Revitalizing LaSalle St. in Aurora

The link to this article originally appeared on the Emmanuel House main page, but had stopped working, so I am re-posting it directly to this website.

Rick Guzman on front page of Beacon

The article first appeared as the front page story of the 16 September 2013 Aurora Beacon-News.

AURORA — A non-profit hub, a start-up generator and a community center? These are next big ideas fueling the potential for a new era on LaSalle.

From Benton Street and Downer Place, the downtown strip known as the historic LaSalle Street Auto Row is nearly 50 percent vacant. The block-long stretch doesn’t connect to major city thoroughfare New York Street and “is a little bit off the beaten path.” But that isn’t keeping some from investing big to jump-start the block.

The latest building to near rehab on the strip is 73 S. LaSalle, now owned by Aurora-based non-profit Emmanuel House. Co-founder and board chairman Rick Guzman said the non-profit will move Emmanuel House headquarters into the building, but three-fourths of the space will house non-profit World Relief offices.

Rick Guzman on LaSalle St. in Aurora

Emmanuel House co-founder, Rick Guzman, on LaSalle St., Aurora

“At this point, given some of the vacancy rates, given that some of these places do need a significant amount of investment, (LaSalle) is not the top candidate to bring in tax-paying businesses (to the downtown),” Guzman said.

But feet on the ground could change all that.

“(We’ve) got some work to do here. It may not be non-profits forever, but it begins to bring life,” he said.

For non-profits, LaSalle is an easy sell, Guzman said.

“Non-profits are saying, ‘it would be great to be downtown, it would be great to be near a high-need community that is in the heart of the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy area,’” he said.

And there’s big bang for a non-profit buck, too.

Emmanuel House purchased the 5,000-square-foot building at 73 S. LaSalle St. out of foreclosure for $63,000 in 2012, according to Hayley Meksi, Emmanuel House executive director. She plans to move her staff of four and World Relief’s 15-20 employees into the LaSalle Street space in January 2014. In 2006, the building sold for $205,000, Guzman said.

Splitting office space with a partner organization will allow the two non-profits to share resources and staff, Meksi said. Emmanuel House aims to help working class families purchase their first home, and World Relief DuPage-Aurora’s mission is to serve immigrants and refugees.

“The block is gorgeous,” Meksi said. “Part of our mission is to revitalize the community and I think moving in here, restoring an old building, is very much what we want to see happen.”

Emmanuel House is planning for a $100,000 rehab of the space. Many rehab-related services are being donated by Emmanuel House partners, Guzman said.

The non-profit has experienced significant growth in the last few years, growing from two properties in 2011 to five properties, including the LaSalle Street office, to date. Another house on the city’s West Side that will provide refugee housing is currently under contract, Guzman said.

Guzman, who also serves as Mayor Tom Weisner’s assistant chief of staff, said Emmanuel House will not accept city funding while he’s employed by the city and serving as the non-profit’s board chairman.

World Relief spokesman Jennifer Stocks said the non-profit hopes to move into the building in the first week of January, moving out of a building on Downer Place owned by developer Dan Hites.

“We do work together on certain projects, and this is a great fit,” Stocks said.

These two non-profits may be the first of many to relocate to the street. Guzman said Emmanuel House may purchase neighboring LaSalle Street properties in the future.

Boy Scout Building

Nearby 62-64 S. LaSalle Street was donated to the National Boy Scouts Foundation in 2012, confirmed Matt Ackerman, executive director of the Three Fires Council.

Ackerman is working with non-profits Communities in Schools, Triple Threat Mentoring and Community 4:12 to develop a future use for the four-story, 20,000-square-foot building.

The spot could fill the void of the Fred Rogers Community Center on the East Side, which was purchased by East Aurora to convert into a magnet school.

“We’re finding out what everybody needs to determine the best use for the community,” he said.

Aurora photographer Jimi Allen, who is developing a co-working space in a vacant 16,000-square-foot building at 56 S. LaSalle, said the potential of a non-profit hub would work well with start-ups.

The people behind the LaSalle Street ventures are like-minded, Allen said, and he wants to build a business community in downtown Aurora that is socially aware.

“What could be more inspiring than people who are living marginally or refugees? That’s the beauty of Aurora,” he said. City Council will discuss a development deal that would kick $457,000 toward Allen’s project on LaSalle Street at 5 p.m. today at City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.

Go to the EMMANUEL HOUSE main page.

