The light of a New Day in a little country way

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It is a place of stark contrasts, awesome opportunities and some mysteriousness. A tiny speck in the midst of 1.7 million acres of natural, protected beauty, the little community is surrounded by mountains and blanketed by a one-of-a-kind National Radio Quiet Zone in which cell phones fall silent. It is a place of rich history; located in a county named after a Native American chief’s daughter: Pocahontas.

Green Bank Radiotelescope

Green Bank Radiotelescope

If this isn’t enough to add to the mystique of the place, consider a few more facts. A few miles away, the largest Radio Telescope in the world – yes the world – is ever-listening.

A scenic mountain railroad system with a station in the community carries the trademark from a popular family movie – The Polar Express. Tourists from as far away as Australia and Japan ride these rails.

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

There’s more…

The tiny mountain community, in the early 20th century, was at the center of the largest shoe leather tannery company in the world. Clearly, this place lives at the crossroads of an aged past and a birthing future.

From the shadow of its robust past, Durbin, West Virginia, with its 124 households, a hearty group of dedicated townspeople, a handful of entrepreneurs, congregational leaders and one affordable housing developer, neighborhood revitalization is emerging from the collective vision and shared assets of residents and their connector leaders.

Durbin, West Virginia is participating in the Habitat for Humanity International Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Asset Based Community Development consultant/coach, Dave Cooper of Communities First Association, worked with the Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate and over 60 Durbin townspeople for three days in a process of discovery, formation and visioning. For the first

Gifts of Hands (doing)

Gifts of Hands (doing)

two days, Cooper facilitated neighborhood walking and listening sessions with diverse arrays of residents, business owners, church leaders, and local and county government representatives to identify community connector leaders, to listen for community dreams, and discover assets of head, heart, hands, associations and place.

Next, Cooper facilitated a large gathering of Durbin townspeople in a creative, relationship-building process of developing community dreams into vision statements, discovering additional assets, and coaching local leaders in participatory planning processes.

Vision for Library

Vision for Library


At the conclusion of the three days, the community had narrowed their vision and organized some assets to focus on a new public library (already in progress), to create park space that could be safely accessed by children, and to revitalize downtown Durbin through economic development. The Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate committed staff to coach the formation of a resident-led economic development team and to coordinate affordable housing resources. A local entrepreneur committed to work with the economic development team. A pastor committed land on which to develop a children’s park. Others dedicated various gifts of head, heart, hands, place and associations to improve the quality of life – to raise Durbin from the ashes of its past; to achieve common good in the neighborhood.

The three day engagement facilitated by Cooper in this little mountain community of Durbin, West Virginia is one way to catalyze and commence Asset Based Community Development for Neighborhood Revitalization. However, the processes of building relationships, listening for and discovering assets, participatory planning, and working to achieve results from the plan require substantially more time and patience.

Durbin, West Virginia is a tiny speck of a community that, upon close inspection, yields a vast array of contrasts and awesome assets. Its residents are ruggedly committed to an improved quality of life in a revitalized community and they hold steadfastly to hope in a bright future.

The light of a New Day in a little country way

The light of a New Day in a little country way


Connecting Community, Building Hope in LaGrange

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Asset Based Community Developer Ben Wheeler works through affordable housing developer DASH LaGrange and with the coaching support of Communities First Association to connect community and harvest hope in the Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia.

DASH has a long track record of partnering in the development and operation of affordable housing in LaGrange. However, facing ongoing financial challenges posed by the Great Recession and seeking a sustainable model of development, DASH is taking a new approach. It invests not just in what it has done so well for so long: successfully developing housing. It is now focusing on the development of neighborhoods in which housing is an essential component. Through place-based, asset-focused, relationship-building, community-led, and collaborative investments among a broadening base of community partners, DASH is uncovering previously unrecognized networks of capacity and hope, and together weaving a strong and enduring fabric.


Ben Wheeler and his family live, shop, dine, earn, learn and recreate in the Hillside Neighborhood (Hillside Revitalization Area) and describe it as “four neighborhoods in one”. In this space that holds three hundred fifty families reside affluence and poverty; small business and industry; faith communities and civic associations; single family and multi-family housing. Ben and his family know well the assets and challenges that reside in the community.

