The Common Good
August 2009

Six Questions for Rev. John Liotti

by Elizabeth Palmberg | August 2009

Bio: Founder and CEO, Northern California Urban Development (www.norcaludc.org)
Blog: ...

Bio: Founder and CEO, Northern California Urban Development (www.norcaludc.org)
Blog: norcalurban.blogspot.com

 

1. How would you describe Northern California Urban Development’s work?
Our vision is broad—to relieve the causes and effects of systemic poverty. We strive to have an effect on “the street.” We’re honored to serve amazing communities: East Palo Alto and Redwood City. East Palo Alto specifically, while having an abundance of assets, has been overlooked by the success of our surrounding area, Silicon Valley.

2. What have you accomplished?
In NCUD’s short four-year history, we’ve brought a credit union to East Palo Alto, which was desperately unbanked and being preyed upon by financial predators. We’ve also founded a youth program that focuses on financial literacy and life skills, which is currently serving more than 200 “urban” students weekly. We’re working on an approach toward the housing crisis, including brokering an innovative program where cities help homeowners refinance in exchange for a stake in the house’s future appreciation. These efforts strive to break the curse of generational poverty by giving folks the tools and resources to conquer poverty.

The hallmark of all we’ve done is partnerships—collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations from outside and inside our community. Our role, in many ways, is to cast and shepherd the vision to completion—but to do so in a collaborative manner.

3. What is the best thing anyone has taught you in your work?
Dr. John Perkins, quoting an ancient proverb, says, “But of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark, ‘We have done it ourselves.’ ” This has been a great challenge to me. So many times we want the credit.

4. What’s your biggest challenge personally?
To maintain balance and joy. It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t right, rather than to celebrate the good things: family, community, beauty, and art. Being in a community with a lot of needs, I can find myself putting out fires and dealing with the urgent, but not necessarily the most important. I’m learning that if I’m not striving for a healthy lifestyle, then there is no way I can be a healing presence in the community. I’m not there yet—but I’m trying!

5. What delights you in your daily work?
There is so much creativity and energy in the body of Christ. I love finding ways to connect the resources and individuals who can create change with the need—and help them engage in the process of transformation. I’m excited when I see folks using their skills and resources in kingdom of God work.

I also take delight in seeing young leaders find their calling. I love seeing the next generation rise up and take its place!

6. What gives you hope?
My pastor recently made a statement that, while simple, struck me. He said, “You know, the throne’s not empty up there!” There are so many things to worry about these days. When I stop, center myself, and realize that God is truly in control, I can rest and find joy.

—Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg

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