Bradley Initiative for Church and Community (BICC) has created 11 community projects in as many years.
These range from a community development credit union to an adult high school to an in-home, early childhood learning initiative.
Where did it all begin? What were the first steps for BICC as a new organization and how has it developed into what it is today? How has the community been involved? How is BICC responding to emerging issues in a rapidly changing world? These are some of the questions that I will address over the next few weeks in these columns.
In May 1998, while BICC was still a concept in the heart and mind of the founder, it received its first grant from the Commission on Religion in Appalachia (CORA) to use a model that was developed by the Center for New Community based in Chicago.
This model (see www.bicc-inc.org) includes the following steps: engaging the community through churches and other organizations; building relationships and listening; identifying commonly held issues in the community; researching root/systemic causes of those issues; and engaging the community in developing long-term projects that address those issues.
The hands-on work began by inviting churches to come together across denominational, racial and cultural lines to work together and to conduct a one-to-one listening process in order to identify community concerns. Six months later, the first BICC meeting was held at Cleveland State Community College on Nov. 12.
Thirty pastors and lay members, representing 12 diverse churches, were the initial group of this new initiative in Cleveland and Bradley County. Over the next few months the number of churches and organizations increased to more than 30, representing 12 denominations and affiliations. The first 1 1/2 years were spent building relationships and conducting one-to-one interviews with hundreds of individuals. In 2000, all the interviews were gathered and collated. While many different issues surfaced, the most common were the lack of unity and economic concerns.
After much research, dialogue and a community forum, BICC's first two projects were selected — a multicultural festival to address disunity issues and a community development credit union to address the economic issues.
Unexpectedly, during the long process of creating these projects, two other projects were a natural outflow of the work — Bradley Savings Initiative, which is a match savings program, and the BICC Scholarship Program. As a new organization, one project would have been a challenge; however, four projects began to unfold simultaneously.
God's grace was abundant and literally hundreds of volunteers from every walk of life, socioeconomic level and educational level committed their time, talent and resources for these projects to be formed and flourish. And flourish they did!
A very unique financial institution for the state of Tennessee, Bradley Initiative Credit Union, received its charter in January 2003.
A community development credit union carries with it certain perks that enhance the opportunities for a community. The mission of the credit union is to offer quality financial services to members of our community with an emphasis on asset development. Today, even through the economic downturn of our nation, the Credit Union has approximately 1,200 members and $2.2 million in assets; it has helped many people with financial management education.
Through BICC's research and development work with the Credit Union, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) heard about our efforts and suggested that we apply for a grant to launch an Individual Development (IDA) program.
Another avenue to address the root causes of economic issues is the Bradley Savings Initiative IDA Program. This savings program offers dollar-for-dollar matching funds for low-income families and individuals who choose a value-added goal and save consistently toward that goal. Successful completion of a 12-week money management course is mandatory for all participants. Potentially, participants can receive up to $3,600 to match their savings.
The primary goal of Bradley Savings Initiative is to help individuals and families learn the discipline of saving. Many have graduated from the program with their matching funds and achieved their goal of starting a new business, home ownership and/or post-secondary education.
The Festival of Cultures was developed to help address the lack of unity in our community. Through our research we discovered that there were 62 racial/ethnic groups in our community which was a huge surprise to everyone.
In 2001, BICC chose to host Cleveland's first multicultural celebration to unite the community in celebration of cultural diversity. For five years, the Festival of Cultures drew up to 25,000 attendees as this annual celebration became one of Cleveland's many outstanding events.
As BICC was recruiting sponsors for the Festival of Cultures, three of the educational institutions made very generous offers. Cleveland State Community College, Lee University and Church of God Theological Seminary each offered two years of tuition-free scholarships to the BICC Scholarship Program as their sponsorship of the Festival. While changing times and economic conditions have impacted each of these institutions, Lee University still offers two years and Cleveland State offers a partial tuition scholarship.
This is Week #3 in a series that is being devoted to BICC and various BICC-initiated projects including their history, development, current status and future goals. I invite you to continue to join me here each week as I share the work and ministry of BICC. For more information, check out our website at www.bicc-inc.org; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 559-1112.
Each week I will pose a question and invite your response. You can mail your response to: BICC, P.O. Box 5404, Cleveland, TN 37311; or send an e-mail to the address above.
Question for Week #3: “What do you see are the needs of our community?”