Written by: Mark Buttelwerth
A vague idea many years ago remains a clear and shining beacon in the community of Westwood today.
The Westwood United Methodist Church sponsored “My Neighbors Place (MNP)” began as a murky dream of then Pastor Steve Benett who had a persistent and gnawing desire to do some good in his own backyard. Garnering much support from those in his congregation and local citizens, the doors opened at 3150 Harrison Avenue with free clothing, coffee, donated pastries and a building filled with people who wanted little more than to belong to something and offer whatever talents they had at their disposal.
Over the years, MNP has won recognition and grants but more than that, it has continued to receive the trust and interest of all who utilize it. It is still seen as a vibrant space to come together and share fellowship and bonding that is at the heart of every successful community linchpin.
Immune to change and buoyed by the ever constant theme of “freely received, freely given”, MNP has sustained its original passion with the commitment of Pastor Lee Strawhun and new Co- Directors Dan Argo and Don Clark. Each have their own unique and compelling reasons as to why they do what they do, all weaved together by a simple neighborly notion of helping another out however one can. Most assuredly, they will be quick to turn the spotlight on the hordes of volunteers and citizens who show up each and every week as the real force behind MNP.
Their recipe is deliciously simple- just become involved in what interests you. Many sort and distribute clothes for the Tuesday gathering but there also might be a Bible study, informal reading lessons, a devotion opportunity and a constant stream of food and beverage quietly prepared and delivered by those who find a kitchen perch to their liking at the same time.
Early on, this desire to be together spawned men’s and women’s social groups and associated shared activities such as fishing and attending ball games, playing cards, organizing dinners and preparing for the annual Christmas party. The Christmas party is an example of all that MNP stands for – gifts both material and spiritual, diversity and inclusion of all residents and a celebration and welcoming of all who wish to attend.
Much of that same feeling is found at the Thursday morning Coffee Café’ where a hot breakfast serves as the excuse to be together and belong. No one has assigned “duties”. Folks just gravitate to what they are good at and do what they enjoy. From omelettes, to piano playing, to ping pong, it’s an unregulated open house where individual talents combine to prove the adage that the sum is indeed greater than its parts.
Ideas, at times, tend to flow freely. Action steps that are necessary to take our dreams into reality can be a bit more difficult and the sustaining of the new creation is perhaps hardest of all. The story and continued thriving of My Neighbors Place shows how its done.