By Monika Grasley
Winton, California is known for unemployment, drug abuse, and gangs, but for a growing number of community members it is becoming a community of hope, caring, and working together. Several years ago a number of community members decided to “Put Winton on the map for something good” for a change and so under Ernie Solis’s leadership (who is coached in Asset Based Community Development) more and more people are working together for the common good.
This Christmas a neighbor donated a Christmas tree to the small community center that is the hub for many activities. Since there was no money for fancy decorations every community member who entered the center received a plain blank Christmas ornament and was asked to write on it one of their gifts (skills, abilities, passions) that they are willing to share with the community. The end result was a beautiful tree decorated with gifts.
As part of the ongoing conversation several people wanted to put a Christmas dinner together for the homeless of the community, but then decided it should be open to everyone. The word got out; people volunteered. Some purchased turkeys and supplies, others were willing to cook them, some wanted to help with decorating, others brought what they had. And so on December 29 a beautiful feast was spread out: Turkey, mashed potatoes, beans, stuffing, dessert, coffee, and cider. Everyone brought what they had and shared in this amazing feast.
Over 100 neighbors filled the room as Christmas music played in the background, and laughter and conversation filled the space. Gang members and seniors, young and old, undocumented community members and old-timers, homeless and business people all sitting beside each other and enjoying a beautiful time while the Christmas tree filled with gifts of community members stood in the corner of the room.
People who would never interact with each other under normal circumstances now heard each other’s stories. People who had prejudices against each other sat beside each other and broke down some walls. LifeLine CDC has a saying that “Everyone no matter how rich has a need. Everyone no matter how poor has a gift. That is why we build and celebrate community.” It was a beautiful sight to see this happening and know that it is one small part of community transformation.