It's hard not to feel like an outsider as I maneuver an oversized pick-up truck around sharp corners in suburban Cleburne. My phone shouts directions from the far side of the cab, and I'm painfully aware of the 6 Stones logo emblazoned on my doors. Here in the mid-cities, people know that brand. In Cleburne, we're still building trust. Today might be the first time someone here sees that blue 6. I've never been so self-conscious about missing a turn.
Fortunately, the people of Cleburne are classic Texans. Strong and determined, but hospitable to a fault. It's a tight-knit community, and most of the people are Born-and-Raised locals. The six houses we're repairing over the weekend are all within a few miles of each other. I feel a little foolish every time I pull up Google Maps and discover that my next stop is eight-tenths of a mile away. But every new site comes with a hearty greeting. That's just how life is here.
In many ways, Cleburne is the archetype for Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) as 6 Stones moves forward. The 7 corporate partners and 5 churches we work with there might seem like small numbers when compared to the coalition of 70+ organizations on board in the mid-cities. Roughly 277 volunteers turned out in Cleburne; not quite the 1,500 we average at home. But we started even smaller than that.
The fact of the matter is that CPR is taking roots in Cleburne and we fully expect it to grow.As we look to help other cities replicate our programs, Cleburne is a shining example for them to follow. In many ways, the people of Johnson County are helping us to prove that this program can take roots anywhere.
A Really Big Small Town
When asked to describe their community, everyone from the natives to the transplants emphasizes the rustic, familial atmosphere of a small town. The city is home to more than 30,000 people, but its infrastructure consists almost entirely of sprawled suburban homes that stand in close proximity to one another, sometimes without fences. Most of the houses are at least 30 years old, a result of rapid city growth around the metroplex between 1930 and 1990. But the city itself is caught in transition from old to new.
Cleburne was, for a long time, a Railroad Town. Most of the city — from the independent professional baseball team to the Amtrak station at its heart — pays homage to those origins. As the industry lost steam and the shops closed down, however, that identity dried up, too. But even as the community struggles to redefine and reconstruct itself, one thing remains constant. In Cleburne — across Johnson County, really — people care.
The charming, small-town-where-everyone-knows-your-name appeal of Cleburne comes directly from its people and culture. From men and women who are committed to the hard work of being a neighbor; of maintaining real relationships. You can't build an atmosphere of hope and love without that basic building block. At its core, Community Powered Revitalization is simply the next logical step.
What Does ‘Community Powered' Really Mean?
Out of every program 6 Stones operates, CPR is the most instantly recognizable. More and more communities are reaching out to us to ask how it's done. The answer is simple, but far from easy. It's all in the name.
The reason CPR works in Cleburne is that Cleburne is buying into it. The volunteers and sponsors who executed the last blitz were almost exclusively local. Even the franchises — from Starbucks to Wal Mart — came on board through their local ownership. And while we're excited to provide guidance and support, locality is the lifeblood of City Transformation.
It takes buy-in from leadership in every sector to move a needle as big as the one this community is trying to move. You need churches, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and governments to come together. We've seen that work at home, and now we're seeing it take root 50 miles to the South and West. Once you've got momentum, it's tough to stop.
That's Transformation; small but exponential. A little bit of positive energy can snowball into something that boosts the culture of an entire population. Good people become good neighbors become good friends. Lives are transformed — and not just the ones who see their homes restored.
CPR is about cultivating a culture of progressive optimism that empowers people to build the community they want. The nuts and bolts may vary from town to town, but the heart will always be the same. It's about the people in a community deciding that they want something and organizing to make it happen. City Transformation — ‘Community Powered' Revitalization — requires local leaders and enthusiasm. The Community has to be the power behind the change, and they have to have a culture of caring in place. That's the case in Cleburne. That's why it works.