Author: Dan Mayer, Associate
Employer: TRIAD Architects
“Listen first, then take your talents and use them to the best of your ability.”
There are three impactful moments in the last ten years that have genuinely altered my personal views on stewardship. The first was an experience in China; the second was an experience in Belize; the third was meeting Chris Lambert of Life Remodeled in Detroit. The three moments coalesce my altered perception of need, or rather, the lack of understanding. I grew up in a relatively affluent neighborhood and community in the suburbs of Columbus and was isolated from the struggling communities in my region. I was naïve to believe I understood “how” to help or even if I could help.
In 2011, I traveled to China for a school project while completing my architecture degree. I was fortunate to experience first hand the Miao culture in the Guizhou province. A minority ethnic group, the community welcomed us with great fanfare exclusive of the poverty we were prepared to experience. They sang and danced, dressed in intricate jewelry and vibrant gowns, with smiles and pride in who they are, not what people perceive them to be. Our research was focused on how they work, live, play, not the architecture or style of their buildings. We learned about their challenges of farming and providing for their families beyond material wealth. My first lesson, Stewardship is not about dictating, but rather listening and embracing community pride.
In 2012, I traveled to Belize for a school project while completing my planning degree. We traveled to a small river community on the western edge of Belize along the Guatemala border. Our contact was a former planner for Miami-Dade County in south Florida working for the Peace Corp during his retirement. We met with people of all ages and backgrounds and walked the town from north to south and east to west. This strong catholic community with incredible natural resources was hoping to find economic vitality through big ideas and monetary investment. My second lesson, Stewardship is not about investment dollars, but by identifying the resources and opportunities that already existed.
In 2016, I traveled to Detroit to find opportunity for my employer at the time. While there I met Chris Lambert, CEO of Life Remodeled. Life Remodeled focuses on a neighborhood in Detroit that needs help. Each year, through active fundraising and relationship building, Chris and his staff provide incredible neighborhood improvements over a week period that includes nearly 10,000 volunteers from around Detroit and the region. I was fortunate to participate in assisting with the Durfee Middle School re-purposing to a Community Innovation Center, by far one of my proudest engagements in my professional career. My third lesson, Stewardship is not about the grand gesture, but the individual efforts of people willing to do the smallest of tasks for a neighbor.
These three experiences forced me to look inward at my understanding of Stewardship and not “how” to help, but my willingness to support. To be stewards we must champion community pride with the very people that live it, breath it, and know it. It is not about change, displacing or directing, but about reaching out to a neighbor and simply asking “How can I help?” Listen first, then take your talents and use them to the best of your ability.