Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Friday, February 29, 2008

Mission SF Federal Credit Union

One of our partners in San Francisco recently opened a new branch in partnership with Patelco Credit Union. Big congratulations to Salvador, Libby, Anita and their staff! 
Prominent Location Helps Expand Services to Unbanked and Youth

Patelco Credit Union and Mission SF Federal Credit Union (formerly Mission Area Federal Credit Union) teamed up recently to open a new shared branch in San Francisco.

The new office, which is located on the main cultural and commercial corridor of the Mission District, will house Mission SF FCU, its non-profit affiliate Mission SF Community Financial Center (formerly Mission Community Financial Assistance), and its Youth Credit Union Program.

“This new office makes us more visible to the community so we can reach more people and help them with their financial situations. That is our mission—to help people,” said Salvador DurĂ¡n, the Manager and CEO of Mission SF Federal Credit Union, an $8 million credit union with 2,500 members. “This would not have happened without the support of Patelco. Anita [Macias] and her staff have been there every step of the way.”

Nearly one half of the Mission District population is foreign born, with two thirds of foreign born residents hailing from Central America and Mexico. According to a recent Brookings Institute estimate, a staggering 34,000 people in the Mission District (or 56 percent of the district’s population) are “unbanked” or without a relationship with a mainstream financial institution. The Brookings Institute also reports that the Mission District has the highest concentration of high-cost fringe financial services in the city. Until now, Mission SF has run out of a small office on the third floor of a neighborhood office building; the new shared branch office makes Mission SF more visible and accessible to the community.

Mission SF Community Financial Center—with Patelco’s support— operates a nationally recognized Youth Credit Union Program (YCUP), a leadership and savings program for children and youth. The YCUP—which has 500 members, $75,000 in assets and a staff of five young people—has recently added two new programs: a training arm, Youth Trainers for Economic Power, which employs eight youth trainers to teach other community youth about smart money management and financial services decision-making; and a market research arm, the Action Research Committee, which conducts focus groups and surveys to identify youth attitudes and habits related to saving and spending.

The National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions recently recognized the program for a decade of leadership and excellence in the youth credit union movement

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Larry Norman Passes

Veteran Christian musician and artist Larry Norman passed away last Sunday. There is a short memorial on him on NPR.com. I can honestly say that along with the Bob Dylan Larry had a defining impact on me. As a child I remember listening to "The Great American Novel" (see the video below) and trying to make sense of the words. I can say that song has a direct connection to what I'm doing right now. It got me thinking about about justice and the state of things. The words of the song seem even more poignent today. 

 His last public statement from larrynorman.com states:
I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God's hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.

My brother Charles is right, I won't be here much longer. I can't do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

Goodbye, farewell, we'll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.

Larry was 60 years old when he passed.

Undoubtedly many of you don't know Larry. He is widely considered the father of modern Christian music. He opened for some of the great acts of the 60's including the Doors. He recorded at Capitol Records and was well respected in the music industry. Wikipedia has a good recap of his life and career.

Here's a video of "The Great American Novel" from the 80's:

His song, 'I Am A Servant" seems appropriate at his passing. 

I Am A Servant

I am a servant, I've been listening for my name,
I've been unfaithful, I've been looking at the game,
That I've been playing, and I've been staying much the same,
When you are lonely, you're the only one to blame.

I am a servant, I've been waiting for your call,
I've been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall,
How can you use me, when I've never given all,
How can you choose me, when you know I quickly fall.

Yet you feed my soul, and you make me grow,
And you let me know that you love me,
And I'm worthless now, but I've made a vow,
I will humbly bow before thee,
Oh please use me, I am lonely.

I am a servant, getting ready for my part,
There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart,
At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start,
To live's a privilege, to love is such an art,
But I need your help to start,
Oh please purify my heart,

I am your servant.

Finally, Here Larry in the 70's singing "Song for a Small Circle of Friends". You're right, we will live again!

Rest in Peace, Larry. You changed my life...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

random late night thoughts

Up late. Came home from the One East Palo Alto board meeting a little wound up from the great discussions.

Baseball season is starting! Whoo Hoo! Great news from the Yankee camp! The young pitchers are looking good! I love the start of baseball season - it's like all things are new again! Check out the great  Yankees blog, "Blogging the Bombers. by Daily News reporter Mark Feindsand It's great stuff!

