Last year, I was part of a small group that became active participants in the life of the East Hills (Cherry Street) neighborhood of Grand Rapids. We were exploring the area as a possible site for expansion of our Presbyterian church. That never panned out, but we developed some nice relationships with some community activists, with the neighborhood business organization, and with the underserved elementary school in the area.
Related to that effort, I wrote a brochure promoting investment in the Wealthy Heights Initiative, a six-block area along Wealthy Street. The first meeting to talk about that initiative was at The Sparrows, a coffee shop that, in recent months, has become my “office” (free wi-fi, good coffee and music, creative atmosphere) now that I am an independent practitioner. I wasn’t planning on needing an office away from home last year when working on the Wealthy Heights Initiative.
As part of our community outreach, I attended a meeting last summer about a tree study in the East Hills area. I learned a lot about the economic, environmental, and “quality of life” benefits of trees at that meeting. For instance, how does cutting all the trees along a city street affect the property values and resulting taxes? What is the impact on air quality with the loss of each broad-canopied tree? What about water run-off issues and habitat for wildlife and the benefits to home heating and cooling costs and, well, the pure aesthetics of a well-treed neighborhood.
When a potential client with a product to save ash trees (rather than simply cutting them down due to the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, which has been the approach taken by many municipalities) approached me yesterday, I already knew the topic well based on that meeting last year. When I went to that meeting at what was once the Diamond Street fire station, I wasn’t planning on getting a call from this company; providence has a way of preparing you for what you don’t know is going to happen.
After talking to the prospective client yesterday, I was sitting in The Sparrows mulling over in my mind what I remembered of that tree study meeting. In walks Johannah, my contact for the Wealthy Street Initiative — the first time I’d seen her in six months. She sat down and we caught up and she immediately knew all the people I needed to talk to and, further, suggested a few additional people.
Last summer I thought we were doing a church plant. Since that didn’t happen, it could have been considered a failure. Instead, it led me to a cool community that has provided an “office” away from home, contacts who can help me with potential clients, and good friendships. You never know how the relationships you build today will help you at some point in the future. I don’t necessarily believe in karma, but I do believe that adding value to the experience of others you meet is more likely to reward you later than simply being a “recipient” in your relationships.
What happens when a person who has added no value to anyone else’s experience loses their job? Who is there to help them? Who is there to provide encouragement, advice, job leads, a cup of coffee? Rich DeVos spoke at Calvin College’s “January Series” of lectures the other day, and from the news coverage I see that he spoke about being a “life enricher,” a topic that he’s spoken on many times before.
When you are a positive force in other peoples’ lives, you help them and you help yourself. Because, as I have come to find out, you just never know.