A walking tour of the neighborhood reveals much. The quietness of the neighborhood is interrupted only by the occasional train horn as freight moves steadily through the community. A smiling old man sits in his front yard holding his puppy. A group of children play basketball in the roadway using a single net. A public school teacher speaks of an at-risk youth that he has taken under his wing. A community garden waits for the coming spring. And, a couple moved by the challenges faced by low-income immigrants are co-creating affordable housing. Here are a long-closed Laundromat, a thriving Big Sams Barbeque, housing, the Troup County Health Department and several churches.


On a beautiful fall afternoon, a community pot-luck is held in a space owned by DASH. Here among the people of the community, new resources emerge as people gather and share their gifts. Dean the photographer and small engine mechanic delivers up home-made bread and vegan soup. Deborah shares her love of reading to children and helping to build their self-esteem. Mike is organizing resources to build a neighborhood Montessori school. Jane discovers that she is not the only one in the neighborhood with a Coyfish pond. A youth shares her drawings and her passionate love thereof. Ben Wheeler shares his love of connecting people for the common good.

There is much to learn from and grow among the delightful people and the gifts that reside in Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia. Thanks to DASH LaGrange, Ben Wheeler, and Communities First Association for applying Asset Based Community Development practices to connect community and harvest hope.


David (Dave) Cooper is an Asset Based Community Development practitioner, entrepreneur, catalyst, connector, coach, educator, advocate, consultant and planner. He works nationally and internationally through Shalom Makers to advance and support equitable, sustainable and collaborative community development. Dave may be reached at: or my phone: 804.614.6254

Finding Firm Ground in Times of Upheaval

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Silence is the space and place that I have recently sought as humankind journeys through the cataclysmic events that now swirl across our trembling lands. Floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, bitter economic, political and ideological divisiveness in the United States, peaceful transformation in Egypt, and killing air strikes in Libya; these events and many more remind me of the finitude of life and of our earth, the vital importance of relationship-centric interdependence, that our quest for unilateral power is unsustainable, and that the human will to survive and our endeavors to thrive are unquenchable.

While silencing of the multiplicity of chaos is my desire, I know that it will come only as humankind co-creates communities (small and large, near and far) in which common good (shalom-making) is achieved through unified relational power and mutually shared resources (Asset Based Community Development). Whether we accept it or not, whether we thrive or die, all humankind journeys together on this increasingly small planet earth that we call our home.

Swirling Spiral Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was silence that I perceived through the lens of my childhood telescope on crisp Florida nights when the stars shone brightly and the silvery crescent of earth’s moon yielded exquisite views of the heavens. Out in the distant swirling abyss, my mind’s eye wandered and wondered amidst the quiet beauty, form, and power present in places I would never set foot. Across the great space between my eye and the distant horizon was a hope-filled presence, the tug of adventure-filled and yet difficult journeys yet to be traveled, and a sense of purpose. Perhaps it was the images from my telescope; perhaps it was my supportive family; it may have been science taught by my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lee; or, maybe it was the steady venturing into space from nearby Cape Canaveral that motivated my childhood desire to become an astronaut and journey beyond the confines of terra firma.

Mission control celebrates. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The space race of the late 1960’s, landing a person on the moon, rallied massive national interest, support and provision, and focused some of the best resources and people on the planet to achieve this goal. The dangerous outward journey from home earth required wise, cohesive, sustained, collaborative investments. It was not an individualistic endeavor that yielded rewards for the few. Unity was a necessity and poignantly manifested during the Apollo 13 disaster when teams of colleagues tirelessly worked with the crew in order to survive an aborted lunar mission. The nation was fixated upon and unified in grave concern and steadfast hope for the crew of Apollo 13. The final destination for Apollo 13, or for that matter the entire space race, was not what anyone planned or expected; however, the journey yielded much more than the astronauts, mission control, and the nation could have asked for or imagined.

In my quest to become an astronaut, I learned early that there were constraints, namely my height, that redirected my aspirations. Although my destination would not to be achieved as I had hoped and dreamed, and I was disappointed, my eye and heart for adventuresome journeys and my delight in the night skies have not dimmed. Neither has my belief in the human capacity and will to survive and to thrive amidst unknown challenges that sometimes shake us to our core and redirect our journeys. Yielding my lofty goals for more earthly endeavors, my feet are firmly on the ground enlarging the circle of community.

Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA.

On our journeys through swirling chaos in which we seek shalom (silence, peace, unity, stability, love, compassion); what are ‘we’ to do? Will we unify and support one another on our collective journey, or will we take an exclusionary approach, attempting to ‘go it alone’? With the space race no longer a motivating force to propel our imagination and resources away from the earth, with our inward centripetal foci, with governments embroiled in divisive battles, with an overabundance of unilateral power being exerted upon the invulnerable and vulnerable, and with some transformative glimmers of hope, I believe humankind stands at a very unique and challenging time of opportunity. How will we — how will you and I — respond? I see signs in my community development work in the U.S. and abroad.

In this particular moment of silence, with an occasional glance out at the starry sky, my mind’s eye wanders and wonders amidst the beauty, form, and relational power that were present in my childhood that continues to emerge across the people, places, and communities of this earth that we call home. And, I remain grateful for the presence of hope and a tug of adventure to follow redirected paths through life on terra firma.


From the Communities of Shalom Archives.


The U path: a spark ignited in Yarrambat.

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In a recent blog entry, “Where does the time go”, I mentioned my wonderful experiences with the slower pace of life in community at the edge of the “bush” in Yarrambat, Victoria, Australia. There is much more to the story.

It was mid November, 2010 when a group of people from diverse backgrounds and geographies gathered for two days in Yarrambat to, well, to be creative; to get to know one another; to enjoy some scones, jam and tea; to listen carefully; to be present to one another; to share our stories and our wisdom; to reflect upon why, how and where community forms and sustains itself. One of my roles in this gathering was to share my experiences in Asset Based Community Development as a shalom-maker (co-creator of community well-being).

Our gracious host for the gathering, Adrian Pyle, invested over a year in planning, inviting and bringing together this diverse group: no surprise since he has the very cool title and role of Director, Relationships Innovation with the Uniting Church in Australia. In planning the gathering, Adrian adapted a model known as Theory U, developed by MIT professor Otto Scharmer, and applied the path of the “U” to inform and shape our community time. As Adrian puts it:

The path of the “U” as I am using it can be seen as a general spiritual path, giving access to a life of “earth community” rather than empire. A range of spiritual traditions, philosophies and models can be seen to give access to the path… it [the U path] is like an inviting campfire, around which are drawn various parties interested in ideas of post-colonialism and non-violence and from backgrounds across, organizational development, community development, faith development and national and international development.

And, so it happened last November. We dipped into the “U” and emerged with fresh new connections and concepts that bridge across our various communities. Participants of various faith traditions and professional disciplines were profoundly moved and felt the synergy to continue conversations, connections, and plans; even across the planet.

From the spark ignited at Yarrambat, and continuing on the U path, community is both expanding and converging. As social entrepreneur, writer, teacher and developer Gail Plowman writes in “Dealing with social problems that get stuck” and “The Church – a ‘presencing’ body for advancing sustainability”, the transformational processes of community-building are taking place in ways and locations previously unimagined.

As sparks ignite in our communities, like Yarrambat, it is vitally important to our collective future to attend to and follow a U path for the common good of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and our planet. Adrian Pyle writes:

Creating conditions for more people to follow the “U” path therefore means creating the conditions where truly unique neighbourhoods can develop in every place and time. Nurturant, local neighbourhoods are the spaces which can be made safe enough for the true selfhood of the individual to emerge. This means that there must be heightened awareness of the educational, organisational, philosophical, spiritual and political conditions which create such neighbourhoods.

Where is your community on the U path?

N. David (Dave) Cooper, MDiv, MSW, CPM of Shalom-Makers: enlarging the circle of community.

Where does the time go?

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My grandmother, born in 1886 near Atlanta, Georgia, used to say to me, “the hurrier I go the behinder I get”. How true! As I have progressed through my formative years – graduate school and professional life, now a second career – I have come to appreciate, first hand, my grandmother’s statement. It now has a rich contextual meaning that it did not when I first heard it as a teenager.