Defying the Immigrant Perception

San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Immigrants in California are far less likely to land in prison than their U.S.-born counterparts, a finding that defies the perception that immigration and crime are connected, according to a study released Monday.
Foreign-born residents make up 35 percent of the state's overall population, but only 17 percent of the adult prison population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducted the research.
Noncitizen men from Mexico between the ages of 18 and 40, which the study indicated were more likely to be in the country illegally, were eight times less likely to be in a "correctional setting," the study found.
The study did not address the visa status of those included among the foreign-born, which would include citizens and noncitizens, including those in the country legally and illegally.
Nonetheless, these results have implications for the current debates over immigration policy, said Kristin Butcher, co-author of the report."Our research indicates that limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety," Butcher said in a statement.
Read the report from Public Policy Institute of California here. This cuts against the perception that undocumented individuals are driving crime in the communities they live. It also reinforces my position that we need comprensive immigration reform that includes some form of amnisty for individuals already here, a streamlined process for those who want to enter the country and increased border security.

Interestingly enough, I don't think Obama's views on immigration differ greatly from McCain's. I like Clinton's position best, mainly that she opposes a guest worker program but supports a fair wages policy.  

Monday, February 25, 2008

Check this Out

I finally joined Kiva.org. I've been impressed with what they are doing - and the practical way they are getting micro enterprise funds out to developing nations. I'm excited to get some funds out to folks!

Check this out also: Kiva's co-founder's blog.

We're still planning / praying / researching on how we can adapt this model for use domestically. I hope to have a pilot project up and running in '09.

Changing Denominations in the US - A monday rant on the Church

Boston Globe reports today the recent Pew study on  how More Americans are Changing Religious Denominations. The report states:
A sweeping new study of religious affiliation in the United States finds a country in which Protestants are becoming a minority, Catholicism is becoming heavily Hispanic, and the number of people who say they are not affiliated with any religion is growing.

The study, which is the most comprehensive such examination in at least a half century, finds the United States to be in a period of unprecedented religious fluidity, in which 44 percent of American adults have left the denomination of their childhood for another denomination, another faith, or no faith at all.

"Americans are not only changing jobs, changing locations, changing spouses, but they're also changing religions on a regular basis,'' said Luis E. Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which conducted the study. "We have nearly half the American public telling us they're something different today than they were as a child, and that's a staggering number. It's such a dynamic religious marketplace, and very competitive.''

The study is based on a survey of 35,000 Americans, a very large number for survey research, and the size of the pool allowed the researchers to get more detail about minority religious groups than is usually available from smaller studies.

The nation is still predominantly -- 78 percent -- Christian, but 5 percent are now adherents of other faiths and 16 percent are unaffiliated.

A full report is available at pewforum.org.
US News and World Report also did an article on the subject. Find it here.

Q. How about you? Are you still attending the church of your family / childhood? Why or why not? 

For me, we've been denominational 'shape shifters'. I started out a Roman Catholic (and look fondly back at my childhood in the church). Since I've attended Baptist, Assembly of God, Vineyard, Word of Faith, Presbyterian, Foursquare and, currently, a historically African American denomination, the Church of God in Christ, (where I currently hold my ordination). I've found a few things: 

  1. All churches have problems
  2. I'm orthodox in my beliefs. Not in the 'Eastern Orthodox' sense.  
  3. I am much more of a Christ follower than a church goer. In fact, I really can't relate to the Christian sub-culture. Most of what I see on Christian TV, magazines and websites disturbs me. It doesn't represent what I see in scripture. 
  4. There are honest, God fearing Christians in most churches. In fact, in all churches there are sincere seekers. 
  5. Denominations are good and bad. I think there is a place for 'tribes' - Everyone has the right to worship with folks who think like them. When denominations provide an excuse to be territorial, 'catty' and generally divisive, then they are bad. 
  6. The US is in desperate need for renewal and revival. Change begins with the Church. 
  7. When the Church does what the Church is supposed to do (i.e care for the poor, prophetically call for justice, exhibit and promote true biblical values, provide a loving community,  disciple it's followers and engage in true worship) people take notice.
  8. The Church IS the vehicle God uses to extend his Kingdom on the earth. It's not the government, social services, non-profits NGO's,  rock stars or activists who will make the difference. It's the Church, being what God called the Church to be, that will change the world. 
  9. It's certainly not the Church making a deal with a political party that will affect change. I recently read Greg Boyd's book "The Myth of a Christian Nation." It's a good read, great points on the Church's role in society.  
I certainly have a love / hate relationship with the church. Much like any other relationship,  at times I become frustrated and cynical. Other times I am in love with what the Church is and does. But, in the end, being in fellowship withe believers, working out the issues and struggling together is what God intended for us to do. She's not perfect, but She is what we have. I guess, in the end, I'm part of the imperfections in the Church. I once hear it said, "If you find the perfect church, as soon as you join it you made it imperfect!"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Credit Cards - Middle Class Preditory Lending

