: Blog Posts

#25yearsofbreakaway: Phil’s Thoughts

My #25yearsofbreakaway work team was asked to provide stereotypes about the causes of homelessness in DC. Notice that the actual causes are much less based on individual choice.

My #25yearsofbreakaway work team was asked to provide stereotypes about the causes of homelessness in DC. Notice that the actual causes are much less based on individual choice.

Chief among the aspects of serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member that I most appreciate are the expansive opportunities for professional development. Recently, I learned more about the alternative breaks movement and its national group, Break Away, during the weekend of November 4th to November 6th at Break Away’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Weekend, or #25yearsofbreakaway.

Break Away (link to homepage) is, essentially, the trade group for people involved in attending, creating, and hosting college alternative break groups. Almost all of REACH’s alternative break groups this year are through Break Away—it really is fully representative of the alternative break movement.

I absolutely loved the #25yearsofbreakaway weekend, during which I met representatives from our first (UNC Greensboro in November) and second-to-last (Clemson in March) groups, as well as two of the authors of Working Side by Side (Amazon link)— the definitive handbook for organizing alternative breaks. I met Sam and Tia, with whom I had exchanged emails, as well as with the other leaders at Break Away. I also made connections with program directors of the Steinbruck Center, the Lutheran community organizing center that hosts alternative breaks and serves as an excellent example of how churches can pivot into sustained, committed community involvement.

Break Away tightly wove the golden threads of service and sharing into #25yearsofbreakaway. Local residents shared their experiences of living in a rapidly gentrifying area of DC. We acted in service at several local sites and learned of the true causes of homelessness in the Greater Washington area (see above image).

Although the #25yearsofbreakaway weekend was short, it was an invaluable introduction to the essentials (and essence) of the alternative breaks movement. I left the weekend sure that REACH was squarely on the path to providing meaningful and sustainable alternative breaks. And that’s a great feeling!

You can learn more about REACH’s alternative breaks program by visiting our Alternative Breaks page or by emailing ab@reachinroanokeva.org.

Treating Symptoms Seldom Leads to a Cure

I was at a panel of candidates for the city council the other night.  I heard words like: diversity, participation, segregation, inclusive, united, and phrases like: bring all voices to the table, break the divides between our neighborhoods, create a sanctuary city, remove the cultural divide, break down the barriers, all being used by our candidates.  And it gave me hope.

Most of the candidates touted their desire to involve more folks in the “process”.   Several noted their attendance at neighborhood meetings, their membership in civic and business groups, their involvement in our local schools and their willingness to support making Roanoke a sanctuary city. Many cited their lives as community activists.  Again, a great testimony to the caliber of people we have vying to be on the Council.  They clearly understand for a city to thrive it needs the involvement of all people.

But then it hit me.  I wondered if they are all under the same illusion.  That somehow they will do a better job of speaking for our community. That they will attend more meetings and functions, that their door will be open more often and they will be more accessible than the last council member.  And that somehow, doing more of the same thing, will change things; that miraculously the missing people will be engaged.

I don’t believe it will.  Because no one is addressing the core issue, they are all still thinking with their heads.  And being intelligent, reasonable people, they are coming up with what they think are intelligent & reasonable solutions to the perceived problems.

But the problem isn’t access or council members who don’t care.  It’s not about a lack of innovative ideas or passion.  It’s not even about people who are out of touch, at least no more out of touch than any of the rest of us who are already engaged in our city.

Often in city elections, the voter turnout is used as a way to demonstrate the problems with the community.  And this meeting was no exception, and if I heard the number correctly, 3% turnout in the last local election; it’s certainly not a sign of anything good.  But community participation is not the problem, it is only a symptom of a far greater condition/ailment.   Far greater than meetings, surveys, accessible voting places, candidates touting the right issues, new laws and legislation will cure.

Treating voting turnout as the problem is like thinking that treating the temperature one has in a serious ailment as the sustainable cure.  Curing the symptom does not solve the problem.

Truth is, most folks are not involved because it doesn’t really matter, or so they believe.  They figure no one really cares about them, that they are powerless to effect change, that life is tough enough with out getting your hopes up.

What we need to do is change this perception.  We need to restore the power that is theirs, and then we need to harness that power in ways that creates the thriving cities that they desire.

