next morning (a Friday, Moriah Pie prep day) but didn’t find the backpack. I did find the same group of kids from the night before gathered outside of the café cracking more walnuts with those doing morning prep tasks for Moriah Pie. I informed Yolanda that I didn’t find her backpack but would keep my eye out.

Later that morning when I brought up the missing backpack during our Moriah Pie team breakfast a friend pointed out a bag that was sitting in the café found outside during an event the night before. It was unmistakably Yolanda’s, fitting her description with her jacket inside. I excitedly jumped on my bike and rode the backpack to her school. I had hoped to give it to her in person but she was in the middle of a specialized class and so I left it at the school office.


Excited about finding Yolanda’s bag


My elation at the recent connections with my young friends subsided when Robert found a number of our final seasonal carrots pulled from our garden and strewn down Mills Ave. It seemed too obvious that Keith was involved as this was a tucked away carrot bed that he and Robert had been working in the day before. He planned to approach the kids about it at Moriah Pie that evening, offering them the opportunity to confess if indeed any of them had a part in the carrot nabbing. Those involved did confess and so spent some time sullenly walking around the surrounding streets of the café with Robert picking up trash. Yolanda was one of those involved and so she asked me to hang onto her bag during her walk about trash pick-up. Later, when returning her bag to her she rummaged through it pulling out a note including a hand drawn picture she composed thanking me for bringing her bag to school. Others at the table excitedly mentioned seeing me at the school as they passed through the halls. The note hangs on my wall in my room.

Another work day was organized in December after a particularly hellish Friday Fun Life session entailing kids running around our church hiding from volunteers and refusing to listen. I had that Friday off and therefore heard the tale from my volunteers, disheartened and worn thin as they relayed the details. Another walk around the neighborhood to speak with kids and parents, another work day with Robert this time doing outdoor work projects at the particular volunteers’ homes, another opportunity for challenging them with accountability for their actions.

Out of all of these interactions, the one that lingers in my memory is the walk around the neighborhood with my friend and FFL volunteer Lyric who was present at the particularly challenging FFL session. As I confronted the kids and their parents about the incident some were humbled, some pushed back and made excuses, and I think all of them were mildly if not very surprised to find me on their doorstep bringing the issue into the light.

As Lyric and I walked from one house to another we walked a few blocks with Keith, one of the kids involved.  I stopped him in the middle of the sidewalk. “I want to say something to you, Keith. And I want to look you in the eyes.” I bend down to meet his gaze. “Keith, I see you as a leader.” I’ve said this to him before. “I see you as having great influence with others and I want to challenge you to be a positive influence, not a negative one.” Lyric chimes in with affirmation around his ability to influence the other kids. I forget what else I say exactly but something along this same vein of calling out the good in Keith and challenging him to higher standards. He surprised me with his attentiveness as I spoke. It’s true, too. He is a highly influential kid. Yet I wonder if he hears enough encouragement towards positive influence or if he is hammered down with the negativity of his choices and bogged down by his life circumstances.

I hear this negativity when I go over to Evan’s house and talk with his mother and grandmother about the incident. They bring up the numerous times he’s been suspended from school and how he’s always getting in trouble. I take the opportunity to speak similarly of Evan’s influential behavior and the good I see in him.

I have to admit, I have questioned my own positive influence with these kids this past year. It’s not easily measured or tracked. And any advances are not blatantly obvious. And sometimes my energy is thin and I feel like I need to be doing more but I feel limited. Sometimes I find myself utterly frustrated at them; other times saddened by their circumstances. I pray for them, I cry over them when I feel like I can’t pray, and I try and speak positive words to them.

My hope, in the midst of my limitations and insecurities and places of brokenness, is that my resolve for them to know love from a stable non-parental adult keeps driving me. My hope, in the midst of the challenging interactions, is that these kids and their parents catch a glimpse of this love that more often than not has to come outside of myself.

Love is a risk. There is risk in pouring yourself out with or without the expectation of reciprocation. But I cling to the force of love, the healing power of love that makes the risk, the weight, the tears worth giving love even still.

Courtyard Tales

I held a special fundraising event in October titled “A Celebration of Stories” to raise money for our Fall Bash event that took place this October. Guests enjoyed live music, a 3-course Thai meal prepared by my friends Dan and Kristin Todd, and an assortment of photos displayed throughout my home to accompany stories that I shared about interactions with my young friends in the neighborhood.

I wanted to take the opportunity to share these stories to a greater audience. Because the event raised funds for the Fall Bash event that took place on October, 29 I have interspersed photos from the event throughout my storytelling.
So, here are my courtyard tales:




I lay in bed most of a Tuesday in October, the last Tuesday of Fall Garden Camp. It was an unseasonably warm day for mid-October, so I had the windows to my room open to let in fresh air and let out the sick air dwelling in my room. That afternoon, I heard the bustling activity of the afternoon Garden Camp class preparing food for the end of the season celebration harvest meal. The harvest meal is typically prepared by kids from the older class that meets on Tuesdays at 3:30. They spend the class time prepping dishes using garden fresh foods grown by them that season. I decided to wander down, get some fresh air and to check out some of the action. There they were lined up at the buffet line serving 3 sisters tacos and homemade sweet potato pie to kids and families from garden camp.

Many of the kids seemed surprised to see me, “Miss Grace, I heard you were sick?” many asked. “I am, but I wanted to see what you all made and hang out for a little bit in the fresh air.”, I would reply. I helped tend to the bonfire as kids excitedly tossed in leaves, sticks, and taco-stained paper plates. Kids and parents came up to Erin and I to thank us for the Garden Camp season and then slowly the numbers dwindled to a few of the older kids playing tag in the courtyard space.

The fire was dying and so was my energy. That brief time of interaction left me feeling zapped and ready to head back to bed. I retired to my room, my windows still open, and I could hear the kids in the side yard playing tag. Some were kids that have attended Woven Oak programs regularly, some more inconsistent, and some kids from next door who happened to be invited into the fun.

