Sharing a Meal: Building relationships one bite at a time

While some have things to be thankful for every day, there are others who have to search a little harder for the special things in their lives. A safe and secure environment seems second nature, but sometimes even those seemingly simple interests can be clotted with challenges.

In the case of Broadwater Townhomes on Harrowgate Road, creating relationships with the community is a remedy for the challenges the neighborhood faces, a remedy that the residents there say they are thankful for. On Saturday, a Thanksgiving meal was shared a little early among residents of Broadwater and members of the rest of the community. A generous meal of turkey, ham, side dishes and a spread of homemade desserts was the conversation starter and the common goal of connecting was the beginning of a bond among communities.

Although the Broadwater development is kept clean and is well maintained, it has had some social challenges, and some members of the community have stepped up to get involved, offering a hand of friendship. The Broadwater development encompasses 223 units with as many as 600 children.

“What we want to do is build relationships between the kids and parents here at Broadwater and the kids and parents at our church,” said the Rev. Brandon Robbins, associate pastor at Chester United Methodist Church (CUMC), the organizing group for the event. “Even as big and as wonderful as this is, we’re just getting started in building trust and relationships and we’re hoping to be here on a more frequent basis.”

Chesterfield County has been wrestling with issues at Broadwater since it was built in 2002, but there hasn’t been a lot of change there. Now, though, a concerted effort is forming and there is a more positive outlook developing within the Broadwater community, and the Chester community as a whole.

“There was a meeting held in February with a bunch of county officials and church members and I remember we said we would do what we could, and nothing really became of it,” Robbins said, adding that beginning in August the church began reaching out to the townhome neighborhood. Robbins said that county representatives were working somewhat parallel to the church.

Although the community gathering was spearheaded by CUMC, several other local churches augmented the effort through donations and volunteers. Chester Christian Church members did the cooking. Church members prepared 19 turkeys, 13 hams and assorted side dishes and desserts – enough to feed the nearly 400 who attended.

“We had people sign up at the church to bake a turkey or other dish, bring it to the church and then we brought it here,” said Aaron Hoback, associate pastor at Chester Christian.

“Chester Baptist and St. John’s Episcopal helped us pay for this monster,” said Robbins, gesturing to the huge tent surrounding hundreds of dinners. “As we were planning our Friday Family Night events here, and we could feel all the possibilities of being here in Broadwater, I think it was Jenny [Deckert] who said ‘I don’t know what it would look like, but wouldn’t it be great if we could do Thanksgiving at Broadwater?’”

Church members like Carrie Coyner, who did a lion’s share of bringing in donations and organizing the dinner, wanted to make a connection to the Broadwater neighborhood, and while the CUMC effort is making a splash at Broadwater, the development’s owner, Hercules Real Estate Services, has also been working to solve internal challenges in the community through afterschool programs and weekly events.

“It’s done through partnerships,” said Marcus Walker, a Hercules manager who works primarily with the residents on the non-business side of their rental agreement. “It’s like the property manager is the iron fist and I’m the glove that softens the blow. Hercules created the position [to help address some issues].”

Walker said he has had some residents come to him and say it hasn’t been the same since Broadwater began the partnership with local churches. Since July, a Friday evening each month has been especially exciting at Broadwater, as CUMC has sponsored movie night, game night, an evening with a dunking booth and, most recently, a trunk or treat just before Halloween.

Sequoya Willis, a neighborhood resident, presented Walker with a special recognition on behalf of the residents of Broadwater “for bringing a positive change to the lives of the youth and families of the Broadwater community.”

According to Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle, Hercules has also given the county free rent on one unit so a police officer can live on site and a police officer was hired by Hercules to watch the neighborhood overnight from his car. “When I was on the board for about a year, I heard about some of the problems and I told [Chesterfield County Administrator] Jay Stegmaier we had to do something, and we got all these groups together and they’ve just taken it.”

The centerpiece in the dining tent was a tree of thanks. It held handmade paper leaves made by the children in attendance with messages of Thanksgiving such as, “thank you for my house” and “thank you for a good family.”

As the holidays approach, CUMC has more plans for its outreach at Broadwater.

“In December, we’re going to do another small event,” said Robbins. “We’re going to have 20 kids from Broadwater join the fifth graders at our church. We’ll go to the

Crossings at Ironbridge assisted living community and hand out stuffed animals or teddy bears as an opportunity to allow them to give back.”

Area businesses and organizations also donated materials, money and volunteers for the event, including Dupont, Chester YMCA, Mainstage Productions, Classic Party Rentals, Virginia Waste Services, Chick-fil-A, VCU, Girl Scouts and 4-H.

“The kids came and told me about it,” said one Broadwater resident. “It’s good for everyone to come together and have nice hot meal. It’s good fellowship.”

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