Faith Life, September 2016

Captain Andrew Stevens and Dr. Murelle Harrison on Working to Achieve Measurable Results in the Gardere Community

by Susan Brown
Members of the EBRSO interact with local children in playtime.
Members of the EBRSO interact with local children in playtime.

As Captain Andrew Stevens walks to his sheriff’s unit, a truck slows and stops. The driver leans out to talk. After a few minutes’ conversation, they both smile and move on. It speaks volumes. At a time when many communities are experiencing explosive relationships between law enforcement and citizens, there is visible growth in trust and peace in the Gardere community just south of LSU. Crime rates have dropped as a result of collaborative efforts by the EBRP Sheriff’s Department, churches and local businesses coordinated by the Gardere Initiative.

Stevens acknowledges that many well-meaning people have a desire for community transformation, but real change takes a heart-felt life investment. “I’ve got a great bunch of guys that work in Gardere. They work hard daily,” said Stevens, commander of the Gardere Substation. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They give you 100 percent. They try to understand our community – where it is and where it’s trying to go.”

Community members and law enforcement work together to achieve measurable progress in Gardere.
Community members and law enforcement work together to achieve measurable progress in Gardere.

Sometimes that means talking to a grandson who has just stolen goods from a store, or a girl who skipped school to secretly meet her boyfriend. It means stepping into the clash of cultures between African-American and Latino youth. After a series of incidents between rival teens, Stevens and the Gardere Initiative organized a meeting at the neighborhood Hispanic church, El Aposento Alto, to assure the segment of the community wary of law enforcement that deputies were working for peace and justice for everyone. Crime went down.

“God sent me here,” Stevens said. “And I pray that he continues to send laborers in this community. Churches should not be the four walls of a sanctuary. The people in church are hurting, but they’re not hurting like the ones out there. So that’s where your message and focus need to be – reaching out to people from all walks of life.”

“We listen. That’s the key thing – to listen to what people want and expect from you,” Stevens said.  “And we very rarely say no. It’s important to a community to know that law enforcement has a solid foot right in the center of it, and we’re going to play our part in various roles. We do more than just police work. We educate. We mentor.”

If change can happen in Gardere, it can happen elsewhere, according to Dr. Murelle Harrison of the Gardere Initiative. She is hoping the collaborative effort between law enforcement and the faith community will become a model for other local neighborhoods. “Baton Rouge people are some giving people,” said Harrison. “So that’s what my message would be: if communities come together they could really do some things.” Although most law enforcement and volunteers live outside the Gardere area, they call it “my community.” When challenges occur, a broad response network is already in place.

“When the incident happened in 70805 [North Foster], we were saying, ‘Where are the community people?’” said Harrison. “Because if something were to happen here, we would be right here.” After a spring homicide in Gardere, they immediately gathered at the site for prayer, then discussed strategies for addressing the situation in a way that contributed to peace and future safety.

Garedere Initiative volunteers engage recreationally with local children.
Garedere Initiative volunteers engage recreationally with local children.

That sense of community is making major inroads into crime and trust issues. “We’re catching a lot of bad guys,” Stevens said. “I just want the community to have that sense of comfort that the police are here for us; they’re here every day.” Many residents now know the sheriff’s deputies by name. They have met them at sports practice, the Back to School Extravaganza or Trick-or-Treating with the Deputies. This year, a local school is making a way for children to “adopt” deputies by sending birthday and holiday cards.

“I was just overwhelmed. It builds a personal relationship with that child and that officer, and they can connect there,” Stevens said. “That way, when something happens, it involves our feelings. Somebody cares a little bit more because now they can put a name with a face. It’s not just seeing a unit pass up and down the street with no interaction.”

Children from the Gardere community enjoying some outdoor fun.
Children from the Gardere community enjoying some outdoor fun.

The Gardere Initiative, the vision of Faith Chapel Church of God, serves as a hub for community activities and concerns. It provides a central location – four apartments – where residents can conveniently use computers to apply for jobs, attend town meetings, share advice at a mothers’ breakfast or practice the piano. Volunteers provide after-school tutoring, mentoring and positive role models.