As I lay there I thought about that space and this space where I live. I live at 1756 Lincoln Ave. I live on a one-way street bookended by a park and old Catholic Church. I live in an old convent where I tend the nearby gardens with my housemates and neighbors, growing food for a pizza cafe. I live in an urban neighborhood in Norwood, OH, a city of 19,000 people living in a 3-mile radius. 1756 Lincoln Ave is so much more than an address. It’s a place of intentional proximity.

I went to a conference about 6 months ago and one of the speakers made a statement that has stuck with me. He said, “Proximity doesn’t equal presence.”

So being in proximity to so many kids in the neighborhood, what does it look like to be present to them?

As I lay in bed that Tuesday evening I realized how many interactions take place in the Courtyard space next to my house. I have this great view from my side window overlooking the courtyard that separates my place of living from St. Elizabeth’s Catholic church where I worship on Sundays with Vineyard Central, attend meetings, and where Garden Camp and, on occasion, Friday Fun Life meet.

The courtyard. Those grounds hold an assortment of memories. If the trees could talk what would they say about the interactions that have taken place there? I’d like to think that they’d be most delighted by the play and presence of children on these sacred grounds.

The trees can’t talk but I can. So I’d like to zoom in on this place where we gathered for the event and share some stories from the Courtyard and surrounding spaces, stories that portray what it means to be present.

These are in no particular order.

img_4250It was a week or two before the Friday Fun Life High Five Parade- our Spring community event where we would march through the streets of West Norwood spreading love and joy like a high five. I was a buzz with preparations for the event- prepping noise makers and signs and organizing crafts during Friday Fun Life and specific parade projects with a team of older kids from the neighborhood.

One Sunday evening I was in the courtyard gathering sticks to do stick bombing, the art of wrapping yarn around a stick to give it a festive and creative appearance. Some of my young friends spotted me from the community center yard where they were playing. “Hi Miss Grace!”, yelled Tyler from across the street. “Hi”, I replied to each of them by name. Tyler and the crew made their way over to me. Looking at my pile of sticks they asked what I was doing. “I’m going to do stick bombing. We’ll use these for the High Five Parade.” I responded. I knew what was coming next. “Can we help?”, they asked. In a second I went through the pros and cons of enlisting their help. I could probably do more myself. But there they were staring at me and I couldn’t turn them away. “OK,” I replied, “you can help for a little bit.”

We sat in a circle in the courtyard wrapping our sticks with multi colored yarn. Casandra munched on a bag of chips, which she reluctantly shared at the other kids’ requests. Some of the kids had done this activity before so they were able to assist those who hadn’t. I held back from correcting their wrapping style which was loose and spread out with little pieces of yarn dangling about in some gnarled fashion. “Will you finish mine, Miss Grace?”, asked Tyler. As expected, their attention spans with this activity didn’t last for more than 15 minutes. Before I knew it they were off again to play. I sat for a few more minutes to finish half wrapped sticks and do a few of my own before gathering them and storing them, with the sounds of my friends diminishing in the evening.

On a Saturday afternoon, the day before my birthday, I laid down for a nap. I had just returned from a birthday brunch with friends and had a few hours before I hosted a birthday game night at my house. I have a hard time calming a racing mind when I attempt naps. This day was no different. I was going through my birthday plans as if assessing that they meet certain expectations for celebration. The next day I would go to church, head out on a lone hike in the afternoon, call my sister-who I share a birthday with- and meet up with friends for Karaoke that evening. Something seemed to be missing though, some crucial element of incorporating my life into the birthday celebration. The kids.

At Friday Fun Life the day before I didn’t even mention my birthday. None of the kids knew and it could stay that way. But something didn’t feel right. I wanted to include them some way in my celebration. I laid in bed and imagined a picnic after church with games and activities and kids and friends from the neighborhood and church. My mind was racing with this idea and I couldn’t sleep. I jumped out of bed, threw together some half sheet flyers with an invitation to church and a picnic, and drove around the neighborhood to kids’ houses.
I ran into a group of kids on Cleveland. “I just left a flyer at your house about my birthday party tomorrow.”, I told Vince. He expressed interest and said he’d wake up his brothers to come. I finished passing out flyers unsure how many or if any kids would actually show the next day. With hope, I bought some chips and sandwich items for the picnic.
At church the next day, I watched the door to see if any kids would show up. At one point while chatting with a church friend someone tapped me and asked, “Do you know these kids?” Low and behold there were my young friends, 4 siblings who brought an additional friend! I hugged each of them excitedly. Their eyes were still puffy from sleep and they had varied expressions of a deer caught in headlights communicating, “What am I doing, here?!” Church was full that day and people had to shift around in order to open up enough seats for us.

It took them a lot of courage as the morning unfolded, but I could sense them loosening up as they joined the service after their class, breaking their herd mentality and sitting with other kids. They were the first outside for the hangout time. Other families and friends from church joined, filling plates with sandwiches and playing games I had set up in the yard. I tossed a Frisbee with brother and sister Vince and Yolanda.

After a game of kickball with another kid from church they helped me clean up the food items and set the outdoor tables back in place. They were full of energy as they recounted their activity and the Bible story from their class at church. They lingered asking questions and telling stories. Before they left they showered me with hugs and happy birthday wishes and ran off down the street.


One afternoon in late Spring, after riding my bike around the neighborhood passing out flyers about Norwood Grows Cooking Camp I ran into Tyler and Max. Tyler was riding his bike by his house and Max was trying to keep up on foot. I stopped to chat. Max had to head home, but Tyler asked if we could ride around together. “I actually need to head home to get dinner ready for my house.”, I told him. “Can I help?”, he asked. “Sure.”, I said. We headed to the Convent, right around the corner from where he lives with his brothers, sister, and grandma. Spotting his grandma and siblings out by the community center he yelled across the street to let them know he was helping me.

He was jumping all over the place, showing off his new shoes and hat. I had to constantly redirect him towards the task at hand- picking spinach leaves and wild violet hearts from our house gardens and the courtyard. He helped me wash the greens in the kitchen. We needed more, I thought, so I sent him out to gather some more violet hearts. While outside, he ran into Lincoln, the brother of my housemate Lyric, who was visiting for a few days. They sat out at the table by the garden, Lincoln showing Tyler how to play his guitar. I came out to gather more greens, “You can’t listen, Miss Grace,” said Tyler, “we’re making up a song.” “Ok,” I replied as I shuffled away to gather greens. On my way back Tyler informed me that they’re song was ready. I listened, holding my bowl full of greens. Tyler sat with the guitar in his lap strumming at random while Lincoln produced some weird melody and Tyler bobbed his head. “I love it! Nice work, guys!”, I beamed when they finished. Every part of me wishes so much right now that I could remember how it went.
Tyler lingered a little longer, “helping” me with dinner, before he headed outside to meet up with his family.

