How Do a Reverend, a Garden Expert, Student Veterans, Sustainable Literacy Leaders, and a Pink House Fit Together?

It has been my goal to bring together people that are doing good work in Charleston so they can complement one another to help solve issues in a more productive and effective way.

Late October, we had a meeting at the College of Charleston that brought together Todd Levasseur (Lead of the SLI Board), Renard Harris (CofC Head of Diversity), and Reverend Christian King, (Founder of the Pink House Community Engagement Center), Merideth Garrigan (Permaculture and Pink house liaison), and Kyle Mckibbon (Head of Student Veteran Affairs at CofC).

What brought this group together?  A lot of things.

I had been meeting with Todd Levassuer and others about finding 2-3 projects that the SLI Board could concentrate on that would engage the students from the College of Charleston and create some tangible outcomes that aligned with their theme of social and environmental justice.  I had been working with Reverend Christian King on continuing the work she had been doing for over 25 years at the Pink House community center and developing property owned by her church into a housing and center for veterans. In the meantime, I had been developing my own project to bring people together to provide resources to help  underserved youth to find solutions for their community’s issues using impact entrepreneur concepts.

Each of these projects came with their own set of challenges: The College of Charleston was finding difficulty engaging the community outside of their walls; the student veterans were struggling to find a community project that they could get involved in that fit their mission;  Reverend King was in need of funding and resources for the Pink House and the church property; I was in search of a target group of youth that I could work with over the years for the Youth Impact Entrepreneur Course. At first look, these projects could seem unrelated. In reality, each had the potential to come together.  One of the benefits of being involved in different programs without a personal agenda is that it provides the opportunity to take an objective view from outside and see how each of these are actually puzzle pieces that could complement each other.

Each person came to the meeting with a certain set of strengths and challenges.  Reverend King was an expert with credibility who understood particular needs and reservations of her community. Todd and Renard understood the resources at the College of Charleston and understood how to navigate the bureaucracy. Kyle knew  the needs and desires of his fellow veterans on campus, and Meredith had the organizational skills, connections, and heart to act as project coordinator .  I was in the position to bring everyone to the table and have already been working on an framework of how things could move forward.

There have been many examples of well-meaning, outside people coming into communities to try to solve their problems without really understanding the community’s needs or desires.  We were clear before we even met that our first priority first part was to come in to listen and learn and let the community direct the efforts.

Several ideas were passed around. Each person used their unique experiences and knowledge to help coordinate our efforts to create a project that would have the best chance to succeed. Reverend King discussed the challenges she was facing and relayed her desires for what she wanted to accomplish at the Pink House.  Her focus over the years had been on teaching literacy and life skills to children from Pre-K through elementary school as she said it was “easier to raise resilient children rather than fix broken adults”. She had a desire to also work with older youth and incorporate what she had learned through professor Stuart William’s “Impact Entrepreneur” course at the College of Charleston to help them address the the United Nations Sustainability Goals. Having a  disabled veteran husband also led her to do what she could to help those that had served and now suffered from PTSD and other challenges.

We agreed to list out some of the needs and ideas for the Pink House and start setting some goals.  Our next meeting, we would decide how to best reach out to the student body in order to generate interest.

Stay tuned, we will continue to update as this project evolves.  

– Ian

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