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April 27, 2014

Monday Q&A: Pastor works for neighborhood unity in Modesto

Longtime Modesto pastor Marvin Jacobo, executive director of City Ministry Network, is part of an effort to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods to make them better places to live and raise a family.

A longtime Modesto pastor is part of an effort to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods to make them better places to live and raise a family.

Since January, when Marvin Jacobo was named executive director of City Ministry Network, Jacobo has been attending neighborhood meetings, listening to their leaders and networking with them.

Jacobo said the City Ministry Network’s board of directors has asked him to work alongside city officials, neighborhood alliances and community nonprofits. He said part of his motivation is that transforming neighborhoods is part of City Ministry Network’s mission. The work comes after years of budget cuts to public safety, parks and other services and as the city looks to partner with others to improve Modesto.

Jacobo, 58, has decades of experience in building a community. In 2005, he helped found City Ministry Network so Christian nonprofits and churches would have a place to connect and work together. He spent 29 years as a youth worker and pastor with First Baptist Church, now CrossPoint, in downtown Modesto. He also spent 12 years with Youth for Christ in Stanislaus County. Jacobo recently spoke with The Bee about his work with neighborhoods.

What are the benefits of better neighborhoods?

Research shows us that people live longer, children are healthier emotionally, they experience better mental and physical health, and neighborhood crime rates fall when neighbors are connected relationally. Helping neighbors is contagious – acts of generosity and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness.

What are you doing and how much time are you spending on this work?

At this point, I’ve spent most of my time observing, asking questions and listening to people’s ideas, concerns, fears and perspectives. Any plan that births out of this neighboring work has to be owned by neighbors, which means they have shared commitment and accountability in any plan moving forward. Also, long-term improvement in our neighborhoods must be owned and led by those living in the neighborhood. Outsiders will never create lasting transformation. Any strategy must be birthed from the neighbors themselves.

How will you know if you are succeeding?

The first thing I’ll be looking for is a “shift in conversation” about Modesto. I foresee a day when the majority of the public and private conversation about our city is about the great servant citizens we have, neighbors watching out for each other, concerned about the well-being of the people on their block. Another thing we’ll be looking for is an intentional move by our local governments to invest resources to strengthening leadership at the neighborhood and community level. If we’re successful, we’ll see an increase in the numbers of churches, businesses and citizens acting together on their own behalf to improve their schools, create more jobs, cut the crime rate and make true the saying, “Modesto – a great city to grow up in and grow old in.”

What do you say to someone who says, “Why should I get involved?”

I pay taxes so the city will keep my neighborhood safe. Safety has never been the sole responsibility of our government or law enforcement. Public safety is everyone’s responsibility. What keeps us safe is connecting with neighbors, watching out for each other, getting to know each other by name. Don’t get me wrong, law enforcement has a crucial role in public safety. But there are many efforts and resources beyond law enforcement that keep us safe.

What are some of the challenges you see in improving neighborhoods?

Some challenges we are hearing about are lack of time and energy because people feel stressed by life’s demands. Fear: They’re afraid that if they get involved with their neighbors, it might put them in some sort of risk. But the biggest challenge facing us is learning how to sustain intention and will focused on strengthening our neighborhoods. We can fill a room with people for a training or an initial meeting, but sustaining collective effort focused on results is an area of learning and growth for our city.

You’ve lived in Modesto since 1958, when your family moved here. How have the city’s neighborhoods changed during your time in Modesto?

Two things come to mind. As a boy growing up in west Modesto, neighbors took care of each other and their homes. There was an understanding that we all watched out for each other. Today, in many parts of our city for various reasons, there’s a hesitancy to take on that responsibility. Secondly, somewhere we began to believe the negative self-speak about our neighborhoods and city. Our city has challenges, but we will overcome them together one city block at a time.

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