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'

Monday, September 14, 2009

Important Meeting Tomorrow Night

As many of you know, we've been working in collaboration with the EARN group and one of the Menlo Park City Councilmen to implement an innovative approach toward saving local homeowners in foreclosure. This approach effectively de-leverages local homeowners through an innovative investment of city redevelopment funds coupled with mortgage write down by local banks. We believe this approach is exceedingly fair to both the city and the homeowner and could end up saving 10 to 13 homeowners. Additionally, we're hoping this will serve as a pilot program to other cities. Tomorrow night the city council will host a study session for the plan. If passed, the city will allocate $1 million to this project, to be paid back to city coffers over time.

If all goes well it will go to a vote on October 6th. We have had positive feedback from the council and staff members to this point.

There are a few ways you can help:

1) You can attend the council session tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm at the Onetta Harris Community Center and hear about the proposal. The community center address is: 100 Terminal Ave Menlo Park, CA 94025
2) You can tell others about the session, and ask them to also attend
3) You can email, call or write the council members to express your support. You can find their contact information here: http://www.menlopark.org/council/city_council.html
4) Pray that God will guide the council as they consider this proposal

I have attached an early draft of the city proposal for your review. The final should be available at the meeting (as we have suggested some changes). Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your support.


- John

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another Useless Homicide in EPA

Another homicide in EPA this weekend. Another young life cut short. This one was closer to home, since it was the son of one of the other tenants in our building. I'm tired of the violence. You can read the news report here. Pastor Bains knew this young man well.

I found strength in the U2 song 'Drowning Man' this morning. I'll take it as words from God and a prayer for the family.

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love

For I have promised
Oh, to be with you tonight
And for the time that will come

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love
And I understand
These winds and tides
This change of times
Won't drag you away
Hold on, and hold on tightly
Hold on, and don't let go
Of my love

The storms will pass...the storm will pass...
It won't be long now...it won't be long now...
His love will last
His love will last...forever

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love
Give you what I hold dear

Hold on, hold on tightly
Hold on, hold on tightly
Rise up, rise up
With wings like eagles
You run, you run
You run and not grow weary

...Take my hand, take my hand...
Hold on, and hold on tightly
Hold on, hold on tightly
To this love...last forever
To this love...last forever

Take my hand

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Author of 'Dead Aid' on Colbert

Thanks for the head's up, Rudy.

What say you? Does the traditional models of relief and aid work? What is the alternative?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Book: White Man's Burden - thoughts for Labor Day Weekend

I'm reading a fascinating book that has some of the same themes that run through Bob Lupton's recent writing. It's called 'White Man's Burden" by William Easterly. (I get the feeling some of you have read this already.) You can find it here. The title of the book is somewhat unfortunate, it's meant to be sarcastic.

There are some amazing points here, stuff NCUD and others at CCDA have been talking about for years. I encourage you to check it out - here's a couple of great excepts from the first chapter:

"But I and many other like-minded people keep trying, not to abandon aid to the poor, but to make sure it reaches them. Rich countries have to address the second tragedy if they are going to make any progress on the first tragedy. Otherwise, the current wave of enthusiasm for addressing world poverty will repeat the cycle of its predecessors: idealism, high expectations, disappointing results, cynical backlash."

"Let’s call the advocates of the traditional approach the Planners, while we call the agents for change in the alternative approach the Searchers."

"The Planners have the rhetorical advantage of promising great things: the end of poverty. The only thing the Planners have against them is that they gave us the second tragedy of the world’s poor. Poor people die not only because of the world’s indifference to their poverty, but also because of ineffective efforts by those who do care. To escape the cycle of tragedy, we have to be tough on the ideas of the Planners, even while we salute their goodwill."

"Yet helping the poor today requires learning from past efforts. Unfortunately, the West already has a bad track record of previous beautiful goals. A UN summit in 1990, for example, set as a goal for the year 2000 universal primary-school enrollment. (That is now planned for 2015.) A previous summit, in 1977, set 1990 as the deadline for realizing the goal of universal access to water and sanitation. (Under the Millennium Development Goals, that target is now 2015.15 Nobody was held accountable for these missed goals."

"As for the actions of the West, asking the aid agencies and development workers to attain utopian ideals makes them much worse at achieving the doable things called for by the Searchers. It also makes them much less accountable for making specific things work, as the focus on the Big Goals of the Big Plan distracts everyone’s attention from whether more children are getting twelve-cent medicines. Acknowledging that development happens mainly through homegrown efforts would liberate the agencies of the West from utopian goals, freeing up development workers to concentrate on more modest, doable steps to make poor people’s lives better."

"Idealists, activists, development workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your utopian chains. Let’s give more power and funds to the many Searchers who are already working in development. You don’t have to immediately eliminate world poverty, bring world peace, or save the environment. You just have to do whatever you discover works with your modest resources to make a difference in the lives of poor people."