“We need more laborers in the harvest, but we are certainly blessed with the people we have,” Harrison said. “I think we have a lot of people that love the Lord in this world, and we have to let our light shine so they can see the goodness,” Stevens said.

Kids need role models to understand respect for authority, Stevens said. Mothers often work two jobs. There is a high rate of absentee fathers. “Fathers teach males how to be respectful,” he explained. “So we try to get kids at a young age and let them see positive male role models whether it be a coach, a law enforcement officer or a gardener in the community garden.”

Volunteers wait to participate in the Gardere Initiative’s after school tutoring program.
Volunteers wait to participate in the Gardere Initiative’s
after school tutoring program.

“This is not the EBRP school system, so we can pray,” said Harrison. At summer camp, they also taught Bible memory verses. The week after three local law enforcement officers were killed, they focused on obeying authority. “The scripture just happened to be, ‘Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,’ (Exodus 20:12), but we tell them to honor every person who’s in authority,” Harrison explained. “So, honor and respect the school teacher, the bus driver, the van driver, the police officer – every person. It’s really challenging to get them to understand, but we continue to do that.”

“You have to understand that you might have a child that goes home to a lot of conflict, a lot of domestic violence with the people in the household. That child is not eating correctly, not being paid enough attention,” Stevens said. “So you try to get them to understand that they are somebody, too, and they can be whatever they want to be in life. Dr. Harrison does a magnificent job with that – letting our children know that God loves them. We love them. And we want to make sure they are in a position to succeed.”

“Law enforcement has really played a pivotal role in what we do here. We are really proud of the work, but we know that God blesses this place because of the prayers,” said Harrison.

“I pray for God to continue doing what he’s doing in this community,” Stevens said. “I pray that families in the community would go to church on a consistent basis and be in a relationship with Christ as a family. We have to get our people back into church where they can hear from the Lord themselves. Then they can take what they’ve learned and pass it on to someone else.”

BRCLM Lagniappe, October 2015

SportQuest: Sowing Gospel Seeds in Gardere

by Danielle Thomas
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

SportQuest (SQ) is a Christian missions organization that sends teams of high school and college athletes to cities all over the world to use sports camps to share the gospel with children.

Since 2006, I have been on ten SQ teams in seven cities and three countries. But, Baton Rouge is my favorite. I moved here in 2010 to attend graduate school. The Lord called me to be a missionary when I was 16 and, frankly, Baton Rouge was a disappointing destination. I thought the Lord would send me overseas after college, but instead, he made it clear I needed to attend LSU in Baton Rouge. Near the end of my first year here, The Chapel led a service project in Gardere, which I had never heard of even though I lived less than ten minutes away.

During the project, I noticed no one was engaging the kids in the park. I used my SQ experience to coordinate some games, and other people joined the fun. Soon I stepped back to watch volunteers play basketball, soccer, and football with 50-60 children. The Holy Spirit struck like lightening saying, “Here. This is where I want you.” And the call to missions when I was 16-years-old began to be worked out in the most unexpected of ways. My mission was to use sports to build relationships and share the gospel in Gardere.

SportQuest Baton Rouge (SQBR) has taken place in Gardere every summer since 2012. Each year, the Lord reveals a deeper picture of the spiritual battle being waged in Gardere. In 2012, I saw strongholds of darkness that exist in the neighborhood, but in 2013, I received a vision of light conquering that darkness. In 2014, God provided the first fruits when several children asked to begin relationships with Christ and a local volunteer was baptized. Additionally, the Lord began to build strongholds of light in Gardere to resist the darkness, and several Christian organizations established offices in the community.

In 2015, God reminded me his plans are greater than mine, and challenged me to trust him in every moment. Rain and storms threatened camp each day, but when plans failed, the Lord provided alternative ministry opportunities. Resistance and setbacks are a part of spiritual warfare, but God works out his plans in spite of, and even through, these storms.

God has used SQBR to sow Gospel seeds in Gardere every summer. He has planted me in the community and continues to provide ministry roots through relationships with people from Gardere who are passionate about serving their community and partnerships with other organizations. There is currently a Christian school, Christian tutoring center, and Christian sports program operating year-round in Gardere. The Lord is using his people to crush strongholds of darkness and shine his healing light in the broken places. I’m excited to be a part of his work in Gardere, and so thankful he sent me to Baton Rouge. There’s no place I’d rather be right now than here.

