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Creating The Welcome Table: From the Philippines to North Peoria Ave.

It has been an especially full few weeks since my last letter to you. The series of links below will take you to stories and photos that capture just a bit of how our miracle among the ruins, welcome table community of radical hospitality and grace has been made visible from the Philippines to North Peoria Ave. as we give witness to the many lives we intersect with here doing the sacred work of being a neighbor. We are involved with a lot of events, as you will see, but we are always trying to push through those, or use them, to form deeper relationships with people and, as the bumper sticker on our front door says, to live out the truth that "the most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to one another."

1. Today, Saturday May 11, we had two major events. 

First, we were a part of Street Cred 2013 event, community fair, revitalization program, at the intersection of 36th and N. Peoria, across from the Comanche Park Apartments, at the beginning of the corridor that extends past the new OU Health Center, past Neighbor for Neighbor complex in the old and once abandoned Northland Shopping Center, past churches and businesses, past St. Simeon's Living Center, past the Westview Office Complex, to Osage Casino. This once vital commercial strip has been slowly coming back to life, and this Street Cred Event is to celebrate its past, showcase the groups like ours on the northside that are working to seed hope in the present, and to plan and give a glimpse of what the future could be. The event on Saturday had healthy food, live entertainment, a trolley, and lots of chances to meet and talk with people, along with a children's play zone. We picked fresh herbs today from our gardenpark and orchard and gave out to people at the StreetCred event to show them how they can eat well straight in or from the garden.

We enjoyed meeting and sharing news with the medical residents at the new OU Tisdale Medical Center on 36th St. which is now open and adding new practices. I was a part of the community advisory committee a few years ago before construction began, and we had a community health clinic with OU at that time; one change from the original plans at the Center has been the availability of primary care there, through the residents in the medicine-pediatrics residency program. Now with the OU Center and with the OSU Physicians at the new Health Dept. Wellness Center opened in our area, we have really made an impact on the presence of medical options in our area, including the long-standing Morton Health Clinic on the northside. But just opening clinics doesn't mean people of little means and little transportation and little trust in knowing how to navigate health systems will use them. It is why our community healthy lifestyle work is so important; for as we have reported before, so much of funds is spent on clinic care when what really impacts life expectancy the most is healthy lifestyle choices and nurturing environments. But we need both clinic presence, especially for economic development benefits, and deep engagement in the community surrounding the clinics.

Also today, in the community center and the gardenpark and orchard we created, we hosted a special group of young women who will be working with us and with you, we hope. Girl Scouts who have a parent incarcerated came to gather at our community center at 10 am at 5920 N. Owasso Ave. for breakfast then went up to our park at 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. to work on a special new part of the garden: the Three Sisters Garden, planting beans, squash, and corn. 

This Sunday, at 5 pm. you are also invited to join with our missional community in worship as we go be with Trinity Episcopal Church at 5th and Cincinnati Ave. downtown for its monthly Taize Service, communion, and meal afterwards. This is our Second Sunday worship gathering; on First Sundays we are with our partners across from the park, Turley United Methodist Church, for its communion service. On other Sundays we gather at our park or community center for spiritual deepening in a variety of ways or go worship with other churches as we participate in being an organic manifestation of "the church."

2. During the last week of April I was in the Philippines meeting and hearing stories of community hopes and renewal with the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines in the Negros Oriental, being inspired once again by lives of faithfulness amidst great poverty and struggle. You can read my sermon given during the church's anniversary celebration, "Jesus' Lost and Found: Coming Alive Again in Community" at I will be posting video of my presentations and more in weeks to come. I also gave a talk on the parables of Jesus and what they teach us about right relationships according to Jesus (the theme of the conference), and a talk and discussion on The Missional Church, and explored topics of UU Christianity, and their own understandings of Jesus, practices of communion and baptism and prayer in their churches, and more. I will be writing more about my own increased learning about poverty and community. One of the highlights of my trip was laying on hands and blessing and participating in the ordination service of the Rev. Tet Gellardo who became that church's first openly lesbian minister, and probably the first or one of the few openly lesbian ministers of a church in Southeast Asia. As we participate once more in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tulsa, one of the few if only northside organization to do so, this year on Saturday June 1 (come walk with us), I will be thinking of the Philippine pioneers. On my previous trip to the Philippines eight years ago I was also able to participate in the ordination service for two young women ministers. There is much to be done to assist the people of the communities in the Negros Oriental, and especially efforts to help their youth afford and have support going to college, so stayed tuned for further writings and links to videos.

3. As soon as I came back, we had one of our amazing, perhaps most amazing, Mobile Van Food Community Days, this one in partnership with Tulsa McLain School, as we gave them some 125 household vouchers for students families to come participate as we gave out four tons of food in one hour. We had fewer of our regular volunteers for this event, and were struggling to get it underway, when the families from McLain, waiting in line in cars, got out and joined our volunteer force, setting things up, handing out food as the cars came through, and staying to help, and to give blessings to one another. It was a testimony to the love of neighbor and reminded me that Jesus meant it when, in the beatitudes, he said simply "Blessed are the Poor." The very next day at our free cornerstore we gave out whatever food we had left over plus emptying many of our shelves in just two hours to an additional 28 families. The following Wednesday in our weekly cornerstore event we helped 55 more families in just the afternoon. We need many more volunteers to be able to keep serving the growing number of hungry and food insecure in our area; I hope you can be one of those volunteers whether it is one-time or on a regular basis; we have a variety of things to do to tap into your skills and desires. Please let me know how you can help. We even have a range of tasks and opportunities that can be done on your own time and place. Not only with the cornerstore but with our thrift store and other activities, from art to sewing to helping with our events and festivals and community beautification at neglected sites. We are also working on ways to bring back and expand the summer daily free lunch program for children in our area throughout the summer; more on that soon too.

