Our theme for the month of June is “older and wiser.” Writers were asked to write a response to one of their previous pieces. Today, Alex responds to her July 2020 post, “Nizhoni.”

Five years out from college graduation, and I’m moving back to my old stomping grounds.

I committed to taking on a leadership role at the Nizhoni house a year ago, fulfilling the thought of being a mentor that I had back when I was a student myself living in Nizhoni under Calvin College’s intentional community program Project Neighborhood. It made sense: Nizhoni needed a shift, I was interested in doing the role, and my living situation was flexible. We had a year to transition and for me to take a leadership development class.

It’s been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, starting a program. Restarting, technically.

Through said leadership class, I’ve learned that I am a good person to keep the ball rolling. I don’t do well at coming up with new ideas, but I’m great at maintaining the status quo. My five-year plan had a lot of detail in the maintaining phase of the house, but I somehow did not foresee the major hurdle that we have now: we have no residents.

I’ve been working closely with Creston Church staff, dreaming of what we want the house to be and look like, and trying to reach out through existing organizational partnerships, but we seem to be coming up mostly short. Could be marketing. Could be the fact that we are a small church. But I doubt that is the full story, especially when Calvin themselves is having difficulties filling their houses.

To be completely transparent, the whole situation has put me in a bad place. I’ve been giving into my worst tendencies: shouldering all the work myself, avoiding the topic with people who want to help, blaming myself that everything is not running picturesque and smooth, giving up before the work has really even started. I even spent a good hour backreading through my tpc archives, fighting my gut instinct to write this post—I even started a half-hearted confession on how I don’t read newsletters anymore. Between fight, flight and freeze, I am one hundred percent flight.

But looking back at four years ago, at this post I wrote, I can see the love and warmth and joy eking out of that Alex, the one who had wonderful mentors and a truly transformative community. It’s part of the reason I find it so hard to face the precarious position of Nizhoni now: because it meant so much to me. Because it means so much to me that I can hardly bear to let other people know that I’m struggling to keep it afloat.

It’s difficult to find people who are willing to give up their time and energy and comfort to do the work of community. Our prevailing society says it values community but then seems to do its utmost to keep people from it, whether that be through structural racism, massive wealth gaps, unjust violence, or the more-often-than-not hollow connections of social media. So many people are lonely. So many people simply do not have the time or the energy, or frankly the privilege, to invest in a community deeply.

But what if houses like Nizhoni made it easier? Greased the wheels of the Creston neighborhood, so to speak, building the existing community and continuing it on the path that neighbors and other organizations have set it on? If I alongside Creston Church can cast the vision, will people come?

I have visions of hosting book clubs on my front porch, of baking Christmas cookies for my neighbors again in December, of hearing from people on the block what services they need and what services they have and how we can build each other up. I am less sure than I was a year ago that those visions will come true in the Nizhoni I will lead. But getting a window back into what my Nizhoni community did for me in some of the toughest years of my life has helped me remember how much I care for this little house.

I guess I’m not feeling particularly wiser here. The future feels cloudier than ever, and I’m scared. But I know that uncertain futures do not erase the past, and regardless of what happens to Nizhoni, I know that it has been a force for good. All I can do now is walk boldly into the future—not on my own but surrounded by people who love Creston Church and Creston neighborhood and Nizhoni and me deeply. We’ll see what the next four years bring.

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