By Rebecca Lujan Loveless
The Community Center at The Palms Trailer Park bustled with life on a recent cool Saturday morning. This was unusual because up until that week, the trailer that housed the Community Center was open only Monday through Friday. This Saturday, the residents came in and out, using the computers, sitting to chat with neighbors over cups of coffee, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the spirit of “togetherness” in this overlooked but much under-rated community.
The Palms Trailer Park is located between two highways on Orange Blossom Trail – “OBT” as it is affectionately referred to. OBT is notorious for the business of buying and selling women. So whenever I tell people where my office is located – in a trailer park on OBT – I am generally met with some kind of a joke about “working the Trail.” And while my work involves befriending women who do, in fact, “work the Trail,” it also involves listening to the hopes and concerns of other people, too:
- The former inmate who is unemployable because of his past.
- The older woman who has never worked a day in her life because of her crippling disabilities.
- The young, single mom who is passionate about her children having a chance to succeed with opportunities she never had.
Recently, I have become friends with a young, single mom who has taught me so much about determination and quiet patience. LaDeitra is curious and funny. She is hopeful yet cautious. She leads people with ease and yet is hesitant to be called a “leader.” She cares about her neighborhood and wants to be a part of creating a place where her kids can play safely, where she knows her neighbors well enough to understand their needs.
When I first met her at the Community Center, LaDeitra was shy and quiet. She would come to use the computers and then leave as quietly as she came in. But over time she began to pick up on some of the conversations around her. As people would visit the Community Center, we would talk about their ideas to improve the neighborhood. LaDeitra grew curious. Eventually she started contributing to these informal conversations. Finally, after several months of listening and observing she asked if she could come to the weekly meeting for our volunteer Hosts of the Community Center.
Once LaDeitra was trained as a Community Center Host, there was no stopping her. She began talking to her neighbors, listening to them dream about “what could be” at The Palms. She convenes people for Neighborhood Meetings, and it was her organization and determination that allowed the center to start opening on Saturdays.
The work of Asset Based Community Development can be very lonely. Am I the only one who thinks this neighborhood is great? Does everyone (including the residents here) think this place is a joke? These are admittedly my dismal thoughts on days when I feel heavy-laden with the reality of generational poverty.
But LaDeitra reminds me, “Things take time.” She reminds me that there are others who care about this forgotten part of Orlando. She confirms my deep suspicion that when the talents of the poor are properly engaged, their well-being improves. She engages my talents of leadership and organization and, in turn, allows me – even invites me – to engage her talents to influence her neighbors toward change.
Each Saturday, if you stop by The Palms Trailer Park, you will see LaDeitra with her notebook open, listening to the dreams of her neighbors. She writes them down, showing that what her neighbors have to say is important. She talks to others about these ideas and invites people to find ways to empower them.
LaDeitra is hesitant to be called a “leader,” and yet each week she leads me to believe that change – even in the most unlikely place – is possible.
Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.