 

ABOUT DANIELLE: Danielle is a sixth year graduate student, and a graduate instructor, in sociology at LSU. Every year she gets a little crazier and busier as the Lord leads her deeper into ministry in Gardere. Her dissertation research focuses on the Gardere Youth Alliance (GYA) football and cheerleading program (Go Packers!) and she was recently hired as the assistant to the Director of the GYA. She will be planning the fifth SQBR project right around the time she is trying to write and defend her dissertation next summer (pray for her sanity!). If you would like to join the Lord’s work in Gardere through praying, giving, or serving in tutoring and/or athletic programs, email Danielle at Danielle.thomas@sportquest.org

August 2015, BRCLM Lagniappe

Hartley-Vey Gardere Park: Inspiring Hope Once Again

by Susan Brown

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-3Where there is hope a community thrives. The most visible evidence is a colorful, first-class new playground, designed and constructed in conjunction with the community at BREC’s Hartley-Vey Gardere Park. But change is deeper than that.

“I just thank God for the way things are improving, people’s mindsets are improving,” explains Gardere Initiative President Caulette Jackson-Guillard. A former resident of the Gardere neighborhood, she recalls a sense that giving up – not stepping up – was prevalent. The prospect of overcoming the avalanche of individual and community challenges seemed too distant, too lonely, too hard.

“They’re being inspired to hope again, to believe that it can happen. And if we just stick to stuff and not give up it’ll work out. Perseverance is ringing in my ears,” Jackson-Guillard said. That’s the point. This is not just a playground, but a physical and symbolic coming together for neighbors.

A key part of the project was a series of town meetings in which Gardere residents considered their needs and designed their own playground structure. Children created tiles for the playground benches. Under the supervision of Planet Recess, neighbors joined Louisiana National Guard Teen Challenge and local Boy Scouts in building the structures and shoveling a mountain of mulch to form the soft playground surface.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-5“110 yards of mulch was placed in half the time it usually takes, and a five-deck play system went in about an hour and a half earlier than scheduled,” said Treynor McAdams, owner/president of PlanetRecess.com. The playground grant is part of Let’s Play, a nationwide system of community partnerships designed to motivate children and their families to be active. Dr. Pepper, Snapple and national non-profit Kaboom awarded BREC a $15,000 community construction grant to build the playground.

“Unstructured children-directed play has proven to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually,” said BREC Assistant Superintendent for Recreation Programs and Facilities Dale Auzenne. “Today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation.” Adults also need unstructured time together. Gardere Initiative stakeholders are hoping the playground will provide a setting for ongoing interaction among neighborhood residents.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-13“One of the major goals of the Gardere Initiative is to create a community and I think this park is going to be essential to creating that community,” said Gardere Initiative Treasurer/Secretary Murelle Harrison. “So that’s why this is so important.”

“We’re involved with our kids,” said Andrew Stevens, commander of the Gardere Substation, EPRP Sheriff’s Office. Working side by side with residents to build the playground is part of an ongoing effort to build relationships and invest in the community. “They look up to us and that’s a good thing because you don’t find that a lot across the country with law enforcement.” He credits Sheriff Sid Gautreaux who challenges each commander to have a good working relationship where they serve – and holds him or her accountable.

“When I walked into this it was like I just walked into a blessing because the people were just so receptive to law enforcement.”

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-9“It’s a milestone – something that we have been praying about and hoping and desiring for the kids in this neighborhood,” said Jackson-Guillard. “I believe that such things bring ownership. You take care of what you helped build, and the things come to fruition that you thought weren’t possible.”

“Our heart is so happy, so contented to know that we’re continuing to move in the right direction,” said Harrison. And I also know that all this is only possible through Jesus Christ himself. We’re very blessed.”

Neighborhood Churches involved are:

Faith Chapel Church of God

St. Jude Catholic Church

Iglesia El Aposento Alto

Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church

Greater Morning Star Baptist Church