Time reports on "Exposing the Credit Card Fine Print"
To credit-card companies, it's not sufficient that customers pay their bills on time every month; they must also avoid a daunting array of borrowing habits that lenders deem risky. Like borrowing. Katie Groves, 42, learned this firsthand when the annual interest rate on her Chase Visa bill jumped to 29.99%—from the previous 12%. Although she had never missed a payment and owed only $500, she was told that her rate had increased because Chase had checked her credit report.

Most consumers are unaware that the banks constantly monitor all their borrowing behavior. Even if you just get too close to your borrowing limit (a figure you probably don't know) on your cards and mortgages, as Groves did, you can trigger what the industry calls universal default.
Interesting article. There seems to be little or no relief coming to our country. With the low income class being stretched by a lack of health insurance, falling wages,  pay day lenders and check cashiers, the middle class is being swamped with the effects of sub prime lending, job outsourcing and credit card policy. Each day I'm getting more and more concerned by the current economic situation. I fear the poor are the most vulnerable, but the middle class is also under siege.

Sorry to be so bleak on a Sunday. To put another spin on things, here's some questions:

Q. What should and can the Church do to be a part of the solution? What does the Gospel call us to do in the middle of the current economic issues confronting us? If we are called to be agents of change and justice in this world, how should we act?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Come Join Us for Community Trust Credit Union - East Palo Alto's Grand Opening Celebration!

OK - so it's small. Here's the details:

Community Trust Credit Union Grand Opening Celebration
Saturday March 15th
12:00 to 2:30

Ribbon Cutting at 1:00 PM

Please come and join us!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I know he's old, but this is a great record... Ode to New Jersey

Gotta give it up for Bruce Springsteen - his latest release 'Magic' is a great record! It certainly appeals to the 'Jersey boy' in me (yes folks, I was born in the Garden State - and proud of it!).

Jeremy, NYC may have the Yankees, CBGB's and the Garden, but Jersey has 'The Boss', the Shore, the Sopranos, and the greatest tomatos on earth and, arguably, better pizza and Italian food than the City.  It's a bummer the Nets have lost Jason Kidd...

This could be his best in a long time, but in reality he's been pretty consistent. Check out 'Your Own Worst Enemy' or 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes' that have shades of the Beach Boys / Phil Spector. Those tracks are certainly different takes for Bruce. 'Gypsy Biker' sounds like a old school Bruce song. 'Radio Nowhere' is an outstanding opening track, 'I'll Work for Your Love' is great. 

Buy it here or at your favorite music source. I know many of my folks go to other sites, but I'm still an itunes fan.

Friday, February 15, 2008

East Palo Alto Jobless Rate

Someone asked me about this figure this week - now I know. EPA has the highest unemployment rate in the county, says the Palo Alto Daily News.
"With an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, East Palo Alto has the highest proportion of jobless residents of any city in San Mateo County, according to the state Employment Development Department.

That's pretty high, considering the county owns the second-lowest unemployment rate - 4.0 percent - of the state's 58 counties."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

