When I was thinking about some non-profits and grass-roots organizations that are really doing it right online & would make good case studies for this blog, Costa Mesa’s Mika CDC came to mind immediately. Co-founded by my high school friend Crissy Brooks-Nolf, “Mika identifies and equips leaders in low-income neighborhoods to build communities with “VISION.'” I’ve donated time to Mika in the past, and after looking at their brochure for “future five” while prepping this blog post, I made a financial contribution. They’re an inspiring group, and Crissy is an inspiring community leader.
I wanted to encourage any of you who are running non-profits or grass-roots organizations of any description to check out their website at www.MikaCDC.org, and to follow them on Facebook. From my perspective, they’re really doing it right.
I interviewed Crissy last year for my old blog, and I thought I’d share the interview here to give you a glimpse into the heart of the woman who has dedicated her life to healing my hometown. I hope you’ll be inspired to visit Mika’s site and get involved!
Crissy Brooks: Love of Community
(Originally published 8/8/2012)
Crissy Brooks is the most active Costa Mesan I know. I think I first became aware of her community involvement when I started recognizing her in photos on the walls of the Newport Rib Company, posing with groups she belonged to that had received financial support from the restaurant. Then I learned of her dedication to creating small community centers in some of the poorer neighborhoods in town through Mika. But it was when she took the stage as emcee at a free concert in the park last summer that I thought, “Gee. Crissy loves Costa Mesa.” I am so grateful that she took some time out of her busy schedule to share what drives her with us.
For a woman your age, it’s rare these days to be as deeply involved in the community as you are. Where did it all begin? How did you get here?
I was raised in a family that has historically been involved in the community. My father is a retired Costa Mesa police officer and sincerely loves our city. My mom was a serial PTA president and church volunteer. My parents were a part of establishing a camp for abused and neglected children, neighborhood watches, and starting bilingual PTA meetings. Our home was often where my parents’ friends and colleagues discussed and planned solutions to some of our community’s serious issues. These projects and discussions were in the context of joy. My mom is fond of saying that you make the best friends with the people you serve with.
My mom is also known to say that you cannot complain about something unless you are willing to do something about it. These discussions among friends were not just political discussions while sipping wine. These were planning meetings about what we would do to make change. And reflecting back, I see how that ethic was ingrained in me. I see so often now that we like to raise awareness and to know about the issues of our community but we rarely engage with the people who are experiencing those issues. That engagement is what leads to positive change.
What are some of the things you do for the community and how did you get involved in them?
My main involvement is through Mika Community Development Corporation- a non-profit that three friends and I started in 2004. We currently work in five low income communities of Costa Mesa. Our focus is leadership development for neighbors in those communities. We have a Community Building Process that walks neighbors through an action planning process enabling them to identify their shared values and goals. We help to connect them to partners that will work alongside to see their goals reached. Some of the projects our neighbors have worked on are: alley and park lighting, marriage seminars, community gardens, after school programs, youth art and camps, and block parties. I should say that I get paid to lead Mika CDC which is a huge advantage and privilege to work full time in the community.
I write a column-” A View from the Mesa”- for our local paper, The Daily Pilot. I highlight stories from our neighborhood and try to give people a window into the culture and joy of Westside Costa Mesa.
I get to preach once a month at Redemption Church which meets at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa. It is fun for me to dig into the Scriptures and work out together how to live what we believe.
My favorite focus currently is One Church for Our City (OCforOC). I serve on the leadership team of this group of Christian leaders who have united to bless our city-Costa Mesa. We have chosen five initiatives to rally around: Homelessness, Schools, Immigration, Crisis Response, and Business. We work to connect churches, agencies, and business leaders to work together for the good of our city. We grew out of a time of great pain in Costa Mesa when a city worker had committed suicide. Churches rallied around city workers and leaders. It became so clear that the things that separate us were minimal and the power of working together made a huge impact. We are committed to continuing to work together for positive impact in Costa Mesa.
