At first glance, the Barksdale Annex neighborhood in Bossier City, Louisiana looks like any other neighborhood that seems to have fallen on hard times. Older houses in disrepair and vacant lots grow weeds and sometimes despair among the area's low-income residents.
But there's a bright spot in this historic neighborhood just across the railroad tracks from Barksdale Air Force Base. The bright spot is the "Friendship House", a safe haven where kids gather for tutoring, mentoring, educational enrichment and family oriented activities. Parents come, too, for adult education, to reinforce parenting skills and family structure, for leadership training and community service activities.
Regardless of their age and whether they're even aware of it, all those who come to Friendship House are building something of which they can be proud. And what they're building is "community".
Based in philosophy but not supported or directed by any single denomination or faith group, the Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal is an innovative model of community revitalization that has won national attention and been recognized by organizations such as the PEW Charitable Trusts as a replicable model for communities across the country. HUD supports the SBCR through grants to both Shreveport and Bossier City.
Working in low-income and often high-crime neighborhoods, SBCR moves families into Friendship Houses and works with residents to restore safe and caring communities by rebuilding caring relationships. Mixing a wide range of public and private resources with relationship-building strategies, SBCR engages an entire community to rebuild those who have been isolated or neglected because of poverty, social isolation, discrimination or lack of education.
The St. Charles Street Friendship House, for example, serves some 50 children and teenagers a month, with lessons ranging from homework to how to develop a small business. Joining with the staff are parents and neighbors who help with service projects and educational programs.
A second 3,000 square foot Friendship House will soon be built on property donated by Bossier City. SBCR already has six Friendship Houses across the river in Shreveport, with another in the works. The nonprofit and its partners are changing the face of entire neighborhoods and building "communities" that cross lines of culture, race, income and age. Together, they are rebuilding safer, healthier neighborhoods - building "community" one relationship at a time.