The Community Center at The Palms Trailer Park bustled with life on a recent cool Saturday morning. This was unusual because up until that week the trailer that housed the Community Center was only open Monday through Friday. This Saturday, the neighborhood residents came in and out, using the computers, sitting to chat with a neighbor over a cup of coffee and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the spirit of “togetherness” that was in this overlooked but much under-rated community.
The Palms Trailer Park is located between two highways on Orange Blossom Trail – “OBT” as it is affectionately referred to. OBT is notorious for the business of buying and selling women. So whenever I tell people where my office is located – in a trailer park on OBT- I am generally met with some kind of a joke about “working the Trail”. And while my work involves befriending women who do, in fact, “work the Trail”, it also involves listening to the hopes and concerns of other people too: The former inmate who is unemployable because of his past; The older woman who has never worked a day in her life because of her crippling disabilities; The young single mom who is passionate about her children having a chance to succeed in ways she never was given.
Recently, I have become friends with a young single mom who has taught me so much about determination and a quiet patience. LaDeitra is curious and funny. She is hopeful yet cautious. She leads people with ease and yet is hesitant about being called a “leader.” She cares about her neighborhood and wants to be a part of creating a place where her kids can play safely, where she knows her neighbors well enough to understand their needs.
When I first met her at the Community Center she was shy and quiet. She would come in to use the computers and then leave as quietly as she came in. But over time she began to pick up on some of the conversations that were happening around her. As people would come in to the Community Center we would talk about their ideas about how to improve the neighborhood. She began to be curious. Eventually LaDeitra started contributing to these informal conversations. Finally, after several months of listening and observing she asked if she could come to the weekly meeting for our volunteer Hosts of the Community Center. Once LaDeitra was trained as a Community Center Host there was no stopping her. She began talking to her neighbors, listening to them dream about “what could be” in the neighborhood. She convenes people for Neighborhood Meetings and it was her organization and determination that allowed the center to start opening on Saturdays.
The work of Asset Based Community Development can be very lonely. Am I the only one that thinks this neighborhood is great? Does everyone [including the residents that live here] think this place is a joke? These are admittedly my dismal thoughts on days when I feel heavy-laden with the reality of generational poverty. But LaDeitra reminds me, “Things take time.” She reminds me that there are others that care about this forgotten part of our city. She confirms my deep suspicion that when the talents of the poor are properly engaged, well-being improves. She engages my talents of leadership and organization and in turn allows me, even invites me, to engage her talents to influence her neighbors towards change.
Each Saturday, if you stop by The Palms Trailer Park, you will see LaDeitra with her notebook open, listening to the dreams of her neighbors. She writes them down, showing that what her neighbors have to say is important. She talks to others about these ideas and invites people to find ways to empower them. LaDeitra is hesitant to be called a “leader” and yet, each week she leads me to believe that change –even in the most unlikely place- is possible.