A philosophy professor of mine once said, “Wisdom can never be taught. It must be lived”. There is some truth in his statement. However, I am still not so sure that we cannot learn practical wisdom across generations. I sure hope that we can and will. If we cannot, and will not, the costs to ourselves, our society, our planet will be immeasurable.

I recently read a reflection by a young woman, Brigitte, who quoted her nine year old son: “the key to speed is not to hurry”. Brigitte urges me (us) to be ‘mindful’ of societal ‘brainwashing’ that has the effect of compelling me, pushing us, to increase the speed of life at nearly any cost.

Where does the time go?
Koala Crossing sign on the road between Geelong and Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

Brigitte’s entry and my recent experiences with a very special presencing gathering in Yarrambat, Australia, have caused me to slow down, to pause, and to listen. Presencing, a blend of the words presence and sensing, refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one’s highest future potential — as an individual and as a group (from Presencing Institute).

Where does the time go?

Apollo 11 is the mission that first landed a person on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Times are changing. Our journeys through these times, and the ways we respond, individually and collectively, yield both good and the not so good. My grandmother lived through the times of horse and buggies, the advent of the automobile, heavier than air flight, and a person walking on the moon. From our home in Florida, we watched the Saturn Five, Apollo lunar missions that were initiated by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960’s. These late 19th and 20th century discoveries and the amazing changes they initiated have yielded much. Yet, I can’t begin to imagine what my grandmother must have experienced as the speed of life around her increased exponentially: what a blur. We are witnessing similar exponential change in the 21st century.

I remember a marketing phrase from the early 1970’s. I think it was IBM that coined it: The “new” computer will increase productivity so much that workers will have three day weekends. The reciprocal has proven to be true. In the U.S., we do much more work and have far less time in which to slow down, to pause: where is that three day weekend?

The goal of creating increased leisure time in order to spend some of it with family, friends, and in our communities is embedded in the computerization marketing message of the 1970’s. Of course, in America, increased leisure (quality) time has not been realized. Over the past thirty or so years, we have experienced the financial necessity of multiple wage earners in our families. We work longer hours so we can consume more stuff at a faster pace, then rush home to hurriedly finish our day so we can slow down.

Having returned from a wonderful time in Australia, and taking time to reflect upon the wisdom imparted to me by friends, former strangers (now friends), and family, I have slowed my pace. I pause. I listen attentively. I am present and sensing. Even with multiple competing demands, I make time for conversation. I enjoy a coffee or tea at a café. I give my family members an extra hug. I correspond with people in my communities, both near and far. I am actively and passively participating in presencing for the well-being (or shalom) of one another, our communities, and our planet.

Where does the time go?
Kafe Kaos in the seaside village of Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

The Hebrew word for whole-community well-being is shalom. While shalom encompasses much more than can be translated into English, shalom is manifested when there is shared power, equity and mutual beneficence among physical, social, economic, political and spiritual organizations, institutions, and systems. Shalom is not simply a transcendent hope; rather, it is a concrete, tangible, proactive, wise, investment of all resources (including time) to work in concert for the common good.

I am deeply engaged with shalom-making in communities across the United States and abroad. I facilitate, train, coach, support, and advocate for shalom-makers as an independent consultant and via the Drew University Shalom Initiative. I apply Asset Based Community Development and community organizing principles and techniques to help communities develop and achieve their own outcomes. Shalom-making is not easy and not for the timid. It is an emergent, locally-led, co-creating, bold, sustained, and collaborative endeavor for the healthy and whole transformation of the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play. I am a shalom-maker: enlarging the circle of community for the common good.

This post also appears on

In an upcoming entry, look for more on Australia and the wonderful people that I met and worked with there.

Have it your way!

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A popular fast food organization used a phrase in an advertising jingle “have it your way” to emphasize to its American customers that they could expect their individual tastes in food to be served up, just the way “you” like it. Another line in the jingle goes like this; “special orders don’t upset us”. The implication in the jingle is that if our individual expectations are not met by one producer, we could experience satisfaction elsewhere, ad infinitum.

We Americans have grown to expect to have it our way; whether it is hamburgers, religious affiliation, political party, or the neighborhood in which we live. However, when having it “my” way results in “you” not having it your way (a win-lose situation) there proceeds disunity, unsettledness; and often anger, incivility, a clamoring for unilateral power (dominance), and legal intervention. One need not look far to see the results of have-it-your-way.

