Church Members Gain New Eyes, Hearts Towards Tough Neighborhood (by Pam Marino)
Retired police officers Bob Froese and Jim Buchanan once looked upon the small low-income San Jose area of Alviso with hardened cops’ eyes: a place with a few rough characters, and all the social ills that come with being a neighborhood of people living on the margins of society.
But recently, when the two found themselves leading possibly one of the largest community service projects ever in Alviso, their hearts melted and they began to see the neighborhood with all new eyes.
“After our experience here we have a passion for the people of Alviso,” Froese said. He said the stereotypes he once held for the community have completely disappeared. “Our opinions have been changed 180 degrees. We have a deep love and affection for the people now.”
With all the precision of a major police operation, the two marshaled the forces of 600 volunteers last weekend for the “Awaken Alviso” project, one of 17 projects worked on May 16-22 by a San Jose coalition of churches, nonprofits, businesses and governmental agencies called Beautiful Day.
“Once a cop, always a cop,” Buchanan joked, as he explained how he and Froese divided the neighborhood into zones and appointed block captains to coordinate work on 41 sites in the small community of 2,200 residents and nearly 500 homes.
“We planned it down to how many nails we’d need,” he said.
Throughout San Jose approximately 2,400 Beautiful Day volunteers worked that week to spruce up neighborhoods and schools, as well as serve the homeless, disabled and others in need.
Just to make “Awaken Alviso” happen, Buchanan and Froese put in five months of planning, working sometimes eight to sometimes 14 hours a day, they said. And even though the event is over, the two said they have become so committed to helping people there, they are already planning new projects in the coming months.
Buchanan and Froese were, as they put it, “shoulder tapped” five months ago by Beautiful Day Executive Director Jon Talbert to lead the Alviso project.
Talbert likens it more to shoving people in the pool when they least expect it.
“At first they say, ‘what?’… But then they realize it’s the best thing that could have ever happened to them,” Talbert said.
For some volunteers, a big event like Beautiful Day is something they’ll do once and check off a list, he said. But for others “it resonates in their soul,” inspiring them to serve long after the event is over.
The people of Alivso are resonating in Buchanan’s and Froese’s souls, judging by the way they talk about people who they now know on a first-name basis from months of getting ready for the weekend.
To prepare they collaborated with two churches in the community, Star of the Sea Catholic Church and Jubilee Christian Center, as well as three other San Jose churches, Holy Spirit, Lincoln Glen, and their own church, Westgate, which spearheads Beautiful Day. They also worked with businesses, neighborhood groups, and officials from San Jose and the Santa Clara Unified School District, which oversees the elementary school.
The men said that at first residents were wary of their efforts, thinking there were either strings attached, or that this was one more empty promise in a long line of past empty promises from other groups and governmental agencies. But the men persisted, and eventually neighbors warmed up to them.
During the Beautiful Day weekend they said people with not much to give came out and offered Horchata (a traditional cold Mexican rice milk drink), punch, and other snacks to the volunteers.
By the end of the weekend, volunteers had brightened murals at George Mayne Elementary with new paint, cleaned out a community garden and many yards of weeds, repainted the local convenience store as well as many homes, and repaired a number of porches, wheelchair ramps, and roofs. A tree company donated its services to trim overgrown trees at 14 homes; other businesses donated lumber and other building materials.
The effort left two retired cops ready for a little time off, but still thinking of how to find the money and resources to come back to Alviso to help more families. And they said it’s not just them, other volunteers have expressed an interest, as well.
“There are attachments of the heart that have occurred over the last five months,” said Buchanan.
Pam Marino is creator and editor of Good Neighbor Stories, a news website about people and organizations making a difference in their communities. Pam also works as a freelance journalist for various news sites and organizations. You can see more of her work at www.goodneighborstories.com or on Facebook.