The tales I could tell of Garden Camp. I’ve been helping Erin with Garden Camp for two years now. During the growing seasons we gather 4 times a week with a variety of ages of kids to learn about animals, bugs, seasons, compost, gardening, seeds, worms, and food. Erin does most of the leg work for Norwood Grows programs and I simply have the privilege of partnering with her and learning alongside the kids. One aspect that we do work hand in hand on is recruiting kids from the neighborhood. Erin is a prominent partner in this neighborhood work. In fact, we’ve practically become one being to the kids as they constantly confuse one of us for the other.

We’ve grown to love all of the kids who come to garden camp but some weeks we look at each other in disappointment because none of our young neighborhood friends showed up for the classes. The days they do show up, whether on their own or because we’ve gone out to gather them up, those feel like extra special days. Sometimes they can bring a sense of chaos as many of them are so used to roaming the streets on their own. But most of the time they are enthralled with digging in the dirt, building forts, and prepping the snack.

One hot summer day, Shana showed up to both of the 2 day sessions, perhaps lured in specifically by the sprinkler activity.
I fondly remember the day we discussed singing insects and Charlie and Denver participated in the grasshopper long jump and hide and seek activities. That week the Garden Camp class made carrot cake that would be used at Moriah Pie on Friday night. One afternoon during a summer class session, Tyler and Joe were especially eager to help Mr. Robert dig a hole for tree planting.

One of my favorite garden camp extension stories happened a couple years ago when Robert and Erin had an impromptu picnic with a couple of boys who stayed to help sort garlic after a garden camp class.


Earlier this Fall, I was working in the garden on an exceptionally hot September Wednesday afternoon. I was weeding around the kiwi plants by the green house when my housemate David called me over to meet a mother and daughter who were asking about Garden Camp. I met Karen and her daughter Michaela who happened to live at the apartment complex down the street. Michaela was already in our tomato patch picking off any tomato she could get her hands on. Her mother instructed her to ask and I pointed her to find the red tomatoes. I let her keep a few and directed her to the green beans growing up the side rock wall by the driveway. She was loving it and her mom was excited to send her to garden camp for the Fall session. As we chatted outside of my house another neighbor from the end of the street walked by, Ashley and Shanaya who recently began attending garden camp. They knew each other by name and I was happy to know that Michaela would have a friend at garden camp when she started.


One rare occasion, I designated a Saturday morning to organizing my Friday Fun Life supplies in the side room of the church. At one point I looked out the window and spotted a few kids hanging out by our gardens in my front yard. Since kids have been coming to garden camp they have taken on an unspoken invitation to wander into the gardens at their leisure. We’ve reminded them time and time again that they need to ask to pick vegetables or tend to the garden. Over the summer we often found Tyler wandering through our yard claiming he just wanted to water the plants. After a few reminders of the rule he would actually come knock on our door to ask to work in the garden.

Recently my housemate Lyric caught Charlie and Mikah picking apples and carrots from the garden which caused them to lose their dessert privilege at Friday Fun Life that week. (They were surprisingly gracious in receiving that punishment.)

When I spotted these kids that Saturday afternoon I imagined them picking apples from the apple tree. I walked over to them and non-chalantly and gently inquired about what they were doing. “We’re not taking anything.” Aaron retorted quickly as if sensing they were in trouble. “I believe you.” I told him. “What are these?”, he asked pointing to the crab apple tree at the end of our driveway. “Those are crab apples, but they won’t taste very good.” They still wanted to try them. I watched their faces distort into disgust and spit them out as they took little bites from the tiny fruits. “I told you.” “Do you have any apples?” asked Amanda. “We do have an apple tree.” I replied. “Can we try them”, they all chimed in. “Ok”, I decided. And we went to find 3 of the best looking apples on the tree within reach.

They asked what I was doing and then asked if they could help. “I’m only working for a little bit longer before I take a break for lunch. So you can help until then.” I said. They had ridden over on their bikes. One bike had a towing cart of some sort attached to it so they took turns in the cart as I biked them up the hill to the side of the church. They helped organize some of last year’s supplies from the Fall Bash while they munched on their apples. They spoke excitedly of the Fall Bash which was so far away according to them. When it was time for my break they handed me their half-finished apples and rode off into the neighborhood. I took their apples inside and cut them into a salad for lunch.


This courtyard space has also held my sorrow. In early June, the week that I had my wisdom teeth removed, we had an especially difficult Friday Fun Life session. We had one of the biggest groups for Friday Fun Life since the beginning of the summer. We were forced to be inside due to the weather and so 20+ kids were crammed into an upstairs room at our church. Things began to unravel as more kids showed up, interjecting into our activities and feeding off of each other in the worst way. My patience was thinning as I gave constant directives, as a group of boys insisted on picking on a newcomer, and as I felt continually disrespected. My emotional space was caving in on me when I finally had to kick a group of kids out of a community activity in front of our church due to continued disruption.

The experience of being so blatantly disrespected hit me pretty hard, on top of some emotionally thin space I was already carrying with me from that week.

My friend Jill who saw the interaction of my having to kick the kids out of the community event asked how I was doing. I couldn’t help it, I broke as tears welled up in my eyes. “Maybe you should take some time.” she gently urged. I walked off, stepping away from my duties working at Moriah Pie, making it as far as the green house in the back yard before I broke down. Eventually I retreated inside the church to let the flood gates of emotions release. My pastor came in at one point to get some supplies for the event and sat with me as I dabbed at my face with Kleenex, trying to regain my composure so I could head back over to Moriah Pie.

These kids were some of the ones that I have known for the longest amount of time, kids who inspired me to start Friday Fun Life and invite to garden camp, kids I invited to my birthday party, kids whose houses I visit to inform them and their parents of upcoming programs and to pick them up for church.

