Looking into the heart of the city, some observers see statistics: high rates of poverty, crime, drug use, gang activity and violence; low levels of income, education and employment.
Others see people: leaders working to make things better and followers who know there's an alternative to what they have, even if they don't always know just how to reach it. They also see something hard for computers to crunch—they see hope.
The Fresno Pacific University Center for Community Transformation (CCT) will build on hope in Fresno and beyond. The CCT is a new effort to connect the strengths of the university with the resources of the region to transform cities.
The center, part of the FPU Biblical Seminary, was launched at a luncheon November 15 in the BC Lounge on the main FPU campus. About 105 representatives from churches, non-profit and neighborhood organizations and Fresno city government attended.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin declared city hall ready to support the center. "We are warring against the attitude that this city is all it's ever going to be," she said.
That support was bolstered in a very real way by a $50,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation. The grant was awarded based on the CCT's mission and purpose, said Deb Palmer, Wells Fargo northern and central California project manager and 1988 FPU graduate. "Wells Fargo is committed to serving the communities in which our team members live and work. What a great way for us to partner with and help change the lives of many residents," she said.
"We are grateful to Wells Fargo for their visionary commitment to helping get the CCT off the ground. Their major gift will help us launch some of our core programs, including financial literacy training in low-income communities and faith-based job creation initiatives for people with significant barriers to employment," White said.
Representing Wells Fargo at the lunch was Sandy Cha, community affairs manager; Joseph Riojas, Sunnyside branch manager; Karen Gravelle, Fresno district manager; and Palmer.
The center's purpose is to transform the region into communities of abundance and peace. Its vision is a Central Valley defined by access to the blessings of entrepreneurial creativity, spiritual freedom, economic vitality and justice, environmental integrity, cross-cultural/social collaboration and political health. If that seems like a mouthful, CCT Executive Director Randy White had an easier definition: "It's the way life ought to be in Fresno," he said.
The work of the center is based on the idea of shalom—safety, justice, truth, trust, inclusion, love, joy, happiness and well-being. "It is the best description of what the reign of God will be like," said Cory Seibel, center associate director.
FPU's people and the leadership, including White and Seibel, make it the obvious place for the center, said Paul Binion, pastor of Westside Church of God. "We will be successful, because we have God," he said.
White, D.Min., is an associate professor of community transformation at FPU. An urban activist for more than 20 years, White has lived and served in some of Fresno's most vulnerable neighborhoods. Founder of the Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL), a program of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, he worked internationally as head of the Bakke Graduate University global doctoral degree programs in urban leadership. His books include The Work of Our Hands and Encounter God in the City.
Seibel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of pastoral ministries. Seibel teaches in the FPU graduate urban mission, Christian ministry and master of divinity programs. He has researched, published and given presentations on gang theology and neighborhood engagement. He co-chairs the steering committee of No Name Fellowship, a pastoral action group, and is on the board of Hands On Central California, which fosters volunteerism in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Madera counties. There is also a CCT Community Advisory Board whose 22 members are ethnically diverse and bring perspectives from the church, business and non-profit worlds.
Coming out of talks between FPU and community leaders and the university's revision of its master's in missions degree in an M.A. in urban mission, the CCT is built around three kinds of action:
- Convening—the center plans to bring together 20 congregations to examine ways to start businesses and teach basic work skills, like how to write a resume and shine during a job interview, to people with significant barriers to employment, such as having served time in prison.
- Training—CCT staff are exploring ways to provide education to Latino pastors. While fewer than 5 percent of Hispanic pastors in Fresno have seminary training, many are interested in alternative types of learning, such as certificates, since traditional master's and doctorate programs in divinity do not fit the special circumstance of their lives.
- Researching—there is a blueprint for a CCT Fellows Society. Members will come from the FPU faculty and the community. Fellows will research community transformation issues through the lens of their discipline: business, sociology, non-profit leadership, Christian ministry, etc.
White is not worried about the size of the problems. "If the goals of the CCT seem large (innovation in addressing concentrated poverty, human trafficking, predatory lending, a broken immigration system, low levels of educational attainment) then so be it. I've decided at this point in my life to give up small ambitions," he said.
Other speakers at the luncheon included Elias Loera, senior pastor, Christian Temple; and H. Spees, pastor-at-large, First Presbyterian Church of Fresno. Among the groups represented were United Way, Fresno Rescue Mission, Fresno City Council, FUND Inc. (Fresno Urban Neighborhood Development Corporation), Care Fresno, Youth For Christ, Fresno Street Saints, TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission), Faith In Community, Habitat For Humanity, Fresno Business Council, ESA Love Inc., Every Neighborhood Partnership, Central Valley Justice Coalition and CBMC (Christian Businessmen Connection).
More at TransformCentralValley.org