As the Community Development Director for Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center
in Southeast Fort Wayne, Réna Bradley
has taken on various projects the last several years to uplift the voices and spirits of her neighbors.
Bridge of Grace takes an asset-based, holistic approach to community development in its surrounding Mount Vernon Park neighborhood, which starts with listening to its neighbors’ thoughts and concerns. As they’ve listened over the years, going door-to-door to meet residents, they’ve learned that people in the area wanted to see a few specific things in their community.
“They told us they wanted to have more opportunities for social engagement and interaction with each other; they wanted more beautification in their neighborhood; and they wanted to see a reduction in crime,” Bradley says. Réna Bradley
Over the years, Bridge of Grace has used this feedback to direct its work, which includes programs like Bradley’s Tired-A-Lot
, transforming vacant lots in Mount Vernon Park into colorful, creative playgrounds for the community made from recyclable materials. As a result of these and other neighborhood-led improvement measures, Bridge of Grace has been able to help boost homeownership in the area and reduce crime by 55 percent between 2013-2018
So last year, Bradley set out to tackle another part of residents’ requests: Creating more opportunities for the community to come together for social engagement.
In the fall, she hosted two storytelling events at Bridge of Grace, inviting neighbors to share personal narratives about what they love about their neighborhood. During these events, neighbors also got their pictures taken for a series of banners to be hung throughout the community, showcasing their quotes. As a bonus, Bridge of Grace threw in the opportunity for residents to get free family portraits if they shared a story. But in the end, the personal narratives proved to be the most captivating part of the experience.
”We ended up having so many people telling stories that we couldn't even get anybody to go out in the hall to take their portrait,” Bradley says.
One of the first storytelling events at Bridge of Grace in Mount Vernon Park.
Seeing the success of last year’s storytelling session, she was gearing up for a full summer of events in 2020, utilizing the playgrounds and community spaces her team has built to host additional story slams, concerts, and ballet performances. But with COVID-19 making public events uncertain, her plans for the year have been put on hold.
Thanks to the On the Ground Southeast program, Input Fort Wayne is collaborating with Bridge of Grace to revive two of their community story slam events this summer in an outdoor socially distant setting at one of their parklets. On the first Thursdays in August and September, On the Ground and Bridge of Grace will host story slams for Southeast residents and friends from 5:30-7:30 p.m., providing light refreshments and offering attendees the chance to meet and mingle with Input staff.
Bridge of Grace wants to activate its community parklets with creative events and performances.
The theme of the first event will be “Revealed,” which sets the tone for the On the Ground program’s work, listening to residents’ perspectives on what they see and feel happening in their community below the surface of stereotypes perpetuated in traditional media.
As for the story slam, any resident of the 46803 and 46806 zip codes of Southeast Fort Wayne is invited to participate. Three to five storytellers will be chosen to share their stories live at the event for $25 and a chance to win a $50 grand prize.
In addition to providing a fun, creative outlet, Bradley hopes the story slam’s theme of “Revealed” encourages residents to share authentic stories that contribute to greater understanding of the Southeast community.
“The perception of Southeast is usually very one-sided, negative and crime-focused, but there’s so much more that lies beneath the surface of Southeast Fort Wayne—in its people and their hearts,” Bradley says. “Revealed is just an opportunity to shed some light on that.”
In thinking about previous community surveys, she says a recurring theme that neighbors share is that they wished more people knew how much they cared about their neighborhood. She hopes that having an opportunity to share powerful, personal narratives will display that.
As residents process current events like the pandemic and Black Lives Matters protests, Bradley sees many long-existing challenges surfacing in new ways, too. The timing feels right to provide an outlet for the community to reflect.
“Just having an opportunity to talk about what’s been revealed by the current climate that we’re in is important,” Bradley says. “We’re asking residents: What is being revealed to you about your community, your hopes, your fears, and your dreams?”
Revealed: What's happening below the surface in Southeast Fort Wayne?
5110 Smith Street
Thursday, August 6, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Light, pre-packaged drinks and snacks will be provided at this outdoor, socially distant event. Please bring a mask to wear when you are not eating.
What life experiences or aspects of your neighborhood can you reveal to Fort Wayne? What is the current climate of the world revealing to you? We're inviting Southeast Fort Wayne residents and friends to join us for a free evening of conversation, community, and the power of personal narratives around the theme of "Revealed."
As Input Fort Wayne launches its new embedded journalism program in Southeast Fort Wayne, we want to hear residents' firsthand experiences about what's happening below the surface in the 46803 and 46806 zip codes. Come out to meet our reporters and share story ideas, or sign up to present a live story of your own.
Input and Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center are partnering to host a live story slam, highlighting three to five paid Southeast storytellers and culminating in a brief open mic session for members of the community to share additional reflections. There will also be an opportunity to meet Input's On the Ground Southeast editor, reporters, and photographers and share story ideas for the ongoing, embedded journalism series.
Come see what On the Ground Southeast is all about!
Want to be a paid storyteller on the theme of "Revealed"?
Each storyteller in the story slam will receive $25, with a $50 grand prize for the top story of the night. To learn more and sign up, email [email protected]
or call/text 260-269-0539. *A free storytelling workshop with Input is available on request.