Interesting and provocative thoughts on a weekend we celebrate the working person! To me, it fits well into the CCDA redefinition of 'Redistribution' into 'giving the poor the necessary skills and resources to work their way out of poverty'.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pagmill May Still Get What's Coming

Many have been following the fight betweeen the City and EPA's largest landlord, Pagemill Properties. Here is a recent news article about their financial woes. You can't mistreat the poor and get away with it. God's justice will prevail.

The Daily News 09/01/2009, Page A01


Page Mill may lose 1,700 units

Properties spokesman says company didn’t make $50M payment to Wells Fargo


Daily News Staff Writer

A Page Mill Properties spokesman said Monday that the ownership of more than 1,700 units in East Palo Alto is in question after the company failed to make a $50 million payment to Wells Fargo Bank
last month. The company and its subsidiaries couldn’t make the onetime balloon payment on Aug. 4 because of financial problems due to the economy, spokesman Sam Singer said.

“They have been successfully servicing the debt on the loans for the properties, but this balloon payment — they just didn’t have that amount on hand due to the declining economy,” Singer said.

He added that Page Mill is in talks with Wells Fargo and hopes to reach some resolution in the next month or so.

“It’s ironic that the bank would not want to renegotiate
the loan in a flexible manner given the glut of foreclosed properties on the market,” Singer said.

He added that the loan has nothing to do with a nearly $70 million investment the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, made in the properties in 2006.

Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment Monday.

Tenants became alarmed after seeing employees of Woodland
Park Management — Page Mill’s property management company — taking down signs Monday.

However, Singer said the company took down one large sign advertising its properties only because the city ordered it to do so. East Palo Alto and Page Mill are involved in a bitter legal dispute over rent increases and other issues, with about 10 active lawsuits pending between them.

It wasn’t clear Monday whether Page Mill’s financial problems are connected with the recent closure of a number of swimming pools at the properties. The pools remained closed Monday afternoon with signs indicating San Mateo County health officials shut them down Aug. 21 due to lack of chlorination.

At least one of the pools was bright green with algae.

Tenants should not experience any changes in management as the property owners negotiate with Wells Fargo, Singer said.

“For the time being, Page Mill is in control of the property and will continue to assist the tenants with any life safety and any
habitation issues, any livability issues,” Singer said.

“They are in the same position as many regular people, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, who given the declining economy don’t have enough money in the bank.”

E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at jbernstein@dailynewsgroup.com.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lupton on Mission Trips vs. Kingom Tourism

Hee's some very insightful words from Bob Lupton calling for truth in advertising for a $2 billion 'missions' industry...

