The year was 1981 and I was in preschool. I cannot remember names but in my mind’s eye I can see myself diligently working to build a fort out of blocks when the teacher informed me that I needed to share some blocks with a female classmate so she could build a princess castle. Princess castle? I protested. I cannot recall how the dialogue progressed after my objection but what resulted was a crude form of collaboration that ended with a princess fort…
For most of the Stewart Center’s existence the organization has benefited from strong partnerships with Baptist people, churches, and organizations. The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and the North American Mission Board (formerly the Home Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention have provided staff, finances, resources, and networking in years past. While these partnerships have brought great value to the Center and contributed to the maturation of the organization they have primarily originated from outside of the local community. For the Stewart Center, the summer of 2014 represents a new breed of partnerships that will define our future.
This year the Center is hosting three summer-long camps, each made possible by the substantial contributions of community partners. In Reynoldstown our morning rotations of Jump Start (academic enrichment), art, recreation, and faith development are hosted at Lang Carson Recreation Center. Through a partnership with the City of Atlanta we have been granted use of Lang Carson’s educational space. For the second consecutive year we are partnering with the Atlanta Public School System to provide camp for over 70 children in the Pittsburgh community at Gideons Elementary School. In Grant Park we are collaborating with Park Avenue Baptist Church and field personnel from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to execute a leadership camp for middle school students.
These are NOT our predecessors’ partnerships and our impact has never been greater.
Power, according to Merriam Webster, is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Since arriving at the Stewart Center in 2009 I have dreamed, talked and written about the Center’s power to influence young peoples’ lives. We deeply desire to help children and communities unlock their full potential. The Center seeks to employ its resources to grow enlightened, responsible, and courageous young people that desire the best for themselves, their families, and their communities. Experience teaches that these things do not occur by holding control, authority, and influence over others. We must exchange the power of control for the power of collaboration.
The power of partnership is characterized by discovery, engagement, and creativity. The Stewart Center has relinquished some control and compromised on certain elements of this summer’s programming and in return we are seeing the greatest potential for growth in the organization’s recent history. Access to cutting edge technology, environments conducive to learning, progressive curriculums, and expanded educational travel are a few of the benefits directly affecting our campers.
Collaboration is not without struggle. Expectations and communication are huge components that must be carefully managed. Trust must be established and grace must be given if partnerships are to endure. These potential hurdles are often elevated when working with people, communities, and institutions that function with social and professional norms different than one’s own. There is also great risk. The risk of failure, the risk of broken relationships, the risk of tarnished reputations, and the risk of financial loss are all possible outcomes. On top of these add the reality that collaboration can be downright maddening.
The Stewart Center still benefits from great partnerships with churches and individuals outside of our community but it is the work with neighborhood stakeholders that will determine the Center’s direction. Despite the struggles that accompany partnerships there is a larger narrative unfolding in our community, city and world and the Center’s autonomy must not hinder the growth of others. When we partner, I become a little less me and they become a little less them and together we become a little more us.
Who knows, we might end up with a one-of-a-kind princess fort?