Makaila Reed and her sisters know how dangerous their streets once were and how tempting it has been for other young people to join gangs and get caught up in a life of violence and crime.
That’s why the girls and their mother never take it for granted that today they can play without fear on those same streets. Gang fights and drug deals have been replaced by block parties and neighborhood service projects.
The No. 1 reason, they say, is the impact of Community Renewal and the two Friendship Houses that are helping to transform the Allendale neighborhood. A Friendship House is a permanent part of the neighborhood, lived in by a CRI employee and their family and serving as a tangible symbol of hope and change in high-crime, low-income areas.
“The Friendship House helps keep kids from going out and doing the wrong things and getting locked up. I feel safe with the Friendship House here,” said 12-year-old Makaila.
“I like coming here because I have friends here and I am part of the group. I feel like it’s a family here. If the Friendship House was not here I would probably just go home and watch TV and waste my time.”
Younger sister, Miracle, 10, feels the same way.
“I enjoy the Friendship House because I like being with my friends and learning about God. We have birthday parties here and we help the community get better. I feel safe and happy here.”
Felicia Sewell, the girls’ mother, said her children have become more caring and outgoing people because of CRI’s commitment to Allendale.
“The Friendship House is a source of refuge and a place of shared love where they can feel love and give love. It’s a blessing. The Friendship House gives such inspiration and courage to our kids,” said Felicia, who works as a medical support assistant at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center.
“I have seen so many positive changes in our children. They are eager now to share their gifts with other people and make a positive difference in our community.”
Makaila and her sisters participate in many enriching experiences at the Friendship House, from riding horses and building cages for rabbits to delivering blankets and candy canes to the elderly.
“I feel good when I help other people. That makes me feel happy. Some people don’t have anyone else and I like it when I can be the one to help,” she said.
Older sister Victoria, 16, said when their house flooded, many neighbors came to help. Now she is glad that through the Friendship House, she gets to pay that kindness forward.
“The Friendship House makes it one community and brings us all together as one family. If the Friendship House was not in the neighborhood, we would not know each as well and there might be fights,” she said.
“The Friendship House helped me not be a baby anymore and it helped my faith get stronger. I have really grown here. I love the Friendship House because when I am here I am happy.”