Cheerios just got a black eye. For as long as I can remember, those little round “O”s have been a breakfast favorite of both children and adults. Kids have spelled words with them in their cereal bowls, moms have carried baggies of them in their purses for snacks, dads have shoveled down spoonfuls as they hurried out the door on the way to work. In recent years these nutritious, fiber-rich, toasted 100% whole grain oat delights have boasted an amazing ability to lower bad cholesterol. I believed them. Who wouldn’t believe in Cheerios? Then some whistle-blower or competitor cried foul and the Federal Trade Commission took a close look at these health claims. Cheerios may be nutritious but no longer can they claim to lower cholesterol. They got caught doing false advertising.
Is it buyer beware or do we want government watchdogs checking the validity of our marketing practices? Frankly, I’m glad there is some ethical standard in our society that attempts to maintain a modicum of honesty. Can you imagine living in a culture where you could believe nothing that you read or heard? What chaos! I’m disappointed in Cheerios. I wish their advertising were as wholesome as their 100% whole grain oats. But I’ll keep eating the little “O”s for breakfast. And I’ll also keep taking my cholesterol pills.
The Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government, is charged with keeping American business free and fair. Included in its many responsibilities is “to prevent the dissemination of false and deceptive advertising of goods, drugs, curative devices, and cosmetics.” False claims, whether by Cheerios, car dealers or snake oil peddlers, when detected are subject to public exposure, penalties and immediate corrective action. The FTC has jurisdiction over a broad spectrum of activities but there is one realm it cannot penetrate – the church. The church-state barrier offers protection against government intrusion into the practice of organized religion. Of course, one would expect that, since the Judeo-Christian traditions are foundational to the ethical and moral codes of American society, the church would be the last institution in need of ethical policing.
Certainly the church is not without its flaws. The moral failure of church leaders is legendary. The media feeds off such scandal. Yet, in spite of the damage caused by the occasional fall of religious leaders, the church as an institution strives to preserve and protect high standards of conduct. Though its members, and too often its leaders, fail to measure up to its high ideals, the church remains the primary guardian of moral and ethical values. It may wrestle with controversial issues of the day such as gay marriage and abortion, but it does so in pursuit of a moral high ground.
But there is one area that seems to have eluded the ethical scrutiny of the church. Churches from the left to the right, high and low, share the same blind spot. Perhaps it’s because the practice is so pervasive or because the claims seem so spiritual. But if the FTC were to shine the spotlight on the marketing of missions, the expose would be, well, perhaps not damning but certainly embarrassing. Take a look at most any promotional package for a mission trip and you will get the distinct impression that lost, starving, forsaken people have their last hope riding on the willingness of Christians from the US to come and rescue them. The pictures are heart-rending – a close-up of a child’s sad face, a tin-roof shack beside an open sewage ditch, an old woman struggling under a load of firewood sticks. The emotional call goes out for the “healed, trained, empowered and Spirit filled teens to be missionaries to the world.” Such experiences promise to touch lives, change the world, and have a dramatic, life-changing impact on those who will sacrifice their comfort to go. For a week!
Can we be honest? Mission trips and service projects are important. For lots of reasons. But the truth of the matter is that dropping into a strange culture for a week or even two creates far more work for the local leadership than it’s worth, except for the money and gifts we leave. And those gifts more often than not do more long-term harm than good. As one local leader told me: “They’re turning our people into beggars.” Much of the work we do is make-work – painting a church, digging a foundation, leading a summer Bible school – all work that could and should be done by locals. “Our men need the work,” a seminary president once told me as we discussed the impact of US mission trippers in her impoverished country.
But this treatise is not about the downstream impact of mission trips. Some ambitious young reporter seeking to make a name for himself will sooner or later handle that expose. This is about the dishonesty in our marketing of these trips. Our “people-are-dying-and-you-can-save-them” rhetoric may be effective spin to lure young people (and older as well) into signing up but we know that only on rare occasions is this actually true. Yes, there are Katrinas. But the overwhelming majority of our mission trips are to places where the needs for development are far greater than for emergency assistance. And development is about enabling indigenous people to help themselves, not doing the work for them. Development is much longer term, calls for professional expertise and planning, requires lending and investing – not the sort of things that lend themselves to a typical short-term mission trip.
I am not saying that mission trips don’t have value. They do. Great value. They open up new worlds, new perspectives, new insights. They expose us to fascinating cultures, connect us with new friends, allow us to experience God at work in surprising ways, inspire us, break our hearts, build camaraderie among traveling companions. Any one of these benefits might well justify the time and expense. But isn’t it time we admit to ourselves that mission trips are essentially for our benefit, not for the benefit of the ones our marketing material portray? Would it not be more forthright if we called our junkets “insight trips” or “exchange programs”? Or how about Kingdom adventures? Do we really need to justify our journeying to exotic lands under the pretense of missionary work? Religious tourism would have much more integrity if we simply admitted that we’re off to explore God’s amazing work in the world.
I know we have to have good reason to justify spending the kind of money we do on mission trips. US churches spent well over $2 billion (that’s with a “b”) on them last year. This is not at all inconsistent with our normative pattern of church spending, however. We typically spend upwards of 95% of church budgets on ourselves anyway. So to admit that mission trip expenditures are primarily for the spiritual benefit of our members would not be out of line, that is if we feel justified spending that percentage on ourselves. But that’s a discussion for another time. Our subject here is marketing with integrity.
So how do we capture the imagination, the compassion, of a younger generation if not by appealing to the tenderness of their hearts? Come to think of it, it was the story of fatherless children that drew me into urban work nearly 40 years ago. I wanted to make a difference. That was a powerful motivator. So maybe “touching lives” and “changing the world” is appropriate rhetoric after all. It certainly appealed to my compassionate side and it played at least some part in shaping my call into ministry. The idea of sacrifice was also appealing to me, to offer myself up to a cause of great importance. I wanted my life to count. That was important. But playing to those tender Spirit-sensitivities should be done with great care. Setting up unrealistic expectations can lead to discouragement. Portraying false representations can lead to cynicism. Is it not enough to simply say “come and see” and then allow the Spirit to do the touching and surprising?
Here’s my bottom line: the Kingdom doesn’t need our hype. The Kingdom needs people who speak the truth.

- Bob Lupton

Friday, July 24, 2009

off the grid

I'll be off the grid for the next couple of week on vacation, blogcation, twittercation, email-cation, work-phone-cation and facebook-cation. see you in August!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wisdom from Tozer

A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves., waiting for us to recognize it. God himself is here waiting our response to His presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to recon upon it's reality.
From "The Pursuit of God" by A. W. Tozer

Get the book here. It's one of my 'desert island' books...

Friday, July 17, 2009

My Intervew in Sojourners Magazine

See it here.

Short Takes

Six Questions For ... Rev. John Liotti
Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg

Bio: Founder and CEO, Northern California Urban Development (www.norcaludc.org)
Blog: norcalurban.blogspot.com

1. How would you describe Northern California Urban Development’s work?
Our vision is broad—to relieve the causes and effects of systemic poverty. We strive to have an effect on “the street.” We’re honored to serve amazing communities: East Palo Alto and Redwood City. East Palo Alto specifically, while having an abundance of assets, has been overlooked by the success of our surrounding area, Silicon Valley.

