The aroma of brisket cooking on the grill fills the air as classic rock booms from a makeshift sound system along Ebright St. in Muncie’s Industry neighborhood. Children chase each other through the grass between booths with information from Open Door Health Services, the Family Resource Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of Muncie, and the BSU Counseling Practicum Clinic, among other community resources.
These monthly dinners are sponsored by the Urban Light Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works to create safe, healthy and diverse communities. It is an offshoot of Urban Light Community Church and partners with many other churches and nonprofits to invest in neighborhood engagement. The corporation also supports a faith-based recovery home for women and housing revitalization[KE1] .
Muncie native Javan Johnson volunteers at the dinners and other Urban Light events. He said he wants to be a part of the progress in Muncie.
“We want to bring the community together around something good and positive rather than a lot of the negative things people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis in Muncie,” he said. “Each time we have this dinner, there is a stronger sense of community. It’s a beautiful thing.”
A faithful, diverse gathering
Joy Rediger, the corporation’s executive director, said Urban Light urges people to live out their faith through community events and service.
“At first glance, people might think these dinners are about providing neighbors with food, and they are in a sense,” she said. “But this space is more about connecting people and having a safe space to have a good time and be together.”
Industry resident Zsenaria Hopkins said the dinners reflect the growing diversity on the southside of Muncie. bring together neighbors of any race, gender or background together to share a meal and connect with one another. Hopkins said she wants her children to recognize the importance of getting out into the community with people of difference races, genders and backgrounds.
“You must get yourself out and involved in the community. You don’t want to be confined to your small place,” Hopkins said. “My babies are little, but they want to get out, have fun and accept everybody.”
Johnson agreed and said he hopes neighbors from across town join in these gatherings. Ball State students included, he added.
“Being a Ball State graduate, I’m trying to get more student volunteers so that they can experience this wonderful community and gain experience in community-building work,” he said. “The more I do community work, the more I find people that are interested in it as well.”
Helping neighbors thrive
The dinner is only one of the many events and programs Urban Light supports to connect neighbors to the community. Other opportunities include the Adopt-A-Lot program, which invites residents to engage in yard work in vacant lots and community gardens.
This dinner occurs on the third Monday every month from April to October. Various churches provide the food, and Urban Light helps serve and set up the space at 821 S. Elbright St. Longtime Industry resident Troy Malone has cooked at these dinners for the past three years.
Hopkins said the world will become a more accepting place once people drop their pride and connect across perceived barriers and differences. Humility within people is what gives her hope for a better future.
“Once everybody puts their pride to the side, they will realize that there is actually so much more humility than what we give ourselves credit for,” Hopkins said. “Some people are so prideful that they are stuck in their ways, they don’t want to be open to change. But the world is changing, and it’s evolving around change.”
Learn more about this and other Urban Light initiatives and volunteer opportunities.
Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.