Workshops a major part of SDOP’s engagement with Atlanta

Committee on the Self-Development of People leads community grant workshops

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Melissa Pearson, director of ReNew, and Yoofi Dowell, executive director of the Idea Farm Academy, look over forms from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People after a grant writing workshop at the Dunbar Recreation Center in Atlanta on Sept. 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

ATLANTA — Melissa Pearson didn’t hear what she was expecting at the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People’s grant workshop Thursday night at the Dunbar Recreation Center, which was a pleasant surprise.

“It was very thought provoking — thinking further out of the box,” said Pearson, director of the Atlanta community development and empowerment group ReNew. “It was different in a really good way.”

Pearson, like several others who attended the workshop, said she expected to hear a routine “how to write a grant” talk at the gathering, which attracted more than a dozen participants who enjoyed some pizza with their pointers. What they got was a primer on Self-Development of People’s (SDOP) approach to grant giving, which is essentially from the grassroots up.

“God’s children should not be unable to be what God intended because of poverty,” Pat Osoinach of SDOP’s national committee said opening the workshop. “One of the interesting things about Self Development is that people develop themselves, and we aid that.”

While many grantors give to established organizations, the committee members and staff visiting Atlanta told the workshop participants that what SDOP looks for is groups of economically disadvantaged people to decide what they need to address conditions that keep them in that situation and propose a plan for how they will make it better. While an established organization like ReNew could not make the request itself, it could encourage people it works with to gather, apply, and act as a fiduciary agent for the funding.

Click here for information on applying for an SDOP grant.

Tonisha Corporal, program manager at the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, participates in the discussion at a grant writing workshop at the Dunbar Recreation Center in Atlanta on Sept. 19. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“I have not heard of anyone funding like this before,” said Tonisha Corporal, program manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “A lot of the time people tell you they think they know what’s best for you. They want the people being served to control the project.

“I’m excited about helping people we work with come up with ideas.”

And that’s what SDOP wants people to do.

The Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency intentionally added several community engagement elements to its National Committee meeting in Atlanta, which took place Sept. 19-21. Through community grant workshops, SDOP hopes to receive numerous applications from the Georgia capital that it can fund. At the Thursday evening and Saturday morning workshops, committee members and staff told participants that SDOP interacts with everyone who applies for funding, and if they are turned down, SDOP will explain why and how applicants can improve their chances to be funded.

“We want to fund programs,” national committee member Rick Morrow said.

In addition to community grant workshop gatherings, the committee held workshops on topics such as poverty, community organizing, and cooperative development, led by national committee members and staff as well as Atlanta-area partners.

The SDOP visit was supported by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and Executive Presbyter the Rev. Dr. Aisha Brooks-Lytle.

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, talked about poverty in relation to the Matthew 25 invitation during a workshop at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia on Sept. 21. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Self-Development of People coordinator the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson said to a group gathered at Decatur’s Oakhurst Presbyterian Church Saturday morning that the ministry’s mission lined up very well with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 invitation to dismantle structural racism, eradicate systemic poverty and build congregational vitality.

The workshop he led at Oakhurst, The Least of These: Engaging Presbyterians in the Work of Preventing and Alleviating Poverty and Homelessness, started with the question, “When was the first time you heard the word poor?” That led to a discussion about perceptions of poverty. Several black participants in the discussion recounted instances of being perceived as poor by white friends and their parents, though by most standards they were not experiencing poverty.

Margaret Mwale, Associate for Community Development and Constituent Relations for SDOP, helped lead a workshop on alleviating poverty and homelessness at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia on Sept. 21. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“One of the mistakes we can make is boxing people up,” said discussion leader Margaret Mwale, Associate for Community Development and Constituent Relations for SDOP.

Upstairs from that workshop in the church’s fellowship hall, Terence Courtney of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives was discussing cooperatives in a way that dovetailed nicely with SDOP’s aims.

“All cooperative development starts with looking at what the needs are, and then looks at what kind of cooperative can meet that need,” he said.

The discussion went on to explore cooperatives from agricultural groups to credit unions, and how they can counter systemic forces that privilege some and disadvantage others.

SDOP national committee member Phil Tom and the Rev. David Lewicki, co-pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, led a discussion on community organizing at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia on Sept. 21. (Photo by Rich Copley)

One room over, national committee member Phil Tom and David Lewicki, co-pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, led a discussion of community organizing, again focusing on needs and practical ways to meet them.

“Any organization you create begins and ends with the people you do it with,” Lewicki said.

It was a chat that left participants feeling “encouraged,” “energized,” “hopeful,” and “grateful,” words that also applied to the committee’s feelings about the weekend of community engagement in Atlanta.

The work of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is made possible by your generous contributions to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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