Merlene Davis: Couple's faith led to Common Good in North Lexington

Herald-Leader columnistJune 12, 2013 

  • How to help

    Common Good CommunityDevelopment Corporation

    Donate online: Kentucky.nationalchristian.com/578

    By mail: Send checks to National Christian Foundation, P.O. Box 175, Lexington, KY 40588. Put "Common Good" in the memo.

    For more information: Email: commongoodcdc@gmail.com.

Despite growing up here, John and Laura Gallaher hadn't interacted with people in north Lexington until about seven years ago when he became the youth pastor at The Rock/La Roca United Methodist Church on North Limestone Street.

That's when the couple began reaching out, getting to know area youth and their families and learning to love the neighborhood.

They bought a house in the area and settled in.

Shortly after, the financially struggling church laid off staff members, and the couple began doubting the calling they believed God had placed in their hearts.

Were they really supposed to minister in north Lexington? Maybe God was telling them to move on.

"It was a difficult decision, but we decided to stay," John said. "I decided to fundraise my salary."

By asking family, friends and others to support their mission to stick with the children in the area, he was able to raise money for his salary.

"That was confirmation," he said.

By the time La Roca merged with Embrace Church in 2011, the Gallahers had already decided to start a non-profit which would focus on education, recreation, leadership development and spiritual formation for the children along North Limestone and around Castlewood Park.

The couple quit their jobs, learned how to start a nonprofit and created Common Good Community Development Corporation, complete with a board of directors, some of them from the community.

Talk about walking out in faith.

The Rev. Rosario Picardo, the lead pastor of Embrace, was supportive of the separate nonprofit and offered them space at Embrace Church Epworth Community, formerly La Roca.

Before long, slots were filled for their four-day after school program for 50 students and a six-week summer program which is held from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and there was a waiting list.

The quick success was due to their previous involvement in the neighborhood, John said.

"We were working and living in the community and listening to what the needs were," he said. "We were not outsiders. We had been to their homes and they had been to our home. The needs of the community had become our own needs."

Laura, a social worker, said of all the decisions the couple has made over the past five years, moving into the community was the most important. "It helped us build relationships with these families," she said. "We get to know their successes, joys, needs and failures."

Many of the diverse group of youth are refugees and immigrants, and some are failing at least one academic subject in school; some are failing all of them. So the education component in the program is very important, she said.

Dor'cas Kaindu, 16, said she was having difficulty understanding geometry this year.

"Teachers and college students come by and they helped me," she said, adding that she passed the course.

Dor'cas, whose family is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, enjoys the music component of Common Good, taking voice lessons once a week.

Cristian Juarez, 15, rides his bike from west of Rupp Arena to North Limestone whenever the program is in session, regardless of weather. The Gallahers gave him a bicycle when his family moved out of the neighborhood.

He especially likes the college tours the older youth take and he likes the service projects the group undertakes, such as helping to clean and organize at the nonprofit The Nest Center for Women, Children and Families.

"I get a better feeling about the neighborhood," he said.

Definitely one of the highlights of the summer program is the Service, Education, and Entrepreneurship in Downtown Spaces program which is a partner program sponsored by Seedleaf, a program that works on increasing the amount, affordability, nutritional value and sustainability of food available to people at risk of hunger in Central Kentucky.

The middle and high school youth meet twice each week during June and July to plant, weed, harvest and prepare the food they have grown in the nearby garden. At the end of the program, the youth are awarded a gift card for their work.

The Lexington Art League sponsors free classes year round, and the middle and high school students go to Aldersgate Camp & Retreat Center in Ravenna in the summer where they get to swim, fish and stay in a cabin.

Dor'cas and Cristian agreed they wouldn't have experiences like this were it not for Common Good.

"With other programs you would pay a lot," Dor'cas said, "but here, you pay $10."

The program has about 40 mentors of all ages who volunteer at least four hours a week, but they could use more. Commitment is essential and required.

"We need committed volunteers willing to build relationships," John said.

Cooks are needed to prepare meals, and, of course, money is always welcome and needed.

"And we need prayer," John said. "Continue to pray for our community."

Laura agreed.

"Sometimes when people describe what we do, they focus on the needs," she said. "But we celebrate the strengths and the potential."

Common Good is a program initiated by two young people who want to improve the lives of children in their neighborhood.

In their case, familiarity breeds love.


HOW TO HELP

Common Good CommunityDevelopment Corporation

Donate online: Kentucky.nationalchristian.com/578

By mail: Send checks to National Christian Foundation, P.O. Box 175, Lexington, KY 40588. Put "Common Good" in the memo.

For more information: Email: commongoodcdc@gmail.com.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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