I recently had the good fortune to attend a conference where I heard stories of different organizations around the country whose leaders have a vision of flourishing and common good in their communities.
While this conference was not explicitly a faith and work event, I believe every individual there was living out the integration of faith and work on a daily basis. One organization’s story rose to the top as their leader demonstrated commitment to the organization and its surrounding neighborhood despite circumstances that were far from ideal. The organization’s name is The Hope Center of Kansas City, and their story was shared by its executive director, Marvin Daniels.
Marvin holds a Masters in Education and accredited certifications in Urban Missiology, Mediation and Dispute Resolution and Youth Development in the Urban Context. He most recently served as Vice President of Leadership Development at Kids Across America (KAA), a Christian Sports Camp and Youth Development ministry. He is the founder of Beyond the Norm, a training program that provides transformational skills for transformational ministry.
Marvin was an adjunct professor of Youth Ministry at both Gordon College and North Park College. He has also been a youth pastor in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, and he served with the Jackson County Juvenile Courts in Kansas City. Marvin also worked as a mediation specialist for the Cambridge and Boston Public School Systems. He was the Great Lakes Regional Facilitator for Compassion International USA Division, where he was responsible for the training and development of youth workers in seven Midwest states and 15 cities.
He continues to speak, lecture and train on issues related to urban ministry, urban education, and child and youth development. He also serves as a trainer in Scenario Planning and Change Management for the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.
Marvin has been married to LeAndra for 26 years and they have 5 children: Malachi, Isaiah, Micah, Imani and Nia.
Soon after the Daniels family arrived in Kansas City, they unfortunately discovered that half of the donors had stopped supporting the organization and the majority of the contact information for remaining donors was incorrect and out of date. In addition, the Hope Center facilities had fallen into disrepair. Asbestos had been discovered which would cost more than $10,000 to remove. Marvin had great passion and desire to serve the youth of the neighborhood, but was honestly wondering what he was going to do and why God had led him there.
The Oak Park, Ivanhoe, Palestine and Santa Fe Neighborhoods in Kansas City, Missouri’s east-side once made up a prosperous community. Sadly, this area, which produced leaders like Walt Disney, Buck O’Neil, and Alvin Brooks, has deteriorated into one of Kansas City’s most difficult, forgotten, and ravaged communities. Substandard housing, high unemployment, drugs, and crime left the neighborhoods in ruin and its residents searching for hope. The youth have been particularly vulnerable, often unable to overcome the educational deficiencies, violence, drugs, and sexual pressures they are confronted with daily. –a description of The Hope Center’s neighborhood from their website
Marvin recalled a time when he was praying and crying out to God. He wanted to leave the Hope Center and go somewhere else. But Marvin felt that God was telling him that he had been tagged “it” and this work was his responsibility. With renewed purpose and vision, he worked to rehabilitate The Hope Center’s programs and facilities so that they could bring flourishing once again.
Marvin identified a progression he and his team went through as they sought to bring change within their organization and community. He now describes this as the mantra of The Hope Center.
Hopeless become hopeful.
Hopeful become healthy.
Healthy become helpful.
Marvin identified four steps his team took to move from a place of vulnerability toward flourishing since his arrival. He was very cautious to add that they are moving toward flourishing; they have not yet arrived.
1) Prayer — While not rocket science, this is often a step in the process that is considered as a last resort, rather than a first in the process. Marvin challenged his team toward prayer first.
2) Presence — Daniels sought to answer the questions “Who are we and what are we about” regarding The Hope Center. As he considered these questions, he reflected that drug dealers had a more prominent presence in his neighborhood than the Center or the church. People had to come to the church or their Center to meet them and receive their services. The Center was not very present in the community. They were not known in the community. Marvin and his team needed to get out of their four walls, meet people, listen to the needs of the community and respond. This is unfortunately a very common problem. Many organizations think they know what their community needs and proceed to “proactively” respond. In reality, they are often providing what is not needed.