Later I had to remind myself that, yes, this work is hard, but, yes, it is worth doing. Later that night a friend who is also a Friday Fun Life parent texted me saying “Hey pal- I know FFL was intense tonight but I think there is so much good happening there in spite of all that took place. I saw some small, beautiful moments and I just want to encourage you that what you’re doing is really important and good for those kids.”

These are just a handful of pocket memories of interactions with my young friends. These stories may not have the essence of profound, movie script interactions. A lot of times they feel inconsequential. They are a slow unfolding of relationships with kids in my neighborhood. One of the greatest challenges of this relational work is wondering if I’ll recognize the fruit of this labor. One day they’re hanging out in the courtyard celebrating your birthday, another day they’re blatantly disrespecting you to the approval of on looking peers.

This is the work of practicing presence and living into proximity, inviting these kids into the joy of discovery, the act of play, the love of Jesus shown through programs and interactions. This is the work of showing these kids that they are seen and desired to be known.


Bicycles- more than just transportation

bike gonzalez

About 5 1/2 years ago I received a road bike as a joint Christmas-birthday present. It has been one of my most cherished possessions. It has served a utilitarian role primarily as a commuting tool and has been on many trips with me- an annual century ride family tradition, a 2 day trip along the little Miami river, many training rides with my sister in central Indiana, a 100-mile trek across Ohio and Indiana. Lately it has seen less miles and use, due to a back injury last summer. These days I tend to hop on it for short trips around the neighborhood to meetings, errands, and friends’ homes.


Taken by a Friday Fun Life friend during the 2015 photo scavenger hunt

And yet it serves as an unexpected utilitarian use- a program asset and ministry tool. This really hit me the other day as I was riding to the store for a quick errand. I found what looked like a little biker gang- some of my young friends stopped in front of their house inspecting one of their bicycles. The chain had fallen off one of their little single speed bikes. I pulled over and helped them secure it on. I showed one of the kids how to change gears explaining their use for going up or down hilly areas.
They inspected my bike, too, asking questions about its skinny tires, pedal boots, buttons and gadgets. They followed with a string of questions about where I was going, what I was going to buy at the store, etc. Before I continued with my errand I reminded them of our summer activities in the park and Moriah Pie- the neighborhood pizza café.

The following week, I found the same biker crew as I made my way to our afternoon park activity. I stopped to invite them to join proclaiming, “We can ride over there together!” And we did. And it became an opportunity to teach biking etiquette/ survival skills- “Don’t ride on the sidewalk.”, “You should really wear helmets.”, “Make sure you stop at the stop ahead!” (said to the 5-year-old speeding through the stop sign).

Since I started this work in the neighborhood I’ve had a habit of riding my bike around the neighborhood to round kids up for programming activities. Most of the time I can find kids hanging out at the library where it can be a challenge to pry them away from their computer games. Other times I ride down their streets to find them in groups and gaggles wandering about together.

I love meeting kids on the street and challenging them to a race (somehow I seem to always win over their steel-framed, thick-wheeled, single speed bikes). I love shouting to a kid from my bike, “I like your bike!” or “It’s a great day for a ride!”. I love the way this simple tool I’ve grown to love and probably take for granted opens opportunity for relational extensions within my community.

soren bike

Neighborhood friend riding around the streets of Norwood

Don’t get me wrong, I drive cars around, too. Because, well, more often it’s more convenient. I might see kids along my driving route and I might wave, roll down my window or even pull over to say ‘hey’. But it’s a lot easier to stay sealed in my metal box barrier blending in with the other cars on the road. I blend in a lot easier than when this orange-haired girl with an orange bike and red helmet is zipping along the streets, exposed and with a voice more easily heard outside the confine of a car.

Life seems to slow down a little when I choose my bike. And, yes, I have to be more open to being interrupted when I’m on my bike or walking for that matter. While I may be slightly annoyed at the interruption at times, in retrospect I am usually thankful for it.

Summer Programs: reducing boredom one kid at a time


These past couple of months have been prolific with activity and relational interactions. My heart is full of delight and at the same time I recognize a certain weariness coming out of this full season.

Summer is an exciting and challenging season. Kids are out of school and many admittedly bored. Yet without a structure to hold them some tend to spend more time roaming the streets in groups at all hours of the day and night. My hope is that as these programs continue to grow and we extend our reach, more kids will in turn find something to engage them during these slow summer days.

Norwood Grows Update:
Erin and I just wrapped up our first summer session of Garden Camp. Our numbers varied these past few weeks which allowed for some more intimate sessions of learning and interactions.
guerilla gardeners

Young “guerilla gardeners” returning from planting trees

I, along, with the kids, learned about the various natural tools for battling the summer heat that God gives creation, enjoyed a nature scavenger hunt and making nature art, prepared delicious snacks, and delighted in relief from the summer heat by playing in the sprinkler after tending to the last of the season’s garden chores. The children’s garden is teaming with vegetables, flowers, garden crafts, prairie plants, bird baths, and butterfly muddles (and we may have snuck some Paw Paw trees down to the park) .

                                         The Spring Harvest Meal
harvest meal spring
Erin and I also completed the first Norwood Grows Cooking Camp! Over the course of 4 weeks on Wednesday afternoons we invited a number of our young friends ages 10-14 to learn and test a variety of recipes in preparation for a brunch event led by the kids. Our classes included harvesting food from our area urban garden plots, incorporating lessons around nutrition and food, and preparing for the Cooking Camp Brunch.
We had great engagement  with a consistent group of kids attending the weekly lessons and running the brunch and a few floaters throughout the weeks. The brunch was a hit! We had great attendance from community members and many of the kids’ families. This event will definitely land in my yearly highlights as I think it will for many of the kids. One girl, who showed up early on the day of the event and beamed with pride when her family attended, told me that she couldn’t sleep the night before because she was so excited. And just the other day, one of our cooking stars came up to me at Moriah Pie and handed me an envelope filled with change. She told me she wanted to help make sure cooking camp could happen again and saved her own money to contribute to the program.
I felt like a proud parent seeing these young lives engage with food, cooking, gardening, and nutrition and leading the brunch event for our community.
Friday Fun Life Update
The past couple months have been glittered with special activities that have taken us out of the norm. In May, a small group of Friday Fun Lifers planted some seeds in the Norwood Youth Garden, which we have taken on tending with a community member and some other neighborhood youth. After weeding and planting beets and carrots we spent some time decorating sticks and branches with yarn and using those as decoration around the garden space.I was delighted when one participant discovered the joy of finding worms as we worked. Initially she was squeamish about the discovery but was soon exclaiming excitement upon encountering these slimy garden friends.
At the beginning of this month a local photographer and friend helped facilitate a photo scavenger hunt with the kids in the neighborhood. She took the opportunity to capture some action shots as we did some warm up activities and led a book reading to provide inspiration for our hunt. This week we will be previewing the kids’ photos and organizing them for display at Moriah Pie!
Last week the kids and volunteers had a blast executing our very first Geocaching activity in 2 of the Norwood Parks. We are excited to continue this trend and discover more caches in Norwood in the coming months!