You’re not empowering people by telling them how to think.  You’re not restoring hope by offering things they don’t think they need or understand.  You have to discover their needs

And you don’t know their needs until you know them.  And you don’t know them until you know their stories.  And you don’t know their stories until you work with them, live with them, cry and celebrate with them.    No meeting, No survey, No random meeting on their front porch will do more than fool you into thinking you know what’s best.

So back to our candidates and their words that gave me hope. Lets use those words, not as goals but as the tools to work together, eat together, sing and play together; to cry and celebrate together.

Let’s show them how we can make a difference together.  This isn’t about words, but actions.


At least one of our candidates realizes this.  And Maybe more.   Let’s quit making them talk about the symptoms and how they will cure those.  Let’s engage in real conversations about how we can work together to empower our neighbors and restore hope for a better tomorrow for everyone.

REACH Looks to Improve SE by Purchasing Abandoned Homes


February 29, 2016 – Roanoke, Virginia:

REACH (Real Experiences Affecting CHange) specializes in recruiting and using MOTIVATING a volunteer labor force, providing over 25,000 hours of service to the community in 2015 alone. At present, over one hundred volunteers areHAVE ALREADY ASKED TO BE PART OF interested in these projects once they start. REACH has come across a unique opportunity to purchase two homes in the upcoming Roanoke City tax sale on March 9, 2016.

REACH has a plan to bring the community together to feel the joy of helping as we as community repair these homes and then sell them to a local family. Then, with that money, we see the potential for a snowball effect. We can purchase more homes and make more repairs in the future which means less boarded up homes and more caring homeowners.

South East Roanoke is an area that will develop quickly. Excited, empowered, and passionate people are focused on creating a renewed sense of community here. However, we need the help of even more people. We are currently trying to raise the necessary funds to purchase these homes.  With a goal of $30,000, we will be able to make this dream possible. Roanoke, it is time to step up and help each other out. Together, we can create a more beautiful and engaged South East community.

{Quote from Tim} When we include the community in the actual transformation, we become empowered and determined to make things better.  As we work together and get to know each other we become more welcoming, socially engaged, and neighborhoods begin to look better.  Not only will it happen more quickly, but it will be sustainable as well.   And it’s all doable.  If each person in SE alone gave the price of one fast food lunch out – we’d have our first home funded – which pays for the nest two – then four more…. And so on.   The only downside – we’ll run out of abandoned homes.

About REACH:

REACH operates as an umbrella organization for two projects with separate but intertwined, missions. These projects, REACH Missions and REACH Community Development, spring from the same set of values, work together and inform each other.

REACH Missions

Mission: We provide opportunities for groups and individuals to be in service to the Roanoke community so that they recognize their assets and discover the joy of using them for others.

REACH Community Development

Mission: We encourage the people of Southeast Roanoke to connect and engage with each other through the use of their assets in order to ensure a thriving community.

Vision: We want to see Southeast Roanoke be a place where the community serves the people, and the people serve each other.

Contact: Tim Dayton, 724 Dale Ave. SE Roanoke, VA 24016, 540-529-9200, tim@reachroanokeva.org

Summer Internships

REACH is looking for exceptional young adults who want to make a difference to join us this summer.

intern1We may all have different talents, skills, interests and passions; but one thing we all have in common is the desire to make a difference in this world, for our lives to matter. We all want to believe that what we do and say makes a difference.

Our interns go home after just one summer knowing just that. But don’t take my word for it – here are some of their thoughts as they leave at the end of their time with REACH.

“My time at REACH was one of the best experiences I have ever had… More importantly, I gained a new perspective on how giving back to the community can truly change people’s lives.”

“I truly love the mission of REACH and place high value on my experiences while I was there”

“This past summer was amazing… phenomenal relationships… Hard work… but worth it….”

“My time at REACH was one of the best experiences of my life… I am very sad to leave….”

“I would just like to express my gratitude for this incredible opportunity. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“It has helped me keep myself accountable and complete things on time”

“I really enjoyed the experience and am sad it is over but I’m am that much more excited about doing it next year.”

“I will never forget this summer of service and I will miss it greatly. It has inspired me to be more intentional to serve others on a daily basis for the rest of my life”

“This summer changed my life and grew and stretched me in many ways. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve others in this context.”

