Saturday January 30 marked the long-awaited launch of the Todd Listening Project.
The Todd Listening Project (TLP) is an initiative started by Todd residents and organizations to connect more of the Todd community through listening—listening to residents naming their hopes and dreams and watching for the twinkle in their eye when they talk about what they love. It might not sound like front porch conversation, but it’s a start.
In early 2015, a group began meeting to discuss what they could do to better serve their community and how groups like TCPO, Ruritan, area churches, and businesses could engage a wider “cross section” of Todd like they used to. All of us had heard the stories of “how things used to be” and how “it’s just now the same these days.” Rocking chairs sit empty and we see the same folks at every event in the park. The church serves a spaghetti dinner but new families don’t come. Todd surely had seen “better days,” yet the group believed better days would come again if we did things differently, with more humility and less assumptions, if we listened before we spoke.
Saturday morning, 24 volunteers from Todd and Boone trickled into Blackburn’s Chapel to be trained as “listeners” for the Todd Listening Project. By 12:30 they’d be going door to door on nine different Todd roads to ask residents questions about what they want to see happen in our community and if they’d be willing to work with others to see that those ideas bear fruit.
Was training really necessary? Shouldn’t talking to our neighbors be easy? Well, a person’s front porch can be uncharted territory for community members nowadays. Volunteers have asked me, “What if they don’t want to be bothered?” That is a fair assumption, but from what I’ve experience, most people want to be connected with others and would accommodate, if not love, a day-visit from someone—even if they are a stranger.
But even if talking to neighbors comes easy for volunteers, listening is another whole ball game. I wanted to train volunteers to become keen listeners—how to look out for the moment when someone “lights up” in a conversation or how to re-direct the conversation if someone seems disinterested in the TLP.
In addition to gaining or rediscovering listening skills, volunteers needed to be familiar with the TLP survey that we use for every resident interview. So during the training on Saturday morning, volunteers got into teams of Todd and non-Todd residents and practiced using the survey by interviewing the Todd resident in their team. So before they left the Chapel, we already had several interviews done.
By 2:30, volunteer listening teams made their way back to Blackburn’s Chapel, in high spirits, bubbling with story after story of inspiring interviews with Todd residents. Elaine Hall, pastor of Bethelview United Methodist Church shared that the first and only house they went to had two kids so her kids played with them as she and her husband interviewed the parents.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but feel God’s presence in this project. Just when a family is worried about how well they’ll be able to go door to door with their two kids in tow, they end up in the perfect place, feeling at ease. Plus, the family they met just moved here and really didn’t know anyone around Todd. Now they do.
Pastor Brandon Wrencher shared that he got to pray with a resident spontaneously when the man shared a health concern with him, in this man’s home. Prayer is not a scripted piece of the TLP, but the Holy Spirit moves through us in unexpected and life-giving ways when we let our faith speak in our work. At one point, life-long Todd resident Denny Norris looked around the room full of volunteers and said he couldn’t believe how many people had come to help us—especially so many young people.
The stories didn’t stop there. When everyone was back, teams had to condense each interview to three take-away points on an index card for each person they met: what are their gifts of “the hand, the head, and the heart?” Looking at the cards, I saw things like mentorship, gardening, compassionate, office administration, teacher, house painting…the list goes on.
Further into their debriefing of the experience, each team produced a quote or story from one of their interviews that spoke to the essence of the Todd Listening Project. They wrote the quotes on large pieces of paper for all to see. One paper read, “It’s hard to know what’s happening in the community when you don’t know anybody.” Another read, “One person can’t do everything but maybe everyone could do a little.”
Proud of the words of their neighbors, volunteers hung the quotes on the walls of Blackburn’s Chapel for the press conference at 4pm.
It had been a long day for everyone involved but it wasn’t over. Some of the volunteers left and some stuck around. New guests made their way into the Chapel, curious about what all the TLP hype was about and why Todd was in the newspaper earlier that week. To their surprise, their friend or their neighbor stood at the podium explaining why they were involved with the Todd listening Project and why the rest of the community should stand up with them.
Pete Richle, a retired ASU Professor and Todd homeowner in the audience put it this way, following the press conference:
“I’ve been thinking about the trains that used to come here. I hear a new kind train now. And the community is helping other community members get on board. “
By Jaimie McGirt