2. What have you accomplished?
In NCUD’s short four-year history, we’ve brought a credit union to East Palo Alto, which was desperately unbanked and being preyed upon by financial predators. We’ve also founded a youth program that focuses on financial literacy and life skills, which is currently serving more than 200 “urban” students weekly. We’re working on an approach toward the housing crisis, including brokering an innovative program where cities help homeowners refinance in exchange for a stake in the house’s future appreciation. These efforts strive to break the curse of generational poverty by giving folks the tools and resources to conquer poverty.

The hallmark of all we’ve done is partnerships—collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations from outside and inside our community. Our role, in many ways, is to cast and shepherd the vision to completion—but to do so in a collaborative manner.

3. What is the best thing anyone has taught you in your work?
Dr. John Perkins, quoting an ancient proverb, says, “But of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark, ‘We have done it ourselves.’ ” This has been a great challenge to me. So many times we want the credit.

4. What’s your biggest challenge personally?
To maintain balance and joy. It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t right, rather than to celebrate the good things: family, community, beauty, and art. Being in a community with a lot of needs, I can find myself putting out fires and dealing with the urgent, but not necessarily the most important. I’m learning that if I’m not striving for a healthy lifestyle, then there is no way I can be a healing presence in the community. I’m not there yet—but I’m trying!

5. What delights you in your daily work?
There is so much creativity and energy in the body of Christ. I love finding ways to connect the resources and individuals who can create change with the need—and help them engage in the process of transformation. I’m excited when I see folks using their skills and resources in kingdom of God work.

I also take delight in seeing young leaders find their calling. I love seeing the next generation rise up and take its place!

6. What gives you hope?
My pastor recently made a statement that, while simple, struck me. He said, “You know, the throne’s not empty up there!” There are so many things to worry about these days. When I stop, center myself, and realize that God is truly in control, I can rest and find joy.

—Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stunning Op-Ed in NYT on the Current Reality for the Poor

Here is a stark article in the New York Times abotu the current conditions for the poor. Here's the summary:
The recession of the ’80s transformed the working class into the working poor, as manufacturing jobs fled to the third world, forcing American workers into the low-paying service and retail sector. The current recession is knocking the working poor down another notch — from low-wage employment and inadequate housing toward erratic employment and no housing at all. Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing.

Maybe “the economy,” as depicted on CNBC, will revive again, restoring the kinds of jobs that sustained the working poor, however inadequately, before the recession. Chances are, though, that they still won’t pay enough to live on, at least not at any level of safety and dignity. In fact, hourly wage growth, which had been running at about 4 percent a year, has undergone what the Economic Policy Institute calls a “dramatic collapse” in the last six months alone. In good times and grim ones, the misery at the bottom just keeps piling up, like a bad debt that will eventually come due.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

M. Ward

Sam, Melissa and I went to see M. Ward last night. The newly renovate Fox Theatre in Oakland is truly amazing. It's a restored 1920's movie palace. It could now be my favorite venue for shows in the Bay. 

M. was amazing. He's the real deal, for sure. An amazing guitarist, intriguing vocalist and brought along a stellar backing band. He'll be around for a long time - I'm sure. Here's video: 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reflections from Jackson

Reflections from Jackson

For the better part of the last year I’ve been working on the Emerging Leader’s Initiative for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). This initiative is designed to recognize and empower the emerging leaders within CCDA. John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, Mary Nelson and many others originally founded CCDA in the 1980’s. These men and women were very tight-nit and have a strong bond of friendships. CCDA has now grown to be many thousands of people. As a board we’ve been concerned about the aging of the leadership of the Association and I was tasked to develop and lead this initiative.

The initiative revolves around choosing 20 or so individuals, we call them cohorts, to journey together for a year. The cohorts are mostly leaders under 40 years old who are in primary leadership in a CCDA member organization. During the year there is a focus on relationships, on transfixing the ‘legacy’ of the founders and considering the future of CCDA.

Last week was our first cohort retreat. We traveled to Jackson, MS to be with John Perkins for a week. CEO Noel Castellanos and board Chairperson Barbara Williams-Skinner also joined us. One unexpected blessing was to have Lowell and Dixie Noble also join us for the week. Mr. and Mrs. Nobel are likewise CCDA pioneers. Lowell is a theologian and provides much of the theological reflections for CCDA principles.

Last week’s retreat was truly a wonderful and anointed experience. The cohort team came with a spirit of excitement and expectation. In addition to Noel and Dr. Skinner’s anointed teaching John Perkins was in amazing form. It’s such an honor to sit under that humble servant of God. Every time I’m with him I have the sense I’m in the presence of greatness. I imagine it’s much like being with one of the Apostles or one of the great historical leaders of our faith.

One of the highlights of the trip (among many) was our time in Mendenhall. On Thursday we rented a tour bus and traveled with Dr. Perkins to the place of his early ministry during the civil rights movement. Mendenhall, MS was where he planted a church and founded Mendenhall Ministries, which was the early model of CCD ministry.