“I’m taking away all the wonderful stories people have told me.”

“If I could change anything about this past summer, then I would have stayed in Roanoke longer.”

Would you advise a friend to be an intern at REACH? “Yes. It would be a good experience for anyone.

Recruiting for Summer 2016

WE NEED YOU TO COME TO Roanoke this summer!

When we say we can’t do any of this without you – WE REALLY MEAN IT!!!we-are-recruiting

Our partners (community groups / churches / other non-profits….)  awarded REACH (you guys) for the difference you are making in Roanoke.  They see not only the physical changes that you make, but the attitudes and outlooks of the local community and they see a “difference”.

Terry Huxhold, the chair of the SE Action Forum wrote the governor of VA and said “REACH’s impact… has been sufficient in turning around what was once a declining neighborhood.  They (you REACHers) have inspired other neighborhood organizations and churches to become more proactive in redeveloping a sense of community and neighborhood pride.

But what about you, the REACHers?  What do you say about the REACHer Experience?

Kids want to go where they know they are making a difference. REACH gives them that opportunity. So grateful for your service!!” -Youth Leader

I loved helping out at REACH. It was a great experience where I helped out the community while making new friends. I definitely want to go back and help out some more.” -Youth

REACH was my third mission trip, and I was excited albeit nervous to go somewhere entirely different than our church had previously gone. I feel that we did more in one weeks time than I have ever done in my life, we worked at numerous different sites, each one unique. The experiences I had with REACH will be with me for the rest of my life because I know that in one week we changed lives for the better and that is not something everyone can say.” -Youth

Spending a week of my summer at REACH was a fantastic experience. Whether the task be as simple as reading a book to a little kid or working on a roof, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to help a person in need. Participating in the REACH program gave me the chance to grow closer to the people in my church group, as well as working with and befriending the interns and other new people. All in all, REACH was a great experience and I would highly suggest it to anyone who wants to help others while having a good time in the process.” -Youth

More REACHer Quotes

REACH Welcomes Latest Nominees to the “Order of REACH”

order of reach logo_dsIn 2013, REACH started the Order of REACH as a way to recognize individuals whose actions as well as their words demonstrated a unique appreciation and acceptance of our vision, mission and goals for SE Roanoke and the community at large. To be eligible, these individuals must have attended at least two of REACH summer service weeks, be an adult of over 21 years of age and be nominated by the interns or REACH Board of Directors.

Nominees for the Class of 2015: Ed Smallwood from Toms Brook UMC / Jessi Fortner from Redwood UMC / Deb Angerman from Sudley UMC / Kassaundra Carpenter from Warwick UMC / Ford McFall from Grace UMC & Fred Lamb from Canfield Christian Church

At REACH, our vision is of a community that has discovered the joy of serving and thereby begins to transform its own lives, homes, and community.

Our mission is to encourage the people of Southeast Roanoke to connect and engage with each other through the use of their assets to ensure a thriving community*.

Our Goals are three-fold. For REACHers, we seek to instill a lifelong passion for serving others. For our Interns, we work to give each the experience of an ACTS II Community (putting others needs ahead of their own). Moreover, in the Community, we seek to collaborate with local organizations, businesses, community groups and individuals to establish places where caring for each other is the norm.

What’s Your Connection?

At our last block party at the Salvation Army, I had the opportunity to ask neighbors about who they were, what types of things they enjoyed doing, and what kinds of events they liked having in their neighborhood. Many people mentioned that they really enjoyed the block parties and would like to have more in the future.  I remember especially one particular couple of women whom I talked with– when I asked them WHY they liked the block party, their answers were “because it gets the community out” and “we get to meet new people, new friends.” Here at REACH, we couldn’t agree more, but it’s nice to hear this feedback from the locals. Even if it was just two people who were able to connect at a block party, we would consider that a success. It is every one of those small successes that eventually paint the bigger picture of connectedness that we believe unites a community.

Several neighborhoods in the Southeast Roanoke area have bought into the idea of the block party as a tool for interpersonal connection. REACH is proud to be able to support local groups such as the Kenwood Neighbors, Riverdale Farm Neighborhood, and the Belmont Neighborhood Association, each of which will be hosting block parties throughout the rest of the summer.