 I am excited to partner with Norwood Middle School’s teen leadership program Teen Empowerment in July helping to facilitate activities in an area park. We will be shifting our activity time from Fridays to Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in a local park as a joint effort to encourage more positive activity in our parks.

I’ve said it before, these programs allow what I want most with these kids- relationship. Even with the challenges of navigating relationships with my young friends, its worth seeing a smile break across their faces as they play, create, and discover.

Thanks for coming along the journey!
*Photo credits to : Juli Boehm Thompson and FFL kids

If you’re interested in becoming a “Play Partner” as a part of my support team you can donate by visiting
While my hope is to build a team of supporters who will give on a monthly basis, any amount and frequency is appreciated!
Feel free to contact me:

Children can’t wait until tomorrow; their name is today!

Spring is for parks, gardening, and parades!



High Five Parade GroupIt has been a full couple of months with much to update! Spring is in full swing which means so are neighborhood programs such as Norwood Grows Explorers Camp and Garden Camp. Fortunately I have a smattering of photos to share and I want to allow those to do most of the storytelling, as photos do so well.

Explorers Camp

IMG_1173Through Norwood Grows, Erin (Norwood Grows Director) and I launched the very first Explorers Camp during the Norwood Schools’ Spring break at the end of March. We facilitated 3 afternoon sessions trekking around a local park in order to explore the bounty of nature.  The kids received their very own nature journal and bundle stick equipped with a compass and drawstring bag to store their nature discoveries.


Together with our young friends we explored the trails of the park, discovered crawfish and frog eggs in the creek bed that runs through the park, and learned about the ephemeral pond in the park that provided great entertainment as the kids tromped through the muck and water. My personal highlights included climbing a tree with the kids, playing the game eagle eye, and witnessing a group of neighborhood kids experience the outdoors in a completely new way.

Garden Camp

IMG_1658We are currently in our 3rd week of Norwood Grows Garden Camp. Kids ages 3-12 have spent the last 3 weeks learning about foraging, composting, the difference between cool weather and warm weather crops, digging for worms (a favorite activity!), and planting a variety of spring vegetables- kale, radishes, carrots, and beets. Of course the kids always look forward to snack time- dirt dip, wild greens pesto pizza, and dandelion pancakes- and Gordo the groundhog stories!



I have been delighted to find a handful of my young neighborhood friends showing up consistently to our 2 after-school classes. Our children’s garden where we host Garden Camp is tucked back in a quiet courtyard surrounded by the old Catholic churchIMG_1653 building where my church meets and the old convent which serves as a community house (where I now live). It has become evident that this set-apart space surrounded by other garden plots has become a place of safety and comfort for some of the neighborhood kids. While it has presented a new challenge of setting boundaries with the kids it has also opened up opportunities to engage in spontaneous gardening activities with them.  Just the other day one young boy wandered into the yard and ended up helping one of my housemates with watering the garden. It has opened a new world to them and it is a delight to see them delight in the work of the garden.

The High Five Parade


Friday Fun Life had a full month preparing for our spring community event- The High Five Parade! The intent of this parade was simple: to spread love and joy to the neighborhood like a big high five by hosting a walk-able route in West Norwood handing out balloons, homemade stickers, and high fives along the way ending at a local frequented park for a cookout and after-party!

Leading up to the event Friday Fun Life participants spent our gatherings together making musical instruments, banners, stickers, and practicing a variety of chants for the route. The day came, hundreds of balloons were filled, the skies held back the rain that it had been letting loose the days leading up to the event, kids and families showed up, and we marched down the streets in tow with a banners, police escorts, and an animatronic elephant.

As we walked participants were encouraged to pass out balloons, stickers, and music-makers and recruit more participants along the route. I reminded them, this is not a parade to be watched but participated in; this event is for everyone!
The day felt like such a blur of whirlwind activity but I was left with such a fulfilled sense of joy and contentment; my soul was overjoyed, beyond happy with the success of the event measured in smiles, balloons, and high fives. Words really couldn’t capture the beauty of the event, so allow the pictures to speak in their place.

More often than not this work doesn’t feel very profound in fact I find that I tend to take the impact for granted. When I do step back and take a look at the lives of many of these kids who spend a majority of their free time running the streets or sitting in front of screens at the library or at home I realize that building relationships with these young lives through these acts of tending the land, loving on nature, and loving our community is instilling qualities and character in them that I pray resounds in other areas of their lives.

What’s to come

We are looking forward to launching our very first Norwood Grows Cooking Camp the end of this month! This four week class will meet once a week to learn a variety of recipes sourcing foods from our gardens culminating in a kid-led community brunch event. We are excited about the ways this will deepen the kids’ understanding and appreciation of nutrition, growing food, and cooking and in turn will empower them to find their capabilities in the art of cooking.

I’ll keep you posted and anticipate much salivating in the upcoming report!

*Photo credits go to : Juli Boehm Thompson and Dyah Miller

If you’re interested in becoming a “Play Partner” as a part of my support team you can donate by visiting
While my hope is to build a team of supporters who will give on a monthly basis, any amount and frequency is appreciated!
Feel free to contact me:

Children can’t wait until tomorrow; their name is today!


My birthday is about trying to find a balance of receiving and giving.

