by: Stephen Trever, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Connecting Generations

On Sunday June 5, close to 600 people from the community of Medford, Massachusetts turned out for Let’s Move! Medford, a field day/information fair centered on raising healthy and active children. The event took its name from Michelle Obama’s campaign to end child obesity, and was part of Grace Church’s ongoing attempt to be a positive agent for transformation in the larger community.

The idea for the event emerged out of the work of six parishioners taking part in theLeadership Development Initiative (LDI), a diocesan campaign to develop leadership skills among the laity using the model of community organization developed by Marshall Ganz. Our group was the second group that Grace Church has put through the program, and the second group to score a great success.

(The first group recently received an award from the EPA for its work in organizing clean ups of several local community parks.)

The vision of the LDI model centers on the power of personal stories to connect people on shared values thereby creating strong bonds of commitment in order to effect change.

For this project our initial group of six began by telling their stories to one another. Through those exchanges it was determined that the group was well equipped to do a project in the area of education around children’s health. The idea for the field day resulted from our struggle to come up with a project that would fit the course requirements for an event that would enable leadership, organize community, and lend itself to some kind of measurable goal. Our measurable goal in this case was to have 150 children at the event. With 278 children registered, we practically doubled our goal.

Much of the success, no doubt, came from an early strategic decision to align our project with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! By utilizing resources that already existed as part of that campaign, we were able to easily communicate what we were trying to do to the various community partners we recruited. At the end of the day, over thirty different community organizations and businesses participated. Some of those came as the result of our efforts to enlist them, and a few came as the word of what we were doing spread and they came to us excited by what we were doing.

Personally, one of the most exciting moments of the experience came on that Sunday afternoon when I looked onto the field and saw hundreds of children running through an obstacle course, doing yoga, hitting boards with a local Karate studio, lifting weights, dancing, hula-hooping, learning to pass a ball with a lacrosse stick with members of the Medford High girls Lacrosse team, taking shots on a goal with Medford High’s soccer team, and generally enjoying themselves to the music of a local DJ.

At that moment I remembered the night when six of us began brainstorming and we had the vision of children playing on a field while parents had the opportunity to connect with community resources to help them raise healthy families. I was amazed that the vision had become a reality.

Even more amazing is that it wasn’t really all that difficult. Yes there was hard work and many hours spent making it happen, but the work mostly consisted of making connections with people in the community, both within the church community and outside in the larger community. In the end it was through simple one-on-one conversations that we were able to get commitments from so many people. It was through conversations with parents in the community that we were able to get the approval of the superintendent in order to pass out fliers to every pre-K to 5th grade child in the Medford school district. It was through conversations that we were able to secure the location, and get food and water donated. It was through conversations that we got connected to the mayor and other city officials who in turn showed their support by attending the event with their families.

And that is the real beauty of this model and it’s implications for church communities. Namely, that the very process itself builds community. Since the event, we have been in contact with several of the participants and are continuing to explore ways that we can build on these partnerships. For example, one of our participants is now offering free Zumba instruction at the church every Wednesday night this summer.

In the grand scheme of things one field day hardly impacts the greater issues of children’s health, but the turn out and response assures us that we have done something important. I am so happy that Grace Church is growing its reputation as a church committed to the wellness of its community. This is a church that is not hiding its light under a bushel basket.

Stephen Trever serves at Grace Episcopal Church in Medford, Massachusetts as part of the Diocese of Massachusetts’ internship program.

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