I had the opportunity on May 7 to preach on the documentary about food insecurity, A Place At The Table, during a homily for worship at Phillips Theological Seminary. Here you can read the homily: or listen to it at I encourage all to go online and see the documentary, or catch it at a theater near you; in the same vein, in a movie we showed at our center, I still encourage you to see the film on the new face of poverty,

4. Other highlights of our community:

Save the date for a neighborhood block party just north of McLain School on Saturday June 1 from 10:30 am to 3 pm along with our partner Sarah's Residential Living on 53rd St. N. To participate contact our Board member Elaine McDondle of Sarah's. Come share info with us and get to know our neighbors and have fun. 

---We are still working on beginning an area Seniors and Family Program and are looking for a handful of leaders to help us finish organizing it, applying for funding we have been told we should get, and working on a heritage day event and senior fair at our Turley FunFest on Friday and Saturday Sept. 20-21.

---We are still working to support McLain School in its transitions, and have a Foundation Board meeting on Friday, May 24 at 4 pm at the Shoppes on Peoria near Pine; we are supporting the student trip to DFW next week; we had a great time representing the Foundation at the McLain-Booker T Washington Alumni Basketball Classic. We are waiting word about the continuing changes at McLain with the EduLab program and continue to seek ways to turn the abandoned Cherokee School on North Peoria back into a community oriented facility, and even hope it could be used as a school again.

---Responding to a concern we had been expressing about a lack of contact during the past year or two, We had a good meeting with a representative from the Sheriff's Office who is once more meeting with area residents and leaders; we received a presentation on crime statistics for our area that we had been seeking in order to be able to better tell the story of life in our area (safer than the stigma) and yet address the problem areas. I will be presenting these at the next community meeting on Tuesday, May 28 at 7 pm at O'Brien Park.

---We continue to work with the local Health Dept. on the environmental health problems of our area especially through the growing presence of burned out abandoned buildings that are left standing untouched for months and years. We have been pleased with how the Dept. has responded with Notices being sent out, we have been told, to property owners and each month we hope to see some progress as these work their way through the health dept and legal process. It has been almost a year now since the building across from Cherokee School burned down and it continues to be open and accessible to children in its dangerous state; it remains in the exact same condition as the night it burned, leaving its ruins spilling out and its structure damaged but standing.

---We continue to work with the local Volunteer Fire Dept. on its campaign to restructure into a Title 19 organization that can get increased support and not have to rely on voluntary membership dues; a process that will result in lower costs to most homeowners in our area, a win-win for local residents. We celebrate a recent grant received by the Fire Dept. too and hope it can come up with the matching funds needed to capitalize on the grant.

---We have been working on a new economic development initiative to help those who are in sudden need of assistance for shelter or medical or other reasons; both to meet short term needs and to participate in longer term relationships of renewal and growth. When one recieves, they will also receive the opportunity to find ways to give back, to pay forward, and to break off plateaus in their own lives.

---We have produced the first of several DVDs to highlight our work here, as it shows both the blight and the transformation and projects we do, and relationships we form, in the midst of the abandonment; we hope to get those out to those of you who would like a visual reminder and to share with others. It is a moving picture of both the despair and the hope, the isolation and the community. We hope to continue adding to it. 

Looking Ahead: Plan now to join with us in attending the inaugural missional gathering Life on Fire, Sept. 13-15, at the Unitarian Universalist church in Oak Ridge, Tenn. See more at And help us plan Life on Fire II which will be held here in our place Feb. 28-Mar. 2, 2014. And go with us to Missional Revival 2013 in New Orleans Oct. 10-13; see

Finally, let me say thanks to those who have made a recent gift to us through our website here easily and safely at the Donate button (you don't have to use paypal; credit or debit cards work). It is vital and transformative as a match to the more than $100,000 worth of volunteer hours that are local folks contribute each year; it is an astounding amazing number of hours and equivalent dollars that come from volunteers. Many many hours of volunteer work are the backbone of all we do (since we are all mostly volunteers, though we try to be an economic driver in our area when and where possible by hiring local folks for our projects we don't have volunteer labor for). But our bills can't be paid by volunteer hours. 

Over the past few years as we have grown and expanded our outreach to the community and our inreach to people's lives we have actually lost a sizeable amount of our regular contributions as people who give to us on a monthly basis have either moved out of the community, or shifted giving elsewhere, or died. Those individuals and families who once contributed to us but no longer do so amount to some $1,500 a month--it is virtually our entire monthly budget we have had to make up for in increased giving by those who remain, or through grants and special donations and the occasional fundraiser. :So, we believe if we keep true to mission, that it will inspire people to give of time, and talent, but also of their financial gifts. We put it all into mission and it is easy to see what your contributions go toward: our cornerstore and our gardenpark and orchard getting healthy food into our poverty area, and our community center gatherings to bring a little life and community connection into people's isolated lives. Each time you read these reports I hope you read them as witness to what your life means to many here. Thanks for your offerings either one-time or on a regular basis, or from church outreach offerings, or other ways.  

Enjoy these days, and come find ways to be with us; i love to do tours of the area and our projects; we need volunteers even for an hour or two a month in our cornerstore and garden. And keep passing on the word about what people are doing here, where so many believe that nothing good can come from here, by here. Every person has something within them that can change the world; we would love to be the venue for that happening in your life. 
blessings, Ron Robinson