Along the journey to Mendenhall Dr. Perkins narrated some of the stories of his youth. We stopped by the truck stop on the infamous Highway 49 that Dr. Perkins and his team integrated. He recounted the story of literally having to sit on his hands in the booth as he ordered food because his hands were shaking out of fear. He told the story of parking on the side of the road during MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, weeping over the impact of the words on a young civil rights soldier. We saw one of the jails he spent time in while being persecuted for standing for justice and his rights.

Dr. Perkins had many works of wisdom for us. He admonished us to remember the poor. He challenged us to focus our ministries on the neighborhood and not to be concerned with fame or largess. He talked at length about the simplicity of serving and not asking for a return. I was over and over impressed with the ‘mustard seed’ faith of this man. I saw the results of simple acts of faith and trust in God. For those of us in the CCDA family Mendenhall is a sort of Mecca or akin to the Vatican. It’s a place that helped define many of our lives. As I walked around the small Southern town I was shocked how normal it was. We saw young African-American boys and girls playing in a school with white children. Perhaps this is a mundane everyday occurrence in our generation. However, only 40 years ago that would have been an act of treason. Simple faith produced results that changed a generation.

Dr. Skinner likewise was profound. Her late husband Tom Skinner was a close friend and Kingdom conspirator with Dr. Perkins. Barbara told of her and Tom’s courtship, marriage and ministry. Barbara talked about her conversion and a lifetime of ministry in Washington, DC. Today she regularly walks the halls of congress interceding for the congressmen and congresswomen.

Barbara called us to be ‘lifers’ in the work of restoring communities and serving the poor. Aptly and prophetically she ended her sessions with us talking to us about prayer. She emphasized that prayer is where the seeds of change are planted. I again was challenged to a deeper prayer life.

However, one of the greatest blessings of the whole week was having my son Samuel with me. Melissa and I decided to pull him from school so he could participate and observe Dr. Perkins life and ministry. The cohort team embraced him and included him in all of the events. I’m grateful for their expression of love to my son.  I pray that this experience was formative as he enters high school and begins to seek God’s will for his life.

All in all I’m overwhelmed and somewhat exhausted from the week. I have yet to digest all the events and experiences. As is hopefully the whole team, I’m already getting excited about the next gathering in Santa Cruz. It’s such an honor to serve these wonderful leaders, both the cohorts and the CCDA board and founders. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

SF Chronicle Article on Our Project

See the entire article here.
Menlo Park's City Council tonight will consider an innovative approach to preventing foreclosure for struggling homeowners - but one that comes with a big up-front price tag for the city.

"To me, the most important thing is to keep people in their homes and not disrupt families, not take kids out of school," said Councilman Andy Cohen. "This is the only program on the horizon that does that."

The Foreclosure Prevention Program targets owner-occupied homes with mortgages more than 90 days past due. Program administrators would approach the bank that holds the defaulting mortgage and ask it to sell the mortgage at the home's current fair market value - the same amount the bank would receive if the home went through foreclosure, but with fewer expenses and less time and trouble for the bank, said David Shapiro, CEO of the EARN Group, a Los Gatos company that develops real estate financing tools.

A local community bank would then refinance the mortgage for about 70 percent of the home's fair market value. In what is essentially a "silent second mortgage," the city would put up about 30 percent of the home's value as a cash investment, leaving the homeowner with a mortgage for 70 percent of the home's fair market value at today's low interest rates. The homeowner's monthly housing costs potentially could be halved, EARN said.

The city would have an equity stake in the home. It would get repaid when the home is sold (assuming it sells for more than today's price) and would also receive half of the home's appreciation above the current market value. If the home sells for less than today's price, or is lost to foreclosure, the city could lose part or all of its investment, because it would be in second place after the bank that did the refinancing.

EARN, a for-profit company, teamed with the nonprofit Northern California Urban Development, an East Palo Alto group that works to alleviate poverty, to develop the program, and is now seeking cities to serve as testing grounds. Shapiro said large banks have expressed interest in the plan, and a small credit union, Community Trust in East Palo Alto, is willing to do the refinancings for Menlo Park, as well as for East Palo Alto, which also is considering the plan.

"This is aimed at keeping people in their houses in their communities, rather than having the houses turn over and flip," said Marc Prioleau, a founding board member of NCUD.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sam, Malik, Cody and Sierra

Sam's gonna be a star! No doubt! This is his rap group.

Song: Glommy Day
Priduced by Samuel J. Liotti
Vocals: Samuel J. Liotti, Malik R., Sierra and Cody K.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Meet Up in DC -

Cross post from Urban Onramps For thise who are attending the Mobilazation to End Poverty (M2EP) we're meeting Sunday night. Come on - all you west coasters will be hitting your stride at 8:00 pm!

