Emmanuel House Becomes “The Neighbor Project”

TNP-Logo1In 2016 Emmanuel House was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.  On April 6, 2018, it held by far its most successful fund raiser, a Gala at the Aquaviva Winery in Maple Park, IL.  But in between these two important events many plans were already in motion, plans that would lead towards a merger of Emmanuel House with its long-time partner The Joseph Corporation, the organization that had long done the financial literacy and counseling portion of Emmanuel House’s home ownership program. In fact, the merger was already pretty much official at the time of the Gala, and on May 15th, 2018, hundreds of people came to the Paramount Theater in Aurora to hear the first public announcement of the merger…and to learn the organization’s new name: The Neighbor Project.

♦  You can read the first NEWSPAPER ARTICLE about The Neighbor Project, Mary Wilson’s piece in the Daily Herald.  And you can watch a draft of the Bureau Gravity VIDEO introducing The Neighbor Project.  I narrate it, though eventually the plan is to fold in other voices with mine, voices with different rhythms and accents and tones—a style designed to represent Moving Forward Together, one of the phrases that’s been associated with the merger and the new possibilities the merger brings.

On the Emmanuel House main page on this site, I say that every 18-24 months we help 20-30 families disrupt their cycles of poverty, but of being poised to double, triple, or quadruple that amount.  That’s now clearly in sight.

“I’m so glad it’s your voice on the new video,” said Hayley Meksi, Emmanuel House’s wonderful executive director for the past six years.  She steps away from us for a season to go live in Albania near her husband Lorent’s parents.  Hayley and Lorent have been among the greatest supporters of Emmanuel House from the very beginning, sacrificing their talents, time, and money to keep us going.  We look forward to their return.

At the Paramount, Denny Wiggins, Joseph Corporation’s retiring director, said, “With Rick Guzman at the head of The Neighbor Project, we can’t fail.”  So Rick now returns full time to grow the vision he and his wife Desiree had when they founded Emmanuel House nearly a dozen years ago as a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, Rick’s youngest brother.

Bryan House

The first five Emmanuel House apartments were here at Bryan House.

Rick and I spoke about the possible merger many months ago, and he asked me then what I would think if a name change was a possibility.  Of course, we had gone through one already.  Everything started as Bryan House.  I said my preference was to keep Emmanuel House, but that I wouldn’t want to hold things up over a name.  Besides, Bryan House (pictured at left) will always remain Bryan House.  The name is literally etched in stone by the front doors.  And all houses we added after Bryan House will remain Emmanuel House houses, and there’s even more to come that will bear the Emmanuel House name.  “I have the commitment of our Board and those around us that we will find ways to memorialize the Emmanuel House name…We’re already planning a pretty significant expansion of apartments and so one easy way would be for there to be an Emmanuel House development,” Rick wrote the family in an email right before the big May 15th event.

In my post about the Gala I mentioned above, I hinted heavily that we were going to say goodbye to some very precious things, but not to the values Emmanuel House stood for.  Of course, I’ve thought of what Bryan would have said.  I’ve had conversations with him in my head, and I can clearly hear him say this:  “Name change, huh?  Tell me, Are we going to get better at doing what we’re doing?”  “Yes,” I answer.  “Oh, then call it anything you want.”  He’d say that, I’m sure, with all the ease and good humor he brought, and continues to bring, to our lives.

Much more about The Neighbor Project soon.

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Gospel Extravaganza 30th Anniversary Video

GospEx30-picBelow is a VIDEO of highlights from the 30th Anniversary Concert of The Gospel Extravaganza, an event I helped start at North Central College that many years ago.  A comment posted on the video I did for the 25th Extravaganza said every song ought to have been shot with a bigger camera, saved, and posted to I-Tunes, Facebook, and other places. “God bless you for doing this even once!” I think the person said.  But there aren’t any fine cameras here: just a few moments I captured on my cell phone and stitched together below.  I’ve said it before.  If you plug in speakers or headphones, you’ll catch about 25% of what the music was actually like (much less if you don’t plug in), but only 5% of the spirit of praise no matter what you plug into.

