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VIEWPOINT: Getting to know our neighbors

by Karl Hilgert

When my wife Judy and I moved from northern California to Pilgrim Place in Claremont in August of 2012, we were not quite sure how we would fare in getting to know our 324 new neighbors. We got a bit of an inkling, however, when I wheeled the rental moving truck up in front of our new residence. What to our wondering eyes should appear, but 18 Pilgrims in yellow “Many Hands Movers” T-shirts!

They helped us unload the truck in two hours in contrast to the long, hard six-hour loading job—even with the aid of four friends in Healdsburg, from whence we had come. 

That was just the first in a series of neighborly acts in this intentional community. Neighbors brought over homemade goodies and showed us around the immediate neighborhood. They advised us of the many activities we could become part of. We were invited—along with other newly-arrived residents in the community—to home after home for evenings of dessert and “getting to know you” conversations. It was easy to feel a part of this community in a hurry.

Next, I met new neighbors and made new friends through an intergenerational course with co-instructors Jerry Irish, longtime Pomona College professor, and Rev. David Mann, a retired community organizer and resident of Pilgrim Place.

As described in the Pomona College Magazine (Fall 2013) “The Class: Religion, Ethics and Social Practice is a learning partnership of faculty and students from the Claremont Colleges and residents of Pilgrim Place… It takes up questions such as: What are the religious, ethical and/or simply humane elements that motivate and sustain our social practice? How does our own personal development facilitate or inhibit our capacity to deal effectively with injustice? The course culminates in student proposals for three-to nine-month social change projects.”

This is but one of a number of partnered educational and service opportunities bringing neighbors together in Claremont.

My most recent opportunity to get to know additional neighbors in Claremont has come through my relationship with the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP). This program grew out of Occupy Claremont, from which a group formed to evaluate the extent of homelessness in the Claremont area through a grant from Tri City Mental Health. This group evolved into what is now known as CHAP.

Between July 2012 and February 2013, contact with homeless folks was made in Claremont by Andrew Mohr, while two members from the Claremont Society of Friends, Mary Cooper and Paul Wood, each began working with a homeless individual, helping them negotiate the morass of bureaucracy involved in securing basic survival like general relief or Social Security disability and food stamps. Paul and Mary each assisted their participants in getting financial, food, health and other assistance, which improved their life situations considerably.

A core planning group, including Mr. Mohr, Mr. Wood, Ms. Cooper, David Levering, Karen Chapman Lenz, Charles Bayer, Deborah McKean and Father George Silides, was formed. As a former director of a shelter, transitional housing and advocacy program in New Haven, Connecticut, I was invited to join the group.

Mr. Mohr and I became the outreach representatives of the group. We observed 62 homeless individuals in the past year and engaged with over 50 individuals. CHAP core group members trained 14 advocates to assist 34 single men and women to receive a variety of services, including financial assistance, food stamps, job assistance and physical and mental health services. Families with children were referred to services available for them.

Most recently, on January 24, the members of the Claremont Friends Meeting have made their facility available for CHAP to provide a program of overnight accommodations for up to eight men and two women per night. CHAP volunteers provide overnight hosting, breakfast each morning and noon snack bags to be taken for the day. The overnight guests have joined in the work of setting up, and cleaning and have recently begun sharing the supervision of overnight shifts.

Next, CHAP will provide a hot evening meal and shared conversation around the table among CHAP participants, advocates and volunteers. St. Ambrose Episcopal Church has offered their site for the first “CHAP Community Café” to be held on Thursday evenings. Other churches and community groups are being urged to provide their sites on other nights.

CHAP provides a variety of ways for Claremont and surrounding community residents to get to know some neighbors who otherwise might not be made to feel a part of this wonderful Claremont community.

For more information about how you might volunteer and get to know more of our neighbors, contact Karl Hilgert via karlhilgert@gmail.com or at (909) 542-9271.

[Editor’s note: Karl Hilgert is a retired United Church of Christ Clergy/Community Organizer who has served in the inner cities of St. Louis, Cleveland, New Haven and Sacramento. —KD]

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