The collaborative spirit among partners at The Commons on Merton is a wonderful thing to be a part of, says Rev. Billy Vaughan, but what really excites him is when he sees that spirit spill out onto the streets connecting all sorts of people and families in the diverse neighborhood.
“There’s a spiritual thing that takes place in the neighborhood because of what’s going on in the building,” Billy says. “You’d be amazed if you’re in the neighborhood for a few days, some of the ripple effects you see. The ‘us and them’ stuff begins breaking down, not only within The Commons, but within the larger neighborhood. You see so many different types of people in and out of there, out in the parking lot, interacting in the streets; it just has really a spiritual effect on the neighbourhood. “It says our diversity is a gift. It’s not something where we need to be suspicious of each other; it’s a real gift of grace.”
This is how a true community is built, he says, pointing to the first of a series of community gardens that have sprung up in the neighborhood as an example of what this new collaborative spirit looks like in tangible terms.The garden was originally in the parking lot of The Commons overlooking a duplex building across the street and a vacant lot that was never very well-kept. The people organizing that modest little garden called the duplex’s owner and offered to care for his property in exchange for use of the space to plant a garden for all to use.
“The owner shrugged and said, ‘Oh, what the hell, go ahead and do it,’ ” Billy recalls. “Now there is this wonderful community garden there and it draws some of the kids from the refugee program, some of the African-American kids from the neighborhood and volunteers from Rhodes College and the University of Memphis’ graduate program in nutrition.”The interaction among this group is a beautiful thing to witness," he says. "They’re sharing chores and vegetables, stories and experience, and whether or not they know it they’re sharing space in the transition to a new economy of hope, built upon the gifts of all community members.