3) Posture – After considering the presence of the Center, Daniels considered its posture. The Center’s public perception and identity was in need of repair when Daniels arrived, as was their physical plant. One of the ways in which Daniels intentionally addressed the organization’s posture was by reaching out to every church in their neighborhood along with all the churches (50+) represented by their staff, and any church that had ever partnered with The Hope Center. This process involved more than a year of “church shopping,” but yielded great dividends in the form of new and restored partnerships for The Hope Center.
4) Partnerships – Daniels noted that a Kingdom vision requires Kingdom-sized partnerships. He invited the churches and organizations with whom he was not aligned (or re-aligned) to dream about the future of their neighborhood and its flourishing.
I had an opportunity to speak with Daniels to learn more about him, his background, and his work at The Hope Center.
Chris Robertson: How did you learn about The Hope Center’s work and what drew you to work there?
Marvin Daniels: I have known Chris Jhele, the founder of the Hope Center for many years prior to coming to Kansas City. I came to Kansas City as a part of my work with Compassion International and KAA to provide training in strategic development with children and youth in underserved communities. Chris reached out to me in 2013 to let me know about his transition from The Hope Center and to ask me if I would consider coming to Kansas City to lead this work. I had already been considering transitioning away from my work at KAA so the timing from providential. My family and I really enjoyed our previous work with KAA and my role at The Hope Center has allowed us to continue that work.
CR: You described the feelings you had shortly after your arrival in KC during your plenary address at the conference. You must have felt like giving up on some level. How did you stay engaged and passionate about the work under such obstacles?
MD: I have experienced obstacles such as these at every organization where I have worked. While I didn’t want to start over again, I recognized that God has gifted me to help organizations rebuild and develop infrastructure. God helped me to build on the existing foundation despite some implosion. God’s goodness to the Hope Center is obvious over its almost 18 year history. So, while this was certainly a yeoman’s task, it was also a familiar one.
CR: I am sure there are many success stories you could share that describe the work of The Hope Center. Is there one or two that typifies the impact of the diligent work you and your team do?
MD: I’ll share two stories with you. Ravon was a student at the Hope Center. Unfortunately, she had left the Center due to the changes that took place in 2013. Providentially, I ran into her at the neighborhood grocery store which resulted in her rekindling her relationship not only with God, but also the Center. This process took time, but it has resulted in Ravon being reengaged with the Lord. She has since served in a KAA camp where she had the opportunity to connect with other Christian young ladies for Bible study and discipleship. Today she is mentoring other young girls at the Center.
Rob is a father of seven children from three different mothers. After his release from prison in 2015, I met Rob at an outreach event in the neighborhood. I spoke with Rob regarding the importance of men in the community. I invited him to Thursday night men’s Bible study. God started doing a work in his heart during these studies. He now has a job making livable wages, has a home, regular contact with his kids, is engaged to be married to one mother and has reconciled with the other two. He volunteers with the Center and his kids are a part of the program. He is well connected to the Center. At the Hope Center, we believe that sustainable families result in sustainable communities. Rob and his family are but one example of sustainable families in our neighborhood.
CR: The Green Room is a blog directed toward leaders and practitioners in the faith and work movement. I believe you along with your fellow CCDA leaders are all practitioners who embody this integration each day. How is the message of the faith and work movement spread from the Hope Center’s programs?
MD: The Hope Center talks about this as well. I tell our students that ministry is who we are, not what we do. This comes from I Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I ask them to consider what things do we do that reflect the glory of God. What does Jesus look like on your job? Positionally, whatever we do, we must do it for His glory.
Thank you, Marvin for the good work you are doing in Kansas City not only to bring about the common good, but also to help spread the important message that God wants to use all of us, regardless of vocation, to bring about flourishing. I encourage you to check out the Center’s website to learn more about their work and to connect with Centers like them in your area.