I have also served on city committees which I encourage others to do. The application process is simple, the committees influence the city council and city plans a lot and most people do not realize they are open to local citizens. The time commitment is minimal and you meet people you would not normally run into. Pick a city committee that interests you!
What drives you to be involved at this level? How does it feed you?
The key factor in my journey has been my faith. I am a follower of Jesus and his teaching can be summed up in two commandments: to love God and love your neighbor. My involvement in my community is my act of love in gratitude of Jesus’ love for me. I am spurred on when I see the impact of love transforming people, relationships, and our community. It drives me to keep going.
What are some of the ways you have gotten to express and experience Love in your community involvement?
Expressing and experiencing Love seems to happen most in the unplanned, non-programmed times. I moved into a low-income neighborhood of Costa Mesa when we started Mika. The motivation was to be “all in.” To not be coming from an outside perspective but to share the lives of my neighbors. This has led to many opportunities to express and experience Love. It happens most in the simple things- helping neighbors study for citizenship examines, translating tax documents or helping a neighbor talk through a conflict with their boss. My neighbors love me well. They are considerate and generous. They cook me meals and leave me the best parking spaces. They bring my dog home when she escapes and trust me to watch their kids. Together we dream for our neighborhood and advocate before city council. Our love for the place we live and for one another compels us to do courageous things that we are not brave enough on our own to do like hold our landlords accountable and set boundaries for teenagers among other things.
Together my neighbors and I have expressed love by visiting deported neighbors in Mexico, confronting abusers with strength and love, visiting neighbors in jail who we called the police on, mourning together when a child or spouse dies, crying in our coffee when a parent is sick and far away who we can’t be with. There are so many ways that we care for one another. We remind each other that we are not alone and not the only ones in pain or rejoicing depending on the day.
Perhaps the best surprise for me has been how much I have experienced Love from my community. I came to the neighborhood ready to sacrifice and work hard to benefit others. I was unprepared to realize how dependent I was on my neighbors. I need them. I need their care and support and their willingness to express that has overwhelmed me with Love. Like any good relationship, it is most healthy when it is mutual.
Do you feel like your involvement has given you an opportunity to draw other young people into civic activities, mentoring them?
Definitely! Two young adults that work for us I met when they were in Jr. High. They now teach and mentor other young people in the community. Our main focus is on leadership development and replication. It is a lot of fun to tour young people around their own city and be a part of opening their eyes to the opportunities for them to make an impact.
If you could put out a call-to-action to follow you into community service, who would you recruit and what rewards would you promise?
I would start by challenging people to get to know their own neighbors. Beyond greeting one another, beyond the yearly block party, take the awkward step to reach out and hear their story, invite them to dinner, spend some time together. In that sense, I would recruit everyone. If everyone cared for their neighbor and together cared for their neighborhood, many of our troubles would be solved- not all, but many.
The troubles that we can’t solve by caring for each other are systemic problems that have to be solved by honestly examining and reworking our society’s systems. My call would be for people who understand their neighborhoods to venture into reworking our public systems. Start by participating in a city committee. Sign up for city hall updates and speak out on issues that affect your neighborhood. Just pick one if it feels overwhelming.
The richest rewards I would promise are relationships- friends and colleagues that expand your own ability to accomplish anything. I can also promise some enemies, but having critics makes us stronger.
Can you give me some closing thoughts on Love and its presence in this aspect of your life?
St. Paul said that we can do a lot of amazing things but if we do not have Love, they mean nothing. It is impossible to pour out Love to others without being filled up and energized yourself. This is a constant discipline for me- to sit in the presence of God, who I believe is Love, without any agenda but to enjoy his presence and be filled up and reminded again that I am loved and worth loving. When I remember that, then it is easier to love other people, even difficult ones or those who are different from me. When I am sure of God’s love for me I do not need to demand it from others and can freely give.
Crissy, thank you SO much for sharing! You are a beautiful woman, and I’m so proud to know you!
This post was originally published on April 26, but I’m taking a rare long weekend off, so I thought I’d re-share it in hopes of driving some more traffic to Mika!