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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meeting With Northampton City Council Members Last Night About The OPEN TABLE Opportunity.

In October of 2012, I wrote a blog called imagine/Northampton's OPEN TABLE Opportunity: http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2012/10/imaginenorthamptons-open-table.html. In it, I expressed my excitement over the possibility we could learn and employ an innovative model for helping homeless transform. We'd had the opportunity to have the Founder, Jon Katov spend a weekend with us to explain what the Open Table model was, and how it might work in our neck of  the woods. When he left, we were pumped.

So I and Dave Sweeney began to brainstorm what needed to be done. I did the lion-share of the footwork contacting people to see if we could form a table with imagine folks and others sympathetic to the model. I was able to do so fairly quickly. The harder part was finding the right person who'd benefit from the Open Table. This was all new to me. I connected with a whole bunch of folks in town from ServiceNET staff to city government representatives, as well as other agencies working on the tough and growing problem of homelessness. The initial footwork was tedious in that my gifts are not a great fit for such work. I was an introverted fish far from the water, but I gradually made contacts and talked with people. Everyone I talked was intrigued and very supportive.

Eight months in, I ran into a wall where I felt no momentum, and began to let frustration discolor the picture. Without getting into the details, I pulled the plug on the project last summer. I told Jon it just wasn't going to work and I'd done run out of steam. He tried to exhort me to hang on, but I just had no remaining fire in my belly for it. In reality, I was naive and immaturely impatient, feeling I was letting everyone down on this side, and I couldn't bear the weight of it. I let a false sense of shame lie to me. Pride was whispering also.

With the phone call to Jon, I assumed the deal was done and moved on. I wasn't happy about it, but resigned.

Well...one of the people I'd contacted was a woman in the Mayor's Office who has responsibility for housing and  community development planning. She'd graciously given me an hour plus of her time earlier this year before I pulled the plug. She was excited by what I explained, even moved by the graciousness of the model. At one point she had tears in her eyes. She said I needed to present it to the Town Council. We tried to make that happen in the Spring, but scheduling prevented it. So, she scheduled it for this December.

I thought it wouldn't happened. When she made contact to let me know it was on, I told her I'd not been able to get the thing going, therefore it seemed pointless for me get in front of the Council. She disagreed vehemently saying that even if it was not operating I needed to tell them about it. She was insistent. I heard God in that.

So last night, I met in Council Chambers with Bill Dwight, the City Council President, Councilor At-Large, Marianne L. LaBarge , representing Ward 6, and Peg Keller, the Housing & Community Development Senior Planner in the Mayor's Office who'd encouraged me to stay the course. I laid out the values, principles, and process of the Open Table model. It took about 20 minutes. They asked intelligent questions which I very much appreciated. I recognized they'd had a long history dealing with housing and homelessness problems.

I was heartened by how encouraging they were especially since we'd be volunteering to do this, using volunteers from the community to share skills and build a team around someone until they were able to get on their feet. One of them mentioned it was gracious, kind and courageous to do what we were offering. The fact we weren't looking for money or being paid was notable. Another said it was clear we were doing it from the heart, the most important reason.

Bill asked what we needed from the Council. Immediately, I responded, "connections!"; particularly with folks who'd be willing to be on the table based from what would be needed for the particular brother or sister. He was pleased with my response and said they could be very helpful with providing contacts. I felt God was opening a door I thought sadly closed, a failure because of me.

As I started to walked out of the Chambers, Peg told me to give her a call right after the first of the year and she'd be able to provide me with all the connections I'd want. Again, I felt God giving me the green light; opening a door I closed because I'd run out of options or so I thought. He had not closed the door apparently.

But I had one more thing to do.

You'll remember Jon challenged me to not give up but I didn't listen to him. I know I'd let him down because he'd lined up some coaches for us to really get things moving and I bailed. I felt convicted I'd done him wrong so right after I returned from the meeting last night, I sent him an email telling him that I'd spoken to City Council members and the door seemed to be re-opening. I asked for his forgiveness in stopping the project. He was very kind and gracious in responding saying we'd both needed to slow it down. Wow.

We'll be talking on the phone this Thursday. Please pray God directs us into his will, and gives me the ability to do my part lacking nothing necessary to making me able.

So apparently, the Lord is giving us another chance to make this happen under His unction. He's giving me a second opportunity to actually launch a major resource in New England to help alleviate poverty and homelessness in our city and beyond. What an opportunity I almost squandered!

I'll let you know how it goes after the first of the year.

Merry Christmas! 


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