California's Deepening Housing Crisis

Here is a 'hot off the presses' report on California housing affordablility from the State Department of Housing and Community Development. While I need to study the report further - there are some stark figures. The sub-prime crisis is (rightfully so) getting a lot of press right now. I've been watching the trends in East Palo Alto. There are currently about 130 houses on the market in EPA - in about 2.5 square miles. A significant number of them are bank owned (about 1/3). As we've investigated some properties, there are individuals who are purchasing them with cash. This tells me that investors are jumping on the opportunities. The outcome, I fear, will be played out with affordability issues in the coming years. I think, and this is soley my opinion, that we are seeing a temporary dip in housing prices that will pave the way for accelerated gentrification of East Palo Alto. The report states: 
"Over four out of ten of all California households are renters, and renters face the greatest affordability challenges. In 1997, nearly a quarter of the renter households in the State’s metropolitan areas (1 million out of 4.2 million households) spent more than half of their income on rent. HUD (Census 2000) data indicates that 35 percent of California households and 40 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.17 In 2002, almost half a million of California’s working families were “officially” poor with incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL). Many more families (nearly 1.4 million) with incomes above the FPL, up to twice the FPL, still fell short of earning an income level to provide an adequate standard of living."
Similarly, in EPA rents are rising at alarming rates, further putting the squeeze on locals in desperate need of affordable housing. In December the Palo Alto Daily News began reporting on the covert manner Pagemill Properties began buying up EPA rental units and raising rents. Our city council recently passed some rent control mearures, but the legal battle is ensuing. The article states: 
"Roughly 200 residents packed the city council chambers Wednesday night to protest the increases, set to take effect Feb. 1, before the rent stabilization board debate whose members oversee rent control in the city. Many said they are on fixed incomes and were outraged over paying more for apartments that are plagued by cockroaches, busted door frames and leaky ceilings. 

Of the estimated 1,600 rental units on the city's west side that Pagemill Properties has purchased in the past 18 months, increases went out to every eligible tenant. The firm's development director, Jim Thompson, didn't know the exact number, but Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto estimates it was several hundred. Attorneys for the agency also said the hikes are illegal.

"It's based on erroneous calculations that are being used to make illegal rent increases," attorney Jeanne Merino said."
What is our response? While we're considering how to respond, I believe NCUD needs to continue to work on multiple fronts including getting people into the mainstream banking system, improving credit scores, education and advocy and - on a longer term strategy helping residents increase their earning potentail. I have much more thinking and reasearch to do.

Q. What do you think? How can we increase affordable housing and the general quality of life for our lower income residents?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

John Ortberg on Managing Hope / My Thoughts on Barack

I enjoyed this article from Menlo Park Presbyterian's pastor John Ortberg on Christianity Today's website. John brings up some great points about the need for leaders to cast hope in the face of challenges.

As I read and reflected on this article I thought about the Obama campaign and his current momentum. I've looked at the platforms of both candidates on the Democratic side specifically, I see little real difference between the candidates on the major issues. However, I feel a clearer message of hope coming from Obama more than Clinton and certainly more than McCain. I'm not trying to make a statement here on what candidate I endorse or oppose, I just sense a general optimistic spirit around Obama. I don't think it's an accident - especially when you consider the stellar team of speech writers Obama has including the young upstart, 27 year old Jon Favreau and the legendary Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen who is bent on resurrecting Camelot.

It struck me about the power of hope. Hope's message may just defeat the Clinton legacy and perhaps overcome bigotry and racism to elect an African American man with an Islamic name. Similarly, we who follow Christ are mandated to share this great message of hope, grace, redemption, love and forgiveness. John Ortberg eloquently writes:
"In the middle of a Great Depression, or World War II, or a capital campaign, or a staff crisis, people inevitably wonder: "Can we get through this? Is it worth all the effort and confusion? Can we really overcome this challenge?" They inevitably look to the person at the core; the man or woman leading the charge, the one who sees the big picture. When people see a leader with this kind of vital optimism, who radiates a sense that together we can do what needs to be done, then people tend to decide not to waste their energy wondering about "if" but focus their energy going after "how."
On the other hand, when Eeyore is at the helm, the whole ship is in trouble. Eeyore may be the most intelligent, gifted, attractive, educated, credentialed person in the room. But if he or she is easily deflated, sensitive to defeat and criticism, and de-motivated by setbacks, the whole community begins the long slow spiral downward.

The church is in the hope business. We of all people ought to be known most for our hope; because our hope is founded on something deeper than human ability or wishful thinking. Martin Luther King was fond of citing Reinhold Niebuhr's distinction between hope and optimism. Optimism believes in progress; that circumstances will get better. Hope, however, is is built on the conviction that another reality, another Kingdom, already exists. And so hope endures when hype fades.

And yet, even ministry can be hope-draining. Churches can become places of cynicism, resistance, and pessimism. Spiritual resistance, my own sinfulness, and the sheer gravitational pull of the status quo can drain away the power to dream. Both hope and pessimism are deeply contagious. And no one is more infectious than a leader.