It’s official. I am now walking into my 30th year of life. It’s a bit surreal.
High Five Face
This week I celebrated my 29th birthday. Birthdays can be a source of tension for me. The whole process of planning how I want to celebrate is not my favorite aspect of my birthday. I don’t really love planning. I know, I know, that’s a big part of my job. I’m learning that a part of being an adult is doing things I don’t always like and in the process finding ways to enjoy or at least appreciate the task.

One would think that planning some fun for myself would be enjoyable and yet it is still somewhat stressful. But I hunkered down and made a plan for my birthday weekend trying to incorporate things that give me life. I was happy with my plan. It seemed like a good mix of activities with the lovely people in my life.:
– Brunch food: Check! With friends: double check!
– Game night and snacks: Check!
– Worship with my church family: Check! (My birthday fell on a Sunday so this required no planning!)
– A hike in the woods with trees to be climbed: Check!
– Karaoke with friends: Check!

All that was missing was time with my family. I share a birthday with my older sister Leah (We’re exactly 5 years and 11 minutes a part). Not being together on our birthday, specifically in recent years, has been a bit sad. But I was able to celebrate with her and some other family the weekend before and had various phone calls interwoven into my day which left me content.

The weekend played out mostly according to plan. Mostly. Until an additional idea surfaced during an attempted nap.

As I lay down for a short rest Saturday in between birthday activities I was struck with a thought. I want to celebrate with my young neighborhood friends! On Friday, as usual, I saw a handful of my young friends from the neighborhood at Friday Fun Life and Moriah Pie. Fridays are my busiest days with these activities dominating my mental and physical energies. So any weekend planning had to happen outside of that day. I didn’t talk much about my birthday. It came up in a fleeting conversation with a few of the kids eating at Moriah Pie, but nothing more was said or planned.

As I attempted to nap on Saturday, I lay there imagining my friends playing in the yard next to my church after the service. The weather was supposed to be nice. I imagined a picnic. I imagined them coming to church. An idea was brewing and I could no longer sleep. I was energized with the images of my friends participating in the day that celebrated my life and incorporated as many aspects of what I love about my life into the day. I love these kids.

I was torn, though. Carrying out this idea meant planning and organizing yet another occasion within the weekend. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea.

Part of the tension of celebrating my birthday is reorienting my disposition in thinking that it’s a day all about me, but realizing rather it’s a day designated for celebrating life, my life, those who have shaped who I am, a God who continues to shape me. Sharing this day with my sister for the past 29 years has been a great reminder of this as I choose to go out of my way to celebrate my sister, too.

In recent years I’ve tried to see my birthday, as should be the case for every other day, as a balance of receiving and giving.  Here was an opportunity to engage in giving back to my community, my friends.

So, I flung myself out of bed, whipped up some half sheet flyers about this spontaneous party, and went out into the neighborhood to seek out my friends. I found a group of boys kicking a ball around on their street. They ran over to me, gathering around my car, showing off a BB gun. I gave them the flyers and told them of the plan: church at 10 AM and/or games and a picnic afterward. They expressed interest. The oldest brother of a group of siblings said he would wake up his younger brother, who claimed he slept in on Sundays, in time for church. I left other flyers in mailboxes, with parents, and even met a new group of girls who said they might come. I kept my expectations loose but continued with the plan buying sandwich items, chips, and donuts for the picnic.  I invited other families and individuals from the community to join after church as well.

Sunday came. I looked out for the kids who might show up to church. At one point while chatting with a church friend someone tapped me and asked, “Do you know these kids?” Low and behold there were my young friends, 4 siblings who brought an additional friend! My heart leapt! I hugged each of them excitedly. Their eyes were still puffy from sleep and they had varied expressions of a deer caught in headlights their expressions communicating, “What am I doing, here? I don’t know any of these people!” Church was full that day and people had to shift around in order to open up enough seats for us. I walked them down to their Sunday class where there was more shifting of tables and chairs. The class doubled in size with them. “Oh boy!”, I thought, hoping and praying everything went well as I left them with their 2 teachers.

It took them a lot of courage as the morning unfolded, but I could sense them loosening up as they joined the service after their class, breaking their herd mentality and sitting with other kids.

They were the first outside for the hangout time. “Do you have a football, Miss Grace?”, asked Oliver* as he bounded out of the church towards the side yard. “Yes.”, I replied. “Where is it? I don’t see it. Where is it? I can’t see it”, he repeated. “Slow down, buddy!”, I interjected, “It’s over by the tree.”

Other families and friends from church joined, filling plates with sandwiches and playing games I had set up in the yard. I tossed a Frisbee with brother and sister Vince* and Yolanda* and  taught them a new throw. “That’s not how you throw a Frisbee!”, exclaimed their oldest brother Joe*. “Oh, but it is, Joe! This is called the Hammer throw. Here, I’ll teach you!”, I replied. They ran around with other kids from church, playing corn hole, tossing a football, and looking for garter snakes.

We unwound after a game of kickball with another kid from church. They helped me clean up the food items and set the outdoor tables back in place. They were full of energy as they recounted their activity and the Bible story from their class at church. “This church is fun! We should come back again!”, exclaimed one. They were on cloud nine! They were not ready to leave, full of questions and stories, “What’s your tattoo say, Miss Grace?” “When did you get your piercing?” “You’ve been to Argentina?!” “Do you speak Spanish?” “We’re going to go to Mexico!” “We went to Wisconsin once and there was a castle, like this church, made of cheese! And you can pick off pieces and eat it!”

Eventually, Yolanda chimed in remembering what I told them earlier about my plans for the day, “Ok guys. She’s going for a hike now.” They showered me with hugs and happy birthday wishes and ran off down the street.

Jose, Oscar, and Grace           victor and graceyami and grace

I went home, grabbed a sandwich from the leftovers, and was filled with such a depth of gratitude that tears welled up from this inner pool of joy. Whatever happened the rest of the day didn’t matter as much. That was enough. That was more than enough.

I’m ready for more instances like that one. It made me excited for Spring and Summer and the activities that have potential to mirror that one. It made me excited at the possibility of completing this task I’ve invested in the past few months of fund-raising. I’m ready to spend my energy planning events and programs with these kids.