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Defining Your Problem First

The Professional Writing Video Series – Part 2:
The Central Form

Writing Well Wherever You WorkThe video below explains the Problem-Solution-Conclusion form, a form I believe to be central to all professional writing.  Master this form and it will give whatever you write for work the most efficient structure and logical flow.  The most important concept: start by defining the problem first, always first.  At work—whether you’re writing an important email, a letter, a report, a grant proposal—a problem definition will orient your reader quickly and powerfully.  You then follow problem definition with a short outline of your solution, then one concluding sentence that seeks to build confidence in your solution.  This one sentence needs the best inspirational language you can muster.  I’ve drawn the examples in the video from Fast Company magazine, a publication reporting on cutting-edge innovation and design that often leads to significant social change.  It won 2014′s Magazine of the Year Award.

You can find more on the Problem-Solution-Conclusion form in Richard R. Guzman’s Writing Well Wherever You Work.

 Go to the Teaching Writing & Professional Writing page.

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Elijah: The Growth of a Prophet

One naturally assumes that a prophet knows of what or whom he speaks.  Yet no matter how powerful the revelation, few prophets seem able to free themselves immediately, if at all, from their own humanity and limited understanding; and that freedom, if it comes, usually lives in only short bursts of transcendence.  Such is the case with perhaps the most glamorous of Old Testament prophets, Elijah the Tishbite, whose growth as a prophet could be seen as the central drama of the continuous and carefully structured narrative running from I Kings 17 through 19.

Elijah ascends to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Elijah ascends to heaven in a chariot of fire.

On the one hand, no can doubt Elijah’s stature.  In the New Testament he is identified with John the Baptist and with Jesus himself, and during Jesus’ transfiguration it is he and none other than Moses who appear together with Christ. (1)  Elijah kept good company.  His Old Testament doings are equally spectacular, so that one often feels that anything less than his ascension to heaven in a fiery chariot would have been anti-climactic.  His servant Elisha’s words, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” are among the most thrilling farewells in all literature (II Kings 2:12).  Yet when one looks at I Kings 17-19, one is strangely impressed not so much with Elijah’s greatness as with his odd cowardice.  Not the prophesying of the drought, nor the miracle of the meal barrel and cruse, nor the reviving of the widow’s dead son, nor even the victory over the prophets of Baal seem capable of sustaining this personal courage or his faith in the God for whom he purports to prophesy.

Our narrative in I Kings begins suddenly and ironically with the images of miracle and flight.  Elijah appears, with no fanfare, to announce a drought as punishment for King Ahab’s wickedness, and thereafter God commands him to hide by the brook Cherith.  There God sends ravens to feed him, and apparently all is well—until the brook dries up.  Only six verses have elapsed since he prophesied the drought, so one can’t help but sense keenly that Elijah is himself victim of the very thing he prophesied.  This little irony prepares us for a  major one:  Elijah, prophet of God, is ultimately victim of his limited view of God.

Elijah in the wilderness

Elijah in the wilderness

As rain water falls on the just and unjust, so brook water dries up on both, too.  In our narrative God does indeed perform miracles involving earth, wind, fire, and water—not to mention oil, bread meal, and life and death, when he is with the widow and her son—but the God of Israel’s main distinction is not as a manipulator of the natural world.  Everyone seems, however, to realize this truth only dimly.  Truth, or faith, or moral commitment cannot long live on miracles (2), and because Elijah looks too much to the miraculous he, of all people, seems to comprehend poorly that God must work at deeper levels of the human heart to achieve lasting effects.  Of course, one can’t blame Elijah too much.

Each succeeding miracle in chapters 17 and 18 places Elijah center stage with more and more prominence.  Because he exits so quickly after prophesying the drought, we get little sense of what he is.  The unwasting meal and oil, however, is a prolonged miracle linked directly to his presence with the widow.  When he brings her son back to life she exclaims, “…by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth” (I Kings 17:24).  And on Mt. Carmel Elijah is in full glory, holding center stage intensely, zealously, and with a nearly vulgar chutzpah bordering on the comic.  But given Elijah’s growing stature both in the reader’s mind and in Israel’s national life, one is stunned that at a word from Jezebel (I Kings 19:2) his fortitude caves in so quickly.

Although on Mt. Carmel Elijah reverently repairs the altar of the Lord, taking “…twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob” (I Kings 18:31), his main pronouncement is, “…the God that answereth by fire, let him be God” (I Kings 18:24).  Now, the people may have listened to nothing less—Jesus complained of people always demanding signs—but Elijah himself seems also to be too much taken with the God who manipulates nature rather than the God who should, because He is true, own peoples’ hearts.  In fact, Jezebel seems to display more strength and conviction than the true God’s prophet.  From that strength Elijah flees.

