Post Date: September 10, 2014

Interview: Jeff Bisgrove of Arizona Neighborhood Transformation

Jeff Bisgrove leads Arizona Neighborhood Transformation, which unites churches and agencies with neighborhoods to facilitate wholistic, transformative ministry. One of the communities where Jeff has particularly focused on building relationships is Guadalupe, a small town sandwiched between Phoenix and Tempe. We recently asked Jeff to tell us a bit about Guadalupe and the good things he sees happening there.

FP: First of all, not everyone in the Phoenix area is familiar with Guadalupe, even though it’s surrounded by places we all know. What makes Guadalupe unique?

JB: Guadalupe is small—less than a square mile, with a population of about 8500. While the town was only incorporated in the 1970s, it was originally settled in 1906 by members of the Pasqua Yaqui tribe after being displaced from their tribal lands in Northern Mexico. The town demographics are mainly Hispanic and Native American, and per capita income is one of the lowest in Arizona. In fact, it’s roughly half the Arizona average. On top of that, the majority of kids in Guadalupe do not graduate from high school. But walking with my friends in Guadalupe, you quickly learn they are proud of their heritage, and are very family- and friend-oriented.

FP: You’re not single-handedly trying to bring about “neighborhood transformation” in Guadalupe, are you?

JB: I have learned you cannot change another person, let alone a community. Talk to your spouse or good friend if you think that is possible. Transformation is something that happens between you and God. What we do in Guadalupe is listen and develop relationships. We learn about people—their hopes, dreams, fears, and assets. We help them use their assets to make the changes they want to see in the community happen.   We find local leaders that are ready to help make things in their own community and then walk with them to help these dreams come true. The community itself does the work and so they are the ones who bring about the transformation. We do not tell them what to do—the community decides what it wants to do by deciding what it wants to see happen.

FP: I’d imagine the “neighborhood transformation” model looks different depending on the context. How has it specifically taken shape in Guadalupe?

JB: You are right, every community is different. In Guadalupe things started four years ago when our friend Marina wanted to get a basketball team going for her kids and many in her community. They could not afford the Boys and Girls Club. So we organized 33 kids and put them on some basketball teams. The community led the work. They organized training and games, drove to the games, provided snacks. We provided the gas. This led to more conversations in the community that uncovered the fact that people really wanted to improve the education of their kids so they could eventually get better jobs.

Therefore we started doing tutoring one or two nights a week about two years ago. We first did this in a space a few miles outside of Guadalupe, then moved into borrowed space in Guadalupe. Many people in the community wanted us to be more permanent in the community and said they would help give some money toward rent, so we moved into a suite in the Guadalupe Mercado in early 2014. Today we have two tutoring programs for about 80 kids and we did our first job training program, in partnership with Natividad Mendoza and  his organization From Gangs to Jobs. We have started working with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to start building better relationships between the officers and the children. The people helping run the tutoring and summer programs are predominantly from the Guadalupe community, with some friends of Guadalupe coming in to help out. Going forward, we want to add GED and a community resource center—all based on things the community wants and has indicated they will help do.

FP: I know you have your annual banquet coming up, which is a great opportunity for people to get to know Marina and get involved in what’s happening in Guadalupe. Tell us a bit about what you have planned.

JB: When it comes to community-driven development, there is no better way to understand what is going on than by going into the community and hearing about it from the people in the community themselves. So our banquet will be held at the Guadalupe Mercado, and the food will be catered by many of our friends in the community, featuring traditional Yaqui and Mexican dishes. We want to get our “community” together—our friends in Guadalupe and our friends that have a heart for the work going on in Guadalupe—to celebrate what is happening. There will be an opportunity for people who want to help volunteer their time or who can help financially, including sponsoring a child. We hope this will help more folks be able to walk with us in Guadalupe and help expand the impact of what the community is doing.

To register for Arizona Neighborhood Transformation’s annual banquet being held on Friday, October 24, 6:30-8pm at the Guadalupe Mercado (9201 S Avenida del Yaqui), contact Jeff Bisgrove at jeffmbisgrove@me.com.

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