The Power of Relationships
By Jeffrey Tubbs
I once asked Connor Barwin why he does what he does, and after a pause, his response was, “…the relationships.”
For me, it has been a series of experiences that have contributed to my “why,” (volunteering at the Hunter School while at Friends Select, taking part in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program after college, or working with Habitat for Humanity during my days at the Redevelopment Authority to name a few). But it all culminated on Thanksgiving in 2009 while watching The Blind Side with my family. My niece Madison claims I cried, and although I will never admit that, I did lean over to tell her that I will start my own nonprofit one day soon. Seeing through the storyline of The Blind Side that sharing good fortune can lead to creating opportunities for others was the tipping point for me.
Shortly thereafter, I wondered how, while struggling to start my own real estate development business, I could do my part to create opportunities for others. As a burgeoning entrepreneur, I had no money, but figured I could use my development projects as real life case studies to expose youth from our neighborhoods to the range of professions that are part of the real estate business. Providing exposure to different career paths for those who may not have had that exposure, and sharing values that have been instilled in me from my parents (work hard, be fair to people, and share what you have no matter how much you have) seemed like a perfect fit. The seeds had been planted and Urban Roots was born with the mission of leveraging for profit real estate projects as case studies for youth mentorship in planning, architecture, construction, and engineering.
After many workshops and many more newly established partnerships, it all changed one day when we connected with a passionate community leader in South Philly who was trying to give back in his own way. The day Jahmall Crandall asked for guidance in fixing some basketball hoops in his neighborhood is the day I realized that, working together with others, you can create something bigger and more impactful than you can on your own. Jahmall and I set out not only to fix the hoops, but ultimately to use renovating the basketball court and entire park at Ralph Brooks Park as the vehicle for reenergizing a community.
Then we just had to implement our lofty plan, which proved a bit more challenging than we anticipated. It became glaringly clear that even with the best intentions and after laying a solid foundation, in order to do something extraordinary, we needed a Team. We had partnerships with private foundations, funding from the City of Philadelphia, well designed plans and support from the community, but we did not have all of the resources and awareness we needed. It was an uphill battle, trusted the process. I am a firm believer that if you do the right thing and work towards something great that will benefit others, things will align to make that vision a reality, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best.
For Jahmall and I, this leap of faith was answered by a guy on a bike with a funky haircut, who had a similar vision to make the world a better place. Connor Barwin and his newly formed Make the World Better Foundation were looking to support a community project at the same time that our community project needed support. On April 22 nd , 2014 Connor showed up at Ralph Brooks Park on his bike and the rest is history. Over the next 4 years our two nonprofit organizations grew together. We learned from one another, challenged one another and ultimately completed Ralph Brooks Park, designed and built Smith Playground and now have begun our latest transformative project at Waterloo Playground.
After four years of a strategic partnership, Connor and I officially merged our respective organizations in an effort to make an even greater positive impact. For me, this was not easy; it was a 9 month process and at times a challenging and emotional one. Having spent 10 years building Urban Roots from scratch, we wanted to maintain our name and control of our vision. Was it the right thing to do?
After some time of reflection, and many conversations with trusted friends, partners, Board Members and supporters I realized that this was not about losing the identity of Urban Roots or ceding control. It was, as Connor pointed out, really just all about the relationships. The relationships we had built on our own, the ones we built together, the ones we would continue to foster and the people we have not yet met who will ultimately have a big impact on our work and our lives. The relationships are the most important component to what we do. We weren’t abandoning Urban Roots, we were moving forward to make it what it was always meant to be.
I truly believe we are just getting started and the sky is the limit for what we will accomplish together. I am thankful for everyone who contributed along the way and those who continue to contribute to this day, you know who you are!
Co-Founder and Director of Special Projects, MTWB