But, as much as we love block parties, we know that they are not the end all solution to community sustainability. There are so many other ways in which people can connect, and I have been reminded of that during my evening bike rides this past week. Even just a short bike ride around the neighborhood reminds me of how much I can miss when I drive in my car. I am amazed by how many more people I notice outside their houses. Neighbors who actually greet me and who even welcome me over for a cold bottle of water to keep hydrated in the heat of summer. There are kids playing at the park, people catching a game of pick-up basketball on the court, families walking their dogs and their strollers along the sidewalk. These are all signs of a healthy neighborhood, of people getting out of their houses and taking some time to enjoy their surroundings and their friends on the block.

How do you like to connect with others? What areas of town tend to be your hangout, the place to meet people in your community? What gets you out of the house, or what brings others into your home? What events or activities leave you feeling proud about where you live? REACH would love to hear your answers! We are always looking for ideas for community involvement and would love to work together with anyone to make those ideas a reality.


– Malinda Britt, Community Advocate

What’s in a Block Party?

This past Tuesday, REACH partnered with the Salvation Army, Camping World, and the Belmont Neighborhood Association in hosting a block party for the Southeast Roanoke area. During the past week, you may have seen “REACHers” (youth volunteers who have come to Roanoke for a summer week to learn about the joy of service) passing out invitations to the Southeast block parties this summer.

So what’s in a block party? And why would I want to go?

The invitation announces a time (6-9PM to be precise) and a place (the Salvation Army on 724 Dale Ave) for free food, live music, games, face paintings, and more. Without a doubt, the block party is going to be a fun event you, your family, and your neighbors will not want to miss!

But if that was all a block party was about, REACH would not be there. What we really believe is that a block party is a great opportunity for fellowship and fun between people! We love free hotdogs as much as the next person, but it is actually the people we get to share that food with that makes the block party a success to us. What we value in a block party are the conversations that happen between drips of ice cream and rounds of cornhole games.

From an asset based community development standpoint, a block party is a wonderful tool to help build relationships. Such relationships may be one of the strongest assets and indicators of a healthy, thriving community.

In fact, a recent 2010 study by the Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, known as the Soul of the Community Project revealed several interesting findings about what makes people love where they live. While a variety of indicators such as the local economy, safety, or civic involvement were certainly components of community satisfaction, there were three that stood out among thriving communities:

  • Social Offerings,
  • Openness/welcomeness, and
  • Aesthetics

Having social offerings simply means that there are opportunities for people to spend time with one another – and what better way to do that than a block party? A neighborhood cannot help but become more tightly knit when neighbors feel connected to the people they live near.  Likewise, people want to be in a community where they feel they belong. Therefore, a community that is open to all people from all backgrounds and invites them in indiscriminately is on the path to success. Finally, to say that a thriving community has good aesthetics is just to say that people enjoy where they live more when it looks nice, and can feel a sense of pride in what their area offers physically.

A key part of REACH’s work is to support and encourage opportunities that involve these three components of community. One of the best ways we can do this is by fostering relationships between people. We hope that from the first second you arrive to the party that you feel welcome. We also hope that during the party that you will find not only good music and a bite to eat, but also conversations between you and your neighbors. At the end of the evening, we also hope that you will feel proud that such an event could take place in your very own neighborhood!

So what’s in a block party? Well, to be honest, we hope the answer is…YOU! Please join us for food, fun, and a chance to just get to know one another a little better this summer with the neighbors of Southeast Roanoke.


P.S. – For more information on the Gallup and Knight foundations survey and findings, check out the following video link: Soul of the Community Project.




Asset Based Community Development

Last week Blanca, our AmeriCorps VISTA, informed the blogosphere of the wonderful partnership we share with Rebuilding Together. This is a wonderful segue into talking more about the theory of REACH and the kind of work we do.

As an organization, REACH relies on an approach known as “Asset Based Community Development” or ABCD.  Within this approach is the conscious decision to focus on the assets of a community, rather than focusing on needs, deficiencies, or problems, in other words, what a community lacks. But what are assets?