DC MEETUP THIS SUNDAY NIGHT: Here’s a Meet-Up in conjunction with the Mobilization to End Poverty (MEP). The MEP starts on Monday morning, and for those who are in town on Sunday night and would like to connect, the spot is Lauriol Plaza Restaurant in DC, 1835 18th Street NW (about three blocks from DuPont Circle). We’ll be there for dessert (or whatever else you choose) starting at 8 p.m. So far… it’s me, John Liotti from NorCal Urban CDC, and Glory Okeke from Harambee Prep. Open Invitation - All Are Welcome. Email me if you plan to attend (or send a tweet).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cultivating Community Based Financial Literacy

Evidence suggests that these types of (financial literacy) programs can be successful in helping the unbanked and underserved improve their financial skills and develop successful banking relationships. For example, a survey of participants in the FDIC's Money Smart program, showed that financial education training can positively change consumer behavior and improve knowledge about the basics of checking, saving, budgeting, and credit. Money Smart is a financial education curriculum launched in 2001 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that is in wide use today.

The survey results indicate that participants, 6 to 12 months after taking the Money Smart training, were more likely to open deposit accounts, save money in a mainstream deposit product, use and adhere to a budget, and have increased confidence in their financial ability. In addition, more than half of the respondents reported that their level of savings increased, their debt decreased, and they were more likely to comparison-shop for financial products and services.

See the whole article here.
Check out more information on NCUD's financial literacy efforts Here. Click on "programs".

Travis Reed Doing a Tribal Dance

My friend Travis recenty returned from a trip to Africa. He joined in a tribal dance.

Post Easter Wisdom from Bono

Last Sunday, the choirmaster was jumping out of his skin ... stormy then still, playful then tender, on the most upright of pianos and melodies. He sang his invocations in a beautiful oaken tenor with a freckle-faced boy at his side playing conga and tambourine as if it was a full drum kit. The parish sang to the rafters songs of praise to a God that apparently surrendered His voice to ours.

I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.

Carnival is over. Commerce has been overheating markets and climates ... the sooty skies of the industrial revolution have changed scale and location, but now melt ice caps and make the seas boil in the time of technological revolution. Capitalism is on trial; globalization is, once again, in the dock. We used to say that all we wanted for the rest of the world was what we had for ourselves. Then we found out that if every living soul on the planet had a fridge and a house and an S.U.V., we would choke on our own exhaust.

Lent is upon us whether we asked for it or not. And with it, we hope, comes a chance at redemption. But redemption is not just a spiritual term, it’s an economic concept. At the turn of the millennium, the debt cancellation campaign, inspired by the Jewish concept of Jubilee, aimed to give the poorest countries a fresh start. Thirty-four million more children in Africa are now in school in large part because their governments used money freed up by debt relief. This redemption was not an end to economic slavery, but it was a more hopeful beginning for many. And to the many, not the lucky few, is surely where any soul-searching must lead us.

A few weeks ago I was in Washington when news arrived of proposed cuts to the president’s aid budget. People said that it was going to be hard to fulfill promises to those who live in dire circumstances such a long way away when there is so much hardship in the United States. And there is.

But I read recently that Americans are taking up public service in greater numbers because they are short on money to give. And, following a successful bipartisan Senate vote, word is that Congress will restore the money that had been cut from the aid budget — a refusal to abandon those who would pay such a high price for a crisis not of their making. In the roughest of times, people show who they are.

Your soul.

So much of the discussion today is about value, not values. Aid well spent can be an example of both, values and value for money. Providing AIDS medication to just under four million people, putting in place modest measures to improve maternal health, eradicating killer pests like malaria and rotoviruses — all these provide a leg up on the climb to self-sufficiency, all these can help us make friends in a world quick to enmity. It’s not alms, it’s investment. It’s not charity, it’s justice.

See the whole editorial here

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Updated NCUD Website

Check out the new NCUD website. See it here. Let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Editrorial Support for Housing initiative

Editorial in the Almanac: "Quick Action Needed." See the article here. If you know one of the Menlo Park city council or government leaders, please reach out and indicate your support for NCUD and other's efforts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Love is an Orientation - Andrew Marin's New Book

My friend and CCDA "emerging leader" Andrew Marin of the The Marin Foundation just had his first book published "Love is an Orientation". Andrew is elevating the important conversation between the evangelical and homosexual community. You can get his book here. You can also read his blog here or check out the recent Christianity Today review of the book. This is obviously an important for us living in the SF Bay with our active and large homosexual community. We've been feeling the backlash from the California Proposition 8 decision and the impact it has had on both communities.

I'm proud of Andrew, thankful that he is elevating an important conversation.

Monday, April 06, 2009

NCUD's Housing Initiative

As I mentioned in my post about about my 'blogcation' we've been working diligently on a shared equity or 'third sector' housing solution for our community. This has occupied much of my mental bandwidth, along with the important curriculum development project for our youth program, Future Profits.