Elijah’s second flight (I Kings 19:3) recalls his first flight at the beginning of the narrative, but with one important difference:  God commands the first flight, Elijah’s cowardice the second.  Elijah is God’s man, no doubt, and God again ministers to his needs, this time through angels.  But God also asks this convicting question: “What doest though here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)  Elijah answers out of the depths of despair, but one feels his answer to be self-centered, and certainly misinformed.  More about this in the last paragraph of this essay.

Icon of Elijah, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

Icon of Elijah, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Immediately following Elijah’s answer comes the famous scene (I Kings 19: 11-13) where God passes by causing gale winds, earthquake, and fire.  Chapter 17 began with an implied rejection of God’s deep saving presence in water: droughts come, brooks dry up.  Now the other three members of the elemental quartet are also repudiated.  Wind, earth, and fire are not the deepest vehicles of God’s work.  In the Judeo-Christian concept, the God who gives rise to nature is also above it, separate from it.  Though this implies no license to treat nature irreverently—for nature is a manifestation of God—it does mean that one must rise above nature worship to worship God in truth.  In the larger Biblical context of God’s progressive revelation of himself, this passage is a milestone.  It is a high point in God’s struggle with both the Chosen People and the others to impress upon them the distinction between a transcendent God and a man-made nature god, of whom Baal (a sun god) and Asherah (represented by Jezebel’s prophets of the grove in 18:19) were two popular examples.  I Kings 19: 11-13 has drawn much comment, the main message being that God speaks most profoundly not in thunderous accents which address man’s natural senses, but in quiet, powerful whispers addressing the heart.

We may hope that Elijah’s courage and moral fiber have been deepened by the expansive vision that God’s “still small voice” does and must exceed miracles of earth, wind, fire, and water.  The man who prophesied the drought and called down such natural marvels as he did on Mt. Carmel needs to know how preliminary those miracles are.  The lack of that knowledge is probably the root of his odd cowardice.

We are not directly told that such growth has occurred.  In fact, he gives the same answer when God asks a second time what he is doing here, why he has fled a second time.  The symbolism of the story, however, seems to indicate a kind of rebirth for Elijah.  The place to which he has fled is Horeb, the Mount of God, a mountain not only far away from Ahab at the Promised Land’s southernmost extreme, but also the place where God identified himself to Moses as the Great “I Am (see Exodus 3).  After a fast of forty days and forty nights, he arrives at Horeb to receive another lesson about the Great “I Am,” and some have speculated that the cave he lodges in is the very same “cleft of the rock” God puts Moses in (Exodus 33:22).  Elijah leaves Horeb strengthened, hopefully, by his encounter with God, and further bouyed by God’s news that many faithful await to join him.  On his way back, Elijah chooses his servant Elisha in a scene closely paralleling Christ’s calling of his disciples.  We also note that Elijah performs no miracles here but appeals solely to Elisha’s sense of moral obligation and commitment to God.  Elijah’s fight against Israel’s wickedness and false gods is about to begin in earnest.

Perhaps the question of Elijah’s growth is left ambiguous because the demand for wondrous signs is one of humanity’s permanent weaknesses.  Certainly, in the face of such wickedness as Ahab and Jezebel’s, courage without miracles seems problematic.  Yet if we ask if that kind of courage occurs anywhere in our  text, the answer is, yes.  At the beginning of chapter 18 as Elijah returns to Ahab to propose the contest on Mt. Carmel, he runs into Obadiah.  Elijah tells Obadiah to tell Ahab that he wants to meet him.  The scene that follows (verses 9 to 15) seems at times to cast the protesting Obadiah in a slightly comic light, even though he protests out of a real fear that Elijah will again disappear and Ahab will slay him for bringing a false, taunting message.  Yet we learn from a parenthesis in verses 3 and 4—a parenthesis which could remind us of God’s whispered voice—that Obadian, out of fear and devotion, has, on his own, “…took a hundred prophets of the Lord and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.”  This, God tells Elijah at Horeb, is why he will not be alone, even as Elijah, crying “poor me,” wrongfully complains that he is.  As God fed Elijah, so Obadiah fed God’s prophets—again, on his own, no miracles here.  Elijah had to journey to Horeb to understand such courage.

NOTES:  (1) Identified with John the Baptist: Luke 1:17.  In fact, the penultimate verse in the Old Testament (Malachi 4: 5) promises that God will send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  Identified with Jesus: Matthew 11:14 and many other places.  At transfiguration: Matthew 17: 1-3.  All quotes from the King James translation.  All other references given in parentheses.  (2) I do not speak of the miracle of life itself, or of the Incarnation or Resurrection.  Such miracles are different in kind than those “minor” ones we see in our narrative and elsewhere.



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