Assets include anything that can be used in a positive way for the benefit of a community. At REACH, we like to think that practically everything and everyone can be an asset! It may be easiest, however, to first separate them into two general categories. On the one hand, there are material assets such as physical spaces, objects, tools, money, etc.  For example, we really depend on the assets that Rebuilding Together provides us in the form of building materials and tools. On the other hand, there are also innumerable non-material assets, including, but certainly not limited to, skills, time, passion, expertise, and relationships. While we rely on the building experience and knowledge of Rebuilding Together, our partner also relies on us for the free service labor provided by the youth we host in Roanoke each summer who do home repairs.

Likewise, the relationship we have with Rebuilding Together is an asset in and of itself  -it allows for us to connect with neighbors in the Roanoke community. This connection is a HUGE benefit to REACH, because it allows us to meet people, learn about the assets that they also have to share, and together find outlets for those assets to be used in service to the community.

We believe that the only true sustainable change in a community can occur when the individuals in the community are directly involved. At REACH, we don’t see the point in latching on to what we think is going wrong in a community and trying to fix it from the outside in. Instead, we aspire to see all of the positive assets within a place and try to find ways to connect them that maximizes their overall power and effectiveness. That’s what we call true transformative community development!

Over the course of this summer we will highlight the assets we are seeing in the Roanoke community; both material and non-material. You may see these assets in the physical spaces that serve both our campers and to the Southeast Roanoke community, such as the Salvation Army, Roanoke Community Garden Association, the churches, the historical homes, the parks, and more. You may see these assets in the things that we do: the home repairs, landscaping projects, food serving, children’s activities, river and trail clean-ups, etc.  Most importantly, we hope you see the assets in the people that we encounter, in the stories, experiences, talents, skills, ideas, passions, energies, and time that they will share with us and others!

So what? Why assets? Why does it matter? It comes down to our basic belief as an organization that happiness comes from knowing the joy of serving others. When we engage in service that uses the assets we have to offer, we experience that joy to the fullest. So while part of our work involves simply the identification of assets within the community, our true purpose is to find ways to connect those assets, both material and non-material, to opportunities for service to one another.


Rebuilding Together Roanoke – More than just our community partner . . .

During the short time I have been an AmeriCorps VISTA with REACH there has been a number of things I have learned about this organization and non-profits as a whole. One of the major assets that can contribute to any non-profit’s success is the ability to have strong partnerships with other organizations working towards a similar shared vision. REACH is not lacking when it comes to engaged partners. This week we would like to highlight one of our partners – an organization that joined forces with us about three years ago and goes above and beyond serving the Roanoke community.

Rebuilding Together Roanoke has been strengthening the lives of the most vulnerable parts of the Roanoke Valley community since 1999. All it took was four innovative people, including our very own Mayor David Bowers, to realize that seemingly no other organization in the area helped with critical home repairs, accessibility modifications, and energy-efficient upgrades for low-income home owners. During their first year in Roanoke, RTR had four rebuilding projects and fifty volunteers working with them. This may have seemed like a lot at the time, but these numbers have since tripled, contributing to their current success..

Every year on the last Saturday in April Rebuilding Together Roanoke holds their National Rebuilding Day where over 500 volunteers, including members of REACH, come together to carry out necessary and critical repairs for families all across the Roanoke Valley. These volunteers come as individuals, organizations, companies, and businesses from different places in Roanoke – while where they came from may be different the motivation for a better community is one in the same. RTR celebrated their 16th annual National Rebuilding Day on April 25th of this year, and REACH’s executive director Tim Dayton was there happily volunteering for this great cause.

RTR’s executive director, Kendall Cloeter, is a fairly new presence to the organization. She started out as a CapacityCorps member, Rebuilding Together’s National AmeriCorps program, back in August 2012 as a project coordinator. According to Kendall, Rebuilding Together Roanoke’s biggest struggles include finances as well as “the level of need of home owners applying.” The repairs often require specialized work such as electrical, heating/air, and roof replacement that many volunteers have little to no experience doing.. Luckily RTR has approximately three to five firms who volunteer each year to help with these specific needs. Kendall’s favorite part about working at RTR is writing grants to secure the future of the organization, being able to cross off a completed project, and “working with excited volunteer groups . . . helps to reinvigorate you on your mission.”

Kendall ended our conversation by saying “how appreciative we are of REACH to help complete many of the needed repairs each year.” Well Kendall we are equally appreciative for all of the wonderful thing this organization is doing for our the Roanoke Valley, and for the opportunity to serve alongside some awesome folks like you!

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