We are celebrating with the City Shapers cohort in Bowling Green, Kentucky! After a long and multifaceted journey, they have completed the City Shapers program. Rather than an ending, we know that a new phase of deep, long-term work is just beginning.
Rhondell Miller, the City Catalyst and leader of HOTEL INC, first brought the Lupton Center to two neighborhoods in Bowling Green. We sat down with her to reflect on the past years, and to share what’s next for her community.
Q: First off, we want to say thank you for being the first ever City Catalyst! For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about your organization, Hotel Inc and about you.
A: I’m Rhondell Miller, the Executive Director at HOTEL INC We are a community development organization, and we are celebrating its 42nd years working with people experiencing homelessness and chronic material poverty. I began in March 2012, and I’m the fifth and 2nd longest standing director. It’s currently a nonprofit with 12 employees and lots of volunteer roles in office support and clinical and street medicine.
I bring expertise from my prior work in West Virginia to our focus in Bowling Green on people experiencing homelessness. My past helps inform what outreach and components we can provide for people right where they are.
Q: How did you come to be involved with City Shapers?
A: It started with a trip to the FCS Open House. I was one of four who came to one March 2017. It was an important introduction, and I realized there was a lot more I wanted to learn about the model FCS was using. As a next step, I took part in a Leaders Lab in 2018 and 2019.
Q. What do you think is different in your neighborhood and among your cohort because of your City Shapers participation?
A: I think that as an organization we had to recognize and own mistakes. We had to own that we had made organizational decisions that were beneficial for one sector of people (homelessness) but it brought problems to the residents of Delafield. We had to own our decisions and apologize for acting before asking our neighbors how it would impact them.
We have to own as organizations – when we make programmatic decisions, we need to understand whose lives it’s really impacting. It’s not not always the people directly coming to the program.
For anyone doing City Shapers – you’re coming together as a cohort, but the most important people need to be the people who live there. It’s important to take the time to build the relationships that are necessary. We started going out into our neighborhood more, talking, praying for each other and offering friendship. That took time.
Q: Tell me about 2-3 of the most important moments in your time with City Shapers.
A: There is one of the key moments that stays with me – when we learned about the history of the West End. We interviewed neighbors and school teachers who remembered segregation and desegregation happening. When we learned that Delafield has this rich history, it kept me going. I understood that we’re on the edge of historical members passing away and another big flip in the West End neighborhood. Many homeowners are seniors, so we know we’re on a trajectory of losing more homeowners – and it could be happening when we know we need to be at work developing more to guide us.
Another important moment reminded me to be an encourager to others. I would reflect on a poem by Thomas Merton called “The Slow Work of God,” and it would help remind me to stay in it. When our community experienced the pandemic and then the tornados, we had a two year time period with constant disruption and fatigue. We had to learn how to encourage and support each other, and know it’s ok to take a break.
Q: What is one piece of encouragement or advice you’d want to give to others considering hosting a City Shapers cohort.
A: You should be praying. You should also be willing to recognize and own areas within yourself and your participating entities that are unhealthy. If you’re not willing to own that everything you’re doing isn’t perfect, then you need to work on that first. You can’t come in with an attitude of, “I need to change these people,” because there are no “these” people or “those” people.
Before a cohort goes into a community to do City Shapers, they need to complete the Seeking Shalom Small Group Study. We’ve been doing that since 2018 and it’s an important way to help everyone understand the key concepts and values of our approach.
Understand the difference between transactions vs. relationship. These are two very different things.
It’s also important to understand that in all areas of the cohort, communication has to stay primary. Regular communication is important.
Thank you so much, Rhondell!
If you’re interested in finding out more about City Shapers and how it can impact your neighborhood, we invite you to attend our next City Shapers interest meeting.