A friend asked me what my hopes were for this coming year. “Honestly, I just want to be fully funded.”, I responded. Though many other hopes followed, mostly having to do with my vocation and relationships with neighborhood kids, that was my initial thought.

This season of fundraising and building a support team in order to make this work feasible has been one of the most challenging tasks I’ve taken on. It’s exhausting. It takes a lot of planning, expends great amounts of energy, and exposes a great deal of vulnerability. On the flip side, it has been a gift to share about this work that I’m doing with so many supporters, to be encouraged and affirmed as I take on this endeavor.

My goal has been to complete this fundraising season by April. This week I hit the 80% mark toward being fully funded! 80 percent! I’m a little over 3 weeks away with 20% left to go! This has been a lot of work and it’s starting to pay off. I’m so close!

It’s true, I do want to be fully funded in my 30th year. But I’m going to hope higher and claim full funding a month into my 30th year.

You can help!

If you’re reading this and you’ve considered giving, have promised a financial commitment, or know someone who might be willing to give, I’m asking for your help in reaching 100%.

In honor of entering my 30th year of life, I’m asking for $30 a month from 20 additional people. Would you be willing to be one of those 20?

I’m asking you to take a step forward. To invest in the lives of Joe, Vince, Oliver, and Yolanda.

If you’re interested in becoming a “Play Partner” as a part of my support team you can donate by visiting
While my hope is to build a team of supporters who will give on a monthly basis, any amount and frequency is appreciated! Feel free to contact me:

Children can’t wait until tomorrow; their name is today!

*names have been changed to maintain anonymity for the kids

Throwing open my windows

          Last Friday I was laid up in bed with the beginnings of this cold/ flu that has been making its way around. This meant that I had to miss Friday Fun Life. Thankfully I can rely on the leadership of our Xavier University student leader Danielle and other community and college volunteers to carry the program in my stead.
If you live in the Midwest, you might recall that the weather last Friday was a generous 50 degrees. I threw my windows open to experience this rare February weather and with the hopes of wafting out the germs. To my pure delight, on cue around 3:45, I could hear the buzz of children a block away in the yard of the Community Center. I peered out my window to catch a glimpse of “my” Friday Fun Life kids playing freeze tag; I saw the familiar shapes of kids from my church and my young neighborhood friends.

          It’s not often that I get to witness this program from this point of view. More often than not I struggle to be in the moment which certainly makes it difficult to truly appreciate what’s happening through those interactions; the slow-unfolding of relationship centered on the freedom of play and fun. During Friday Fun Life I can get caught up in managing the flow of the activities, directing and redirecting kids, and participating in the activities. This experience last Friday was a balm of affirmation for me. Later I encountered these kids running up to me exclaiming, “Miss Grace, where were you?!” After telling them I wasn’t feeling well my young friend Liberty* responded, “I hope you feel better, Miss Grace.”

          I ran across an article that provided another source of affirmation that this endeavor of creating safe and free space for these kids is worthy of my vocational focus. In the article “What Kids Need from Grown-ups (But Aren’t Getting“, Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center, speaks on the correlation between play and learning. She claims both happen best within a basis of relationship. “When you look at how kids learn, they learn when something is meaningful to them, when they have a chance to learn through relationships — and that, of course, happens through play.” She continues, “I think the No. 1 thing is that children need to feel secure in their relationships because, again, we’re social animals. And children learn through others. So I think the No. 1 thing is for kids to have a chance to play, to make friends, to learn limits, to learn to take their turn.”

DSC_8282edit.jpgWhen I started Friday Fun Life in the Fall of 2014, my hope was to create a program for kids in my neighborhood who I kept running into on the streets, at the library, and at Moriah Pie- the pay-what-you-can pizza café on my street; kids that I rarely saw with adults. At the beginning phase of program development, I didn’t have a program name yet, but I knew two things: I wanted it to happen on Friday nights in order to catch these kids coming to Moriah Pie and I wanted it to be centered on play with relationship-building at the foundation.          Little did I know that I was hoping to create not only a safe and fun space for these kids, but an opportunity for social-emotional development and expansion for learning through social interaction and relationship. Keeping this in mind, my hope for Friday Fun Life is to create a safe and consistent environment focused on relationship-building through play and activity, creativity, and expanding the imagination.

          Not convinced? Come join us on a Friday afternoon and see a child’s face light up when he/ she receives a “High Five Award” for displaying our values of respect, non-violence, positivity, and kindness. You’ll know which kid this is, it’s the one who has the privilege of carrying a tray of pizza to our table as a temporary Moriah Pie server.

         I rely on these constant reminders and affirmations as fuel and motivation to continue the course of making this vocation possible by raising support for this work. If you’re interested in becoming a “Play Partner” as a part of my support team feel free to contact me:

You can donate by visiting While my hope is to build a team of supporters who will give on a monthly basis, any amount and frequency is appreciated!

Children can’t wait until tomorrow; their name is today!

*names have been changed to maintain anonymity for the kids


Empowerment says “I see you as a leader and I want to see you choose to be a good leader.”

I’m only slightly overdue for an update. If you’ve jumped on here to catch a recent update and have instead found the initial update I posted months ago then this one’s for you!

My hope is that by reading this you will find this platform as a way to acquaint yourselves with the neighborhood in which I have been deepening my roots for over 3 years, the work I am taking on along side my community, and the various initiatives that seek the good of the city of Norwood.

The reason this blog has remained stagnant over the past couple of months is due to my focused attention on support-raising in order that this work might be sustainable. Over the course of these winter months I have been actively spreading the word about this work and building a team of individuals who will support me in a variety of ways- financially through monthly and one-time gifts, emotionally through encouragement, and spiritually through prayer. The challenges of support-raising are real. Yet, I’m reminded that so is the need for this endeavor which in turn motivates me toward finding stability and sustainability for this vocation.  

This past Friday I came face to face with the reminder of the need for stable relationships with young lives in our neighborhood during Friday Fun Life. As is a typical trend before Friday Fun Life, I swung by the library to recruit kids for the program. There was no school on Friday due to weather so the library was quite populated with kids hanging out around computers. Here I was able to recruita crew of 10 kids for Friday Fun Life! Some faces were new; some were returnees- kids with whom I’ve slowly been building relationships over the years.