Just this morning, I read a blog entry on the MIT Community Innovator’s Lab: “Melt your snow anger. Sit down with the enemy”. In her entry, Christina Ruhfel tells the story of her husband’s hard work to shovel snow off of their family car as well as that of a neighbor: a seemingly nice gesture of neighborliness. However, shortly thereafter, the Ruhfels were confronted by an angry, uncivil neighbor that, while banging on the Ruhfel’s front door, insisted the snow was not shoveled into the correct place. In other words, the noble and altruistic motivations of her husband, shoveling snow onto the street where a plow could take it away, did not meet the demanding “have it my way” perspective of their neighbor. The neighbor was upset and, probably without consideration for Mr. Ruhfel’s intentions and labor, a meltdown ensued.

Yet, justice was served. Christina Ruhfel makes a wonderful observation that she connects with President Obama’s recent State of the Union address: changing our culture of incivility and domination (unilateral power-over others), requires unity (relational power-with others) while thinking globally and acting locally. The real glimmer of hope in the Ruhfel’s situation is this: Christina and her husband proactively took matters into their own hands by seeking relationships and power “with” others to create Polite People for Peace.  Perhaps this is the best way to “have it our way”.

Stories of Shalom

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In my journeys this past year (2010), I have heard and told many, many stories. Some narratives have been shared through tear-streaked grimaces, revealing paths through valleys of pain, suffering, and unimaginable loss. Other accounts are told with smiles that exude great joy and thanksgiving: perspectives from mountaintop vistas, some having been attained after traversing deep valleys.

You know the stories. I know the stories. We tell them; and, we listen to them. Our stories chronicle, they shape, and they guide our destinies in and through the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play.  For all those who shared their lives, their resources, their stories with me and who listened to mine; thank you for enlarging the circle of community.

My grandmother, born in 1886 and died in 1968, often told me a story of her journey through the Great Depression (circa 1929-1935). Her story described loss, scarcity and suffering. She told of meager amounts of government-issued flour, salt, sugar and salt-pork that when added to their garden-grown produce, canned goods, and hand-me-down clothing (patches upon patches), provided just enough to endure. Yes, just as we hear in 2010, she also told of the wealthy that lived in luxury and opulence while the masses clamored and clung to life. My grandmother was a poet and short-story writer that has captured, often in great detail, much of her life for future generations to read and hear. As I now remember and re-read some of her stories, there is a powerful and moving element in my grandmother’s Great Depression account that most captured my ear and interest. She spoke first of her faith in God, and she described a community that graciously and collaboratively shared their meager resources in order to survive (shalom-making): “neighbors shared what they had and gathered round evening fires to tell stories of hope, imagination and determination”.

As we journey through the Great Recession, through our valley and mountaintop experiences, the importance of our being present to and for one another in our communities – sharing our resources and life’s stories – is vitally important to our collective future. It is the elemental stuff of building and sustaining community. Like my grandmother, who lived through the days of horse and buggy, and the advent of motorized cars, flight, and a person stepping onto the moon, we must share our resources, our hope, imagination, determination, and I add creativity in all the places where we live, work, learn and play.

In this season of light, joy, family, friends and hope, I conclude with two pieces of writing. The first is both ancient and contemporary: a beautiful account of a steadfastly loving and care-giving God. The second has been written in the past few days and mostly tells the story of both charity and shalom-making justice. The second is also personally pertinent in several ways; especially as I am enjoying the sweet, innocent, wholly dependent presence of my 16 month old granddaughter. I offer these stories, along with the many that you and I have shared in our journeys through this past year (2010): in the Spirit of hope, imagination, determination and creativity.�

First is a passage from Hosea 11:4: “I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes. I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them”. 

The second comes from the writing of Rebecca Solnit: Vision: How a Better Future Is Being Made Right Now. Following is an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s December 22, 2010 article.

As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren’t the corrosions and failures of this system [Adam Smith’s Free Market], but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand — the one that gives rather than takes — is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.

As 2010 concludes and 2011 arrives, may we in our communities find and share hope and apply the Power that is “now” working within and among each and all of us to accomplish abundantly more than we could ask for or even imagine.

In the Spirit of shalom,

Dave Cooper