Written by Jeremy Myers
This blog post is the first of many that will showcase the various ways we see vocation lived out on a daily basis in the lives and work of our Augsburg colleagues and our neighbors in the Cedar-Riverside and Seward neighborhoods.
By vocation we mean the ways we are compelled, empowered, challenged, freed, and responsible to show up (individually and collectively) in ways that help our neighbors and neighborhoods thrive. We believe every individual and every institution experiences a vocational tug.
Augsburg University – as an institution – is committed to being an engaged neighbor with the Cedar-Riverside, Seward, and Phillips neighborhoods. Many would say this has always been central to Augsburg’s mission and identity, but our practices and frameworks for showing up as a compassionate and helpful neighbor have changed over time. This change is a necessity if one is truly committed to working towards the common good with their neighbors.
This is a story about how Augsburg does the work of becoming and being an engaged neighbor.
Steve Peacock joined Augsburg University in 2008 as the University’s Community Relations Director. Steve had spent the previous 17 years working for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) helping people and neighborhoods thrive by creating partnerships to “close systemic gaps in health, wealth, and opportunity.” Steve feels a strong call to do work that supports people at the neighborhood level. He has formal training in urban planning through the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the University of Minnesota.
This call, though, was shaped early on as the son of a campus pastor in central Illinois. Steve saw his father consistently working at the intersections of the university, the church, and the neighborhood. He learned first-hand about the positive impact local institutions can have on the lives of the people who share their neighborhood. Steve’s own personal call to do this bridging work has helped Augsburg University live more fully into our own call to be an engaged neighbor.
Augsburg University president, Paul Pribbenow, claims Augsburg’s identity as an anchor institution in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and we now play a key role in convening the Central Corridor Anchor Partnership. “Anchor institutions are enduring organizations that are rooted in their localities. It is difficult for them to leave their surroundings even in the midst of substantial capital flight.” (Marga, Inc). Augsburg is deeply committed to the location and neighborhood where we find ourselves and we believe we have a responsibility to function in a certain way as an institution so that our neighbors and our neighborhood might thrive. Steve’s work puts this commitment into practice.
Through this work, Steve convenes the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Leadership Forum which is a community of business owners and leaders from the neighborhood who meet regularly to learn about one another’s work, discuss shared hopes and concerns, and create opportunities for collaboration. Steve sees his primary work as convener. These are gifts and committed leaders who don’t need Steve or Augsburg to lead for them, but they do need someone who is willing and able to convene other potential stakeholders and partners.
Most recently, Steve has been working on a new initiative called Augsburg Local which “is a campaign to leverage Augsburg’s purchasing power to support local businesses by connecting locally-owned, Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC)-owned, and Femmes/Trans/Womxn (FTW)-owned businesses to the economic benefits generated by both personal and institutional purchasing by the Augsburg community. It is also working “to shift a portion of Augsburg’s investment portfolio to community-minded banks and financial institutions that yield economic benefit to underserved communities.”
These initiatives grow out of the slow, hard work that Steve has done to build relationships. It takes time and energy to earn peoples’ trust, to get to the place where they will share their deepest hopes and concerns for our neighborhood. Over the years, under Steve’s leadership, Augsburg has learned to move from a charity model to a partnership model. Our neighbors do not desire our charity, but they do desire that we accompany them in creating the type of neighborhood where all can thrive.
This work of humbly and consistently building relationships with your neighbors across your neighborhood is critical work for all institutions and individuals because . . .
- Multiple studies are showing us that social isolation was on the rise even before COVID and has only become more pervasive with the pandemic. Some call the rise in social isolation a second pandemic, and we are just starting to learn about the physical impact of isolation on our bodies. It will take intentional work on the part of individuals and institutions to begin addressing this pandemic of isolation.
- The powerful continue to get more and marginalized continue to end up with less. The organizing and innovation needed to address the growing wealth and opportunity gaps can only be done by cohorts of committed neighbors and institutions who collectively care for the wellbeing of their neighborhood and those who live their lives there.
- It makes the institution a better institution that is more innovative, more in touch with its constituents, more connected, and more viable.
The work we do through the Riverside Innovation Hub in the Christensen Center for Vocation is very similar to the work Steve is doing. We are working to teach congregations how to become anchor institutions in their neighborhoods.
Steve generously shared his tips on how to get started doing this work.
- It’s relationship based. Do the hard, slow work of developing true relationships with neighbors and other institutions in your neighborhood. Take the time. Be vulnerable.
- Listen. Truly listen. Try to hear what you aren’t expecting to hear. Don’t assume you know the details of your neighbors’ stories. Be humble.
- Start small. Start with those you know you will be able to connect with. Start by collaborating on a small, manageable project. This allows for close coordination which creates space for relationships to develop. Get small wins and build a coalition and confidence.
- Work within your limits. Be intentional about what can and cannot be done and be planful so you stay within those limits.
Engaging our neighbors is not only an essential responsibility we have as institutions, it is also the way we can find more life and joy in the work we do in our locations. We’re grateful to Steve for leading this work on behalf of Augsburg in such a gentle, humble, and consistent way.