I always enter Friday afternoons with a weight of apprehension on how the time at Friday Fun Life will unfold.  I’m learning to let go of those apprehensions but it’s a process and often I am met with recurring questions. Will kids come? Will we have enough kids for the activities? Will the kids enjoy the activities? Will there be a good balance of play, mentorship opportunities, and broadening life skills? Will the more challenging youth come and how will those interactions be?

This Friday was no different and with 3 new volunteers joining, my sense of apprehension was high. Over the course of the past year of running this program I’m learning to step forward in obedience and faith for consistency’s sake. So I jumped on my bike and sought out the kids at the library, apprehension in tow. And you know what? The challenges turned up but they led to additional opportunities.  I found a sense of empowerment communicating my disappointment when certain kids were choosing to be disrespectful. I felt empowered when I saw the opportunity to affirm children who were choosing to display one of our core values (kindness, non-violence, respect, and positivity).

I walked in obedience in seeing an opportunity to extend a sense of empowerment to the group by altering the process of handing out the High Five Award- an award given at the end of the program to a few kids who show exemplary behavior in displaying our values during our time together. Usually an adult volunteer hands out these awards but on this Friday, having only one award to hand out to the group of 15 kids, I decided to make it a group decision by putting it to a vote. I called for examples from the group of individuals they observed displaying one or more of our values. After a number of examples were given we took a vote and the majority landed, quite deservedly, on a young boy newcomer.

In this relational endeavor, I am constantly reminded of the opportunities to instill a sense of empowerment, inclusion, responsibility and value in these young lives.

This process of support-raising has been my own journey in feeling empowered in order to carry on in this work. I feel empowered through the encouragement, financial sacrifices, and commitment to prayer from my supporters. I feel empowered to walk on in faith and obedience as I seek opportunities to extend this same gesture to my neighbors, to express to my young friend after Friday Fun Life, “I see you as a leader and I want to see you choose to be a good leader. I need your help being a positive example to the rest of the group. Can you help me with that?”


If you would like to know how you can get involved as a part of my support team I invite you to email me: I’d love to chat!

Becoming Miss Grace

My blogging rhythm has been dormant for a few years now. I kept a blog (“El Dios Que Me Ve” at when I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina serving alongside Word Made Flesh. I seem to have impressed it upon myself to reserve such a space of reflection, story telling, and public journaling for ministry work, specifically ministry that entailed living cross culturally. That hasn’t been a very fair approach to the process of telling the story that continues to unfold as I seek to live out God’s Kingdom in missional and vocational ways.

This is about to change.

I’m stepping into a season of deepening my trust in God and understanding His work in my life. I’m stepping into a season that challenges my vocation and the way it intersects with my life theme: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with my God. (Micah 6:8). Beyond being a platform for recounting stories of my everyday life and vocational ministry I’m hoping this act of public journaling can be a practice in accountability. This upcoming season requires accountability to myself and others who choose to walk with me in this leg of my journey.

If you’re reading this, I’m inviting you in.

A little over 3 years ago I moved to Norwood, OH, a city within the city of Cincinnati, to be a part of the Vineyard Central Church and surrounding community. Vineyard Central has been present in the West Norwood community for over 20 years practicing an ongoing experiment blending church and intentional community. An underlying mission of the Vineyard Central community is taking part in God’s transformative work in the neighborhood and we believe that the best way to take part in this work is by enveloping our lives in this place, which is why I as well as many community members are committed to living in the neighborhood.

For me, living missionally in my community is more that just having an address but a deepening of life rhythms through presence and interactions with the community. One of the ways I have been drawn into this deepening of rhythms and interactions is through building relationship with neighborhood kids. This has been unfolding through organic interactions, a by-product of living in the neighborhood, and intentional kid-focused community programs.

Over the course of the past year I have been experimenting with tying my vocational endeavors deeper into my neighborhood. One of my community focuses this past year was starting and maintaining an after-school program called Friday Fun Life. The mission of Friday Fun Life is to create a safe and structured after-school alternative for kids ages 6-12 by integrating physical activity, mentorship, the sharing of a meal, and conversations of life and faith.

JB-FFL-0054JB-FFL-0005By way of interacting in more intentional ways with the kids of West Norwood I have gained a new title that I’ve become quite fond of: Miss Grace. This has been the process of becoming Miss Grace; the more kids I have gotten to know in the neighborhood, through programs or not, the more I am becoming Miss Grace. I’ve found few greater joys from my living in this neighborhood than hearing “Miss Grace!” called out from across the street.There is something about a name that expresses the deep desire within each of us in being known.

The simple task of asking a name expresses a desire to know the other. My desire to know the names of the kids in my neighborhood and deepen relationships has only increased


After much prayer and discernment I have decided to take on this title- Miss Grace- as a vocational commitment to the kids in my neighborhood. My primary intentions will consist of maintaining and expanding the Friday Fun Life program as the Program Director, supporting and expanding other youth programs in our neighborhood, and continuing to build relationship with kids through neighborhood presence and availability.

Stepping into this role as a vocation will require outside spiritual, emotional, and financial support. I am inviting you, my friends and family, to join me in this endeavor. Over the course of the next few months I will be building a base of supporters to come alongside my vision. I will be raising funds for my salary and ministry costs through Woven Oak Initiatives, a non-profit seeking the good of the city of Norwood by developing and supporting local initiatives centered around education, mentoring, and economic development. (I am really excited that one of the programs that recently came under the umbrella of Woven Oak is Friday Fun Life!)

I will be sending out letters and information about supporting my vocational endeavor in the coming weeks. If you desire to be a part of this endeavor through prayer and/ or financial support please contact me, I’d love to share more about what has been and what I hope is to come.

If you would like to contribute to my financial needs, you can visit It take 2 steps:

  1. Click “Donate” and do your thing!
  2. Email to indicate the purpose for your donation (for Grace Marshall)

Thank you for your consideration and continued support of how God is moving in my life and utilizing me for His Kingdom work.

Fall Bash Grace(photo from the recent Friday Fun Life Fall Bash)