For this reason I've realized that I must learn the art of hope management. I must learn about the activities and practices and people who build hope, as well as the activities and practices and people who drain hope."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

!5 Things

15 things Bob Sutton believes about management:
1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.
4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
9. The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.
10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity

Monday, February 04, 2008

Weekend Recap...

OK - so I might be the only one in the world but I was rather uninterested in the Super Bowl. I know... it was the greatest one ever. But I've decided I really have room only for one sport in my life - and that would be baseball. Instead, Melissa, Sam and I went to see U2-3D. It's actually Jeremy's Del Rio's fault. He and JJ went to see it and texted me when they came out of the theatre. But - when he heard I ditched the super bowl for this I recieved stereo-typical New York ridicule from a Giants fan. However, I'm thrilled that the New York team got revenge for the Yankees recent troubles with the Red Sox.

But, oh man, go see this IMAX flick. We had the privledge to see U2 live on the Vertigo tour, so we remember the concert well. But I have never seen anything like this. The 3D effect was stunning. It made us feel like we were right on top of the band. VERY worth the money. If it's showing in a theatre near you, go...

However, at times I think Bono is a Christian, and at times I think he's more of a universalist. This movie made me think the latter. On the 'How To Dismantle the Atomic Bomb' record he sings songs like 'All Because of You' where he quotes I AM as the reason he is who he is - and later on the album sings directly to Yahweh in an amazing song. But his banter on the movie points to a more universal nature of his beliefs. I don't know. In the end it's awesome, positive and uplifting music. The jury is out on the theology.

Here is Christianity Today's review of the movie with good insight on the theology.

Before the movie we went to a party for BCM founder Andy Hartwell. After founding BCM and nurturing it for 24 years, Andy feels it's time to turn over the helm. Andy is vetaren and has faithfully served the organization for a long time. Congratulations to Andy for his faithful service. Peace and blessings to him as he moves on to the next challenge.

Did Tony Bennett Leave His Heart Here?

Here is a little known area of San Francisco, or one that no one takes about. Many people think that the Bay Area has no urban issues due to the high cost of living and general reputation of our region. Once when family was visiting we took a tour of San Francisco. The tour guide proudly proclaimed that SF has no poverty, as he avoided the Tenderloin, Sunnydale, Bayview and the Mission.

Here is an article in the The Chronicle about the area around the Cow Palace, the Sunnydale district. Our COGIC district superintendant is planting a church in this area. Please pray for his ministry in this distressed area.
On a typical day in San Francisco's largest housing project, teens ditch school to take the bus to a funeral. A woman wanders into the liquor store to buy Cheetos for her young grandson and a 20-ounce beer for herself. Two 3-year-old boys ride their tricycles down a steep hill patched with trash and broken glass.

Such is life in Sunnydale, quite possibly the most dangerous, depressed and decrepit area of the city. The dilapidated barracks that make up the development are lined up on a hillside in the shadow of the Cow Palace, opposite McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley.

Though the housing is designed to be temporary, residents stay for decades. A combination of factors - geographic isolation, extreme poverty and a lack of access to social services - make it virtually impossible to leave Sunnydale. There are no stepping-stones to something better, no road map for how to get out.

"We don't have role models. We don't go to Harvard. We barely have police. We have to take care of ourselves," said 55-year-old Keith "Kilo" Perry, who runs a barbershop in the development. "This is like a concentration camp. There is no way out unless you die."

Though the primary mission of the federally run San Francisco Housing Authority is to provide safe, sanitary, affordable and decent housing for very low-income families, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, officials admit the housing is unacceptable.

"It is a privilege to live in San Francisco, and this is what happens to you if you can't afford it," says Sharen Hewitt, a community activist and head of the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response, a support team for victims of violence. "This city claims to be so compassionate and progressive, but Sunnydale proves a contradiction. We need services out here.

"Sunnydale is San Francisco's Lower Ninth Ward," she also said, referring to the impoverished neighborhood in New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Hewitt said the few who do make it out of Sunnydale often go to another housing project. The Bayview, also infamous for violence and poor public housing, is considered a step up.

"People here have been downtrodden for so long that they are just kind of immune," Hewitt said. "They are happy to get out but then they go get trapped somewhere else."