We're beginning to see some light. On April 24th the city of Menlo Park will vote on a proposal for funding for our housing project. If approved, we will have the funding to save around ten homes and families from foreclosure. This will happen through an investment of public funds as an equity partner and a write down of the current (underwater) mortgage by the lender to a level where, with the public funds, will place the homeowner in a fair mortgage with a payment they can afford. However, the homeowner will give up some of their future appreciation by which the city will be paid back it's funds. We're also looking at a similar project with private funding. Certainly ten homes isn't going to change the US housing market. It will however dramatically impact ten families and demonstrate our approach is valid and important and perhaps help us to bring it to scale and impact a larger group of folks.

A number of newspapers have picked up the story. When the proposal goes to the city council it will be coupled with a proposal from Habitat for Humanity to pick up REO or foreclosed properties and a city led Below Market Rate (BMR) project.

Bravo to the city of Menlo Park and to Councilmember Andy Cohen for being creative and open to solutions and for bringing three concurrent solutions to the Council at the same time. This project will be focused on the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park. This is the area on the east side of the freeway and is socio-economically similar to East Palo Alto.

For this project we've been working with the EARN Group. They've developed the model and is looking to offer it across the country if they are successful in our backyard. For this, they've been offering their services and expertise pro-bono. Here is an excerpt from the article. You can read it in it's entirely here.
In an effort to keep low-income residents in their homes, the city of Menlo Park is considering a plan to buy an equity stake in some of those properties.

The plan, one of three foreclosure-related measures under consideration by the Housing Commission at its meeting Wednesday, April 1, is essentially untested, according to Housing Manager Doug Frederick. The city would first try to convince banks to reduce the principal to near market value, and would then purchase equity in the home.

The number of Menlo Park homes in some stage of the foreclosure process has hovered near 100 for months, the vast majority of them in the Belle Haven neighborhood on the east side of the city, according to the Web site realtytrac.com. So far this year, about 40 Menlo Park homeowners have defaulted on their mortgages.

As home prices have dropped, many Belle Haven residents have found that they owe more in mortgage payments than their home is worth.

The city would invest about $90,000 in each home, Mr. Frederick said — 30 percent of a representative $300,000 home.

The EARN Group, a Los Gatos-based company that has been developing a plan independent of Menlo Park to buy equity in homes, would advise the city, and help homeowners to renegotiate terms with banks. The group is offering its assistance pro bono (save a possible small service charge to homeowners) because it is looking to test its model in the hopes of taking it to a wider market, Mr. Frederick said.

San Mateo County has not received any federal funding to deal with foreclosures, but the city may be able to find other sources of funding to amplify its efforts, Mr. Cohen said.
NCUD wasn't specifically mentioned in the article, but we'll be coordinating the community side of the effort. While certainly not a done deal, the signs so far are encouraging.

How can you help? If you have a connections with the city government of Menlo Park you can contact them and let them know you are in support of NCUD and EARN's efforts - as well as the efforts of Habitat for Humanity. If we get this project approved at a minimum we will see the lives of ten families dramatically saved and perhaps we can use this model change the lives of many more.

Additionally, please pray for ours and Habitat's efforts. We need an extra portion of God's wisdom and blessing. If you want more information on our efforts feel free to contact me.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Twitter Updates

So I've finally jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. You can see my Twitter updates on the right of this page. One more way to keep up with my life...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Mark Smallwood - In Memory

This week our close friend passed away suddenly. Mark was my wife Melissa's pastor and served as a second father to her when her own dad passed. Mark and his wife Gloria introduced Melissa to Christ when she was a child and served as her pastor throughout her childhood and teenage years.

Mark and my relationship started rocky. When I showed up in Delhi, CA courting Melissa I was a young 18 year old, brash, arrogant and opinionated. I still have some of that going on. Understandably and justifiably, Mark was skeptical and not too thrilled about Melissa and my relationship. We had a lapse in our communication for a number of years.

After we left Mexico with YWAM in '94 we landed in the Central Valley broke and burned out with a newborn baby. We were struggling to get back on our feet. Mark and Gloria gave Melissa a job that she held for 6 years at La Morenita. Mark helped us with a car, with furniture, with a house, with groceries, on and on... He eventually gave me a job at the restaurant and helped me with a side job throwing newspapers so we could continue to pursue our calling to urban ministry . We traveled through Yosemite together, went to a bunch of Giants games, spent some crazy times in Santa Cruz. Essentially he continued his role in being a father to Melissa and a brother to me. When my sister Kelli moved to Modesto he took her and her husband Saul into the family also.

Mark was generous, loving, caring, cantankerous, annoying and a avid practical joker. When he did something, it was done 100% - no margins or tentativeness. He lived and loved extremely. He's left a deep mark (no pun intended) on our family and most certainly on Melissa. We've not seen much of him since we moved to the Bay. However, it was comforting to know that he was just a call or short car trip away. We'll miss him - and remain grateful for all he did for us.

Mark's brother Philip blogged about his passing here.

