Shared learning propels San Antonio community-building efforts

March 5, 2020
Shared learning propels San Antonio community-building efforts

Hope Krummell regularly walked the Prospect Hill neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, meeting people and inviting them to Baha’i-initiated activities designed to build community.

But it wasn’t until the 20-year-old Baha’i moved into the neighborhood that a significant number of adults and their children began participating in those activities.

“One of the most successful parts of the discourse for us was to be able to say that we were part of the community,” says Krummell. “Parents who had been skeptical before began sending their kids over regularly. Door-to-door invitations proved more effective than before.”

Focused community building in neighborhoods such as Prospect Hill has been one prong of two pursued by San Antonio Baha’is and friends. The other involves initiative by individuals to host activities such as devotional gatherings where they live.

The combined effort has propelled this cluster of Baha’i communities past the third milestone along a path of development defined by the Universal House of Justice, elected global governing council of the Baha’i Faith.

Conversations with parents bear fruit

Krummell’s commitment to become a homefront pioneer — a Baha’i who moves to serve a community — has helped fuel consistent growth in activities across Prospect Hill, west of the city center.

Children’s class students in the Prospect Hill neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, learn a song. Photo courtesy of Irene Iturburo

A children’s class was the first fruit of conversations with parents she befriended, and the dominoes started lining up.

“The children’s class was easy to form, as children’s classes tend to be,” she notes, and because some of the kids have older siblings, a junior youth group came next. Contacts are being made with high school-age siblings as well to involve them in leading those activities. 

Other neighbors have taken notice. “Whenever someone moves into the complex, they become curious as to why there are so many kids and junior youths coming to the apartment,” says Krummell. 

“Their kids are curious, too. And since children are so pure and unafraid of asking questions, a conversation starts quite easily.”

Family connections have been critical to sustaining activities as well, she says. Although it was harder to bring the junior youths together, “we could maintain contact with them” through their siblings. 

The effort is paying off. “A junior youth group which had taken two months to put together, and had been dwindling for about a month, began to see five participants attending regularly,” she relates.

Junior youth group participants in San Antonio cooperate so that a marble can travel through a series of pipe sections. Photo courtesy of Irene Iturburo

“Since then three more have joined. There are more casual encounters with parents, which make for smoother” visits to their homes to discuss the group’s progress.

At last count, Prospect Hill had two children’s classes, a junior youth group, two devotionals and a study circle with three mothers, says Irene Iturburo, an appointed Auxiliary Board member who advises Baha’i communities in the area.

One mother in the neighborhood embraced the Baha’i Faith. “Her whole family is participating in the community-building process,” says Iturburo. People from around the San Antonio area “come to serve with the team, which has become a source of joy and learning.”

Growth in activities and coordination spreads

The Prospect Hill initiative is the product of years of learning in Steubvista, another San Antonio neighborhood, says Iturburo. That earlier initiative had seen exponential growth after it began with three people launching two devotional gatherings and a junior youth group. 

Baha’is and friends in San Antonio pose while visiting neighborhoods to gauge residents’ interest in Baha’i-initiated core activities of community building. Photo courtesy of Irene Iturburo

Not only is a team of nine now serving Steubvista through a multitude of activities, she says. Two team members are among a growing number of young people who graduated from a junior youth group, started taking courses in the Ruhi Institute training sequence, and have initiated activities of their own.

In like manner, the recent arc of learning in Prospect Hill is helping to inform individual efforts throughout San Antonio and Bexar County, says Iturburo. And as those efforts have grown in number and participation, a scheme of coordination has been built to guide them.

A campaign to greatly increase the number of devotional gatherings started the ball rolling, she says. Individuals and families were encouraged to offer these interfaith prayer gatherings to neighbors and friends, and regular spaces were opened so the hosts could reflect on their experience.

In time, says Iturburo, teams were developed in each sector of the city and in the county to promote devotional gatherings. They shared ideas for using arts and other means to enliven gatherings — and excitement at the growth of these activities.

Young and old enjoy a devotional gathering in San Antonio. Photo courtesy of Irene Iturburo

Other coordinating teams formed to aid in the proliferation of children’s classes and to ensure that people who want to offer devotional gatherings, children’s classes and junior youth groups have the training they need.

Alongside those developments, the appointed Area Teaching Committee that oversees community building in the cluster expanded its own vision so that ambitious yet realistic goals could be set and sufficient resources be allocated. 

Iturburo says the San Antonio Spiritual Assembly, the city’s elected Baha’i governing council, took on a greater role as well in supporting growth. It sent members to planning meetings and put growth goals front and center in its deliberations. 

That focus paid off when the Assembly, seeing only a limited number of youths participating in the community-building process, formed teams to visit young people in their homes.

With all that collective movement, it’s no wonder the cluster of communities has been developing steadily.

“The love and support the Baha’is gave to each other as the number of activities multiplied created enthusiasm,” Iturburo reflects. 

Now, with at least 94 people hosting activities, she says, “The joyful gatherings at all levels show how the change of culture is happening in the community.”

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