It’s one way of saying, we hope you join us live one day.

I say “highlights,” though I missed many of them, like Cassidy Campbell’s opening “Namaste,” and the instrumental interludes by the Tyvon Dukes band—actually my wife Linda’s favorite part of the evening—but I did catch a few.  Some moments of emcee Johnny “Blaze” Arrington’s great poetry and spoken word artistry, for example.  And towards the end there’s also some close-up shots, shots I was able to take because they invited me up on stage.  “I know he doesn’t like doing this, but we wouldn’t be here without him,” said Chaplain Eric Doolittle, whose leadership over the last few years has kept the Extravaganza going.

But the moment that gets the Praiseslongest shot in the video below is Phillip Armstrong leading the magnificent Cityside Singers in what to me was the song of the night, and one of the great gospel songs of the year: “Let Praises Rise From the Inside.”  Armstrong, with a great voice himself, took such evident delight in the voices of his friends.  He spoke the words “May you delight,” then raised his arms, his head back, eyes closed, as he bathed in the Cityside singers’ beautiful sung response.  They were singing in unison but moments later, when they broke into harmony, I almost put my phone down, stunned by the beauty of it all.  Luckily I kept filming.  Enjoy.  Then go back to…

  Video highlights from the 25th Anniversary Concert.

  And for some history read “Father Mike Pfleger and Other Gospel Extravaganza Memories.”

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Emmanuel House Gala Signals New Era. Big Announcement on May 15th at The Paramount Theater

AquavivaThe VIDEO below captures a few highlights from a wonderful April 6th evening at the Aquaviva Winery in Maple Park, IL.  That evening some 150 friends came together to raise funds for Emmanuel House.  Thanks to them and the generosity of our corporate sponsors, it was by far the organization’s most successful fund raiser.  It started with tickets—selling out at $150 each—and continued with raffles and a live auction, an auction so exciting I forgot to film any of it on my phone!  I did, though, catch a moment of applause after a particularly rapid bidding war. Then after the auction, our auctioneer, Peter Burchard, said, “We need to do more.”  He then asked if anyone would just give $5000…and someone did.  And others just gave $2500, and others $1000, $500, and $100.  Gave it without raffles or auctions or prizes of any kind, accept the prize of helping continue to break the cycles of disadvantage for our working poor neighbors.

Gokey-EHGalaThen a great friend of Emmanuel House, DANNY GOKEY—Grammy-nominated singer and American Idol finalist—treated us to a small, private concert, and with his full six-piece band, too, not just a tape, which I had expected because the room was so small. “After coming off a tour playing stadiums with Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Whew!” he said, “It’s nice to get close and play for Emmanuel House’s friends.”

But big changes are coming to Emmanuel House. Its core mission will always remain the same, and Bryan House, where everything started, will always remain Bryan House, and all our buildings will continue to bear the Emmanuel House name.  Rick and Desiree Guzman started all this as a living memorial to Rick’s youngest brother Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, who died in December 2006, shortly after he had just turned 21.  Still, a merger with long-time partner, the Joseph Corporation—over a year in the making—also signals big changes for all of us.

♦  PLEASE COME TO THE PARAMOUNT THEATER in Aurora, May 15th, 5:30 to 7:00 to hear the complete story and help launch Emmanuel House into a new era.

♦  TICKETS to the event, starting at $20 general admission, and rising up through several sponsorship levels are available HERE, where you can buy and register online.

The VIDEO below shows Aquaviva and some of our friends who gathered there, and features moments from Danny Gokey’s concert, ending with his biggest record: “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again,” which just certified Gold.  I think of one of the song’s best lines: “Yesterday’s a closing door….”  It goes on to say “…you don’t need it anymore / Say goodbye to where you’ve been / Tell your heart to beat again.”  Well, it’s not as final as that!  And the real message of the song is a truth we’ve often heard: doors close and open, and some times you have to close one to open another.

Enjoy the Video below, then learn more about Emmanuel House and how, in 2016, it was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.

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