Please pray for the Smallwoods. Mark leaves five children and his wife Gloria. He will be missed. His homegoing service is Saturday at 11:00 in Turlock.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Back From 'Blogcation'

To all of my deprived readers (if there are any left),

Please forgive my absence. Frankly, blogging started to feel more like work than fun - so a break was in order. Going forward, I hope to be more focused with my posts. They may be less frequent but hopefully will have slightly more content.

Over the past three months I've focused my attention on a few key issues. The first and main issue is formulating a response to the current housing crisis. We've been working on a Housing Market Stabilization Initiative (HMSI) which would work to intervene for families who are losing their homes. Secondly, NCUD's youth program, now dubbed "Future Profits"is growing and needing more and more attention. Lastly, I've been working on an Emerging Leader Initiative (ELI) for CCDA. The ELI will be a one year cohort program designed to pass on the CCDA legacy from the founders including Dr. John Perkins. Overarching all of this is the economy - which is making all of us in the non profit world pay close attention to the bottom line.

All that said, blogging unfortunately has taken a back seat to my other initiatives. Ultimately it's a matter of brain 'bandwidth' which is feeling more and more scarce these days.

I hope to post more in the upcoming days. If you're still reading this - give me a 'shout out' so I know I'm not just writing for myself!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Article: The Radical Faith of John Perkins

Just returned from a wonderful CCDA board meeting in Cincinnati. Just made it out before the snow and frigid cold. Boy, do I love the Bay Area!

You HAVE to check this out. here is a wonderful article on Dr. John Perkins called Radical Faith: The Revolution of John Perkins that was in the Jackson Free Press. It's a wonderful read... especially in light of the upcoming inauguration of President Obama. I'd love to hear your comments.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Wow - Beatle Flashbacks, Dude

I found this interesting record by The Fireman  yesterday named "Electric Arguments". This is essentially a disguised Paul McCartney record.

As my regular readers will know I listen to a lot of music from diverse styles (from opera to speed metal). I'm not wowed by a record very often, this one did for me. To be honest, I've been less than impressed with Paul's solo work. There are bright spots like the records 'McCartney', 'Ram', 'Band on the Run'and 'Flowers in the Dirt' - but for the most part his solo career can't compare to wonderful and transparent Lennon records like 'Plastic Ono Band', 'Double Fantasy' and 'Mind Games'.

However, this record really grabbed me, starting with the searing blues on the first song, "Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight" and the transcendent "Sing the Changes" with the repeating lyrics (is there a faith influence here???):
"sing his praises as you're sleeping
see the changes any wonder
feel the sense of childlike wonder
sing his praises as you're sleeping
see the changes as you're sleeping
feel the choir in the thunder"
Not every song is a winner - and the record kind of fizzles into electronic music. But there are some very great moments. Paul is now pushing 70 - but he reminds us that he is still a Beatle. You can buy the record here or any of your favorite locations.

By the way - here are my favorite releases of 2008:

Cardinology - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
Little Honey - Lucinda Williams
In Rainbows - Radiohead
Electric Arguments - The Fireman

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone! 

I'm back now after a few weeks off. I needed some down time. Meliisa and I intentionally spend lots of time together over the holidays. It's a season to reconnect and remember that we're friends. We had a great time, saw family, ate a ton, watched movies and worked on our house. This time around in home ownership I seem to be enjoying  the experience more. We owned (and still do) a house in Modesto when we lived there 9 years ago (yes, it's been 9 years since we moved to EPA!) - but working on the house seemed much more a drudgery. I guess I'm older and slightly more patient.

We're looking forward to 2009 - and I'm certainly glad 2008 is over. However, in spite of the turmoil we personally and with NCUD had a prosperous and successful year. We bought a house, had a credit union grand opening and saw it grow and succeed, expanded and further developed our youth programs and watched Samuel continue to mature into a fine young man. Oh yea, we also adopted a slightly crusty and needy German Shepherd. NCUD continues to thrive in spite of the challenges, Melissa's job, New Creation Home is likewise thriving thanks to God's grace and Katie Fantin's leadership. We ended 2008 full of thankfulness and hopeful.

I also wanted to give a few reviews of the movies I watched over the break. Here are my suggestions:

Yes Man: Skip it. I was particularly offended by a rather graphic and somewhat degenerate sexual situation. It's kind of a shame - it has a good story and theme - the referenced scene is superfluous.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Good, but a little slow. I enjoyed the theme, acting, special effects. Great adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. Worth seeing - might be a better rental.

Gran Torino: LOVED IT - Go see it now. Great story of redemption and restoration set in the backdrop of urban life in a Hmong community.

Frost / Nixon: Great movie. Admittedly I'm a sucker for anything historical, especially dealing with the Cold War or Nixon years. Great acting. I must admit. I'm a history buff - I totally enjoy the History Channel - so I can be a bad judge of how good these types of stories can be. Melissa, while loving history as much as I is a good judge of a story and how overly detailed and boring these things can be. She also loved it.

Here's some recent pictures: