Will Acuff on Building Relationship and Improving Communities

Today I had a Penny Chat with Will Acuff discussing how organizations can form relationships with communities. Will should know, he and his wife Tiffany founded Corner toCorner a group that made huge inroads into helping underprivileged communities in Nashville. The reason that I want to learn about this is because my church, (New Garden Church), is making a concerted effort right now to better connect to our community. In some ways we are positioned perfectly to do this - our church services are in Dupont Tyler Middle School. However we have yet to make meaningful relationships with the people in our community outside of our congregation. So we’re looking for help!

The Story of Corner to Corner

Will started the conversation by telling us how Corner to Corner got started. When Will and his wife first moved to Nashville, they decided to make a difference in their community. Tiffany was the first to make an impact. She started working as a rehabilitation counselor in the prison system. A problem she found was that inmates had trouble getting jobs because inevitably their jail time would come up during interviews, and it became an obvious sticking point that kept them from getting jobs. Tiffany developed a curriculum where the inmates would practice having that conversation. Rather than an negative summary of the details of their crime, the conversation would positive - they would own up to the crime and but move the conversation into a discussion about the lessons they learned and the character they gained while in prison. Will was next to make a move, he identified community centers and find the people who were making things happen, then he helped them make it happen. Soon he was leading efforts in the community through things like tutoring programs and after-school programs.

Advice for Building Relationships and Improving Communities

After reviewing the history of Corner to Corner, the conversation turned toward advice for our church and general tips for making a difference in our community. Here are some of the insights that Will had for us:

And finally, my church is in a a particularly interesting situation this year because we’ve decided to dedicate 100% of our Sunday contributions to our community. I’m on the generosity committee that decides where this money goes, and I’ve got to tell you it’s hard work to find impactful places to place our money. (Hey! And if you have any good ideas, then let me know!). Here’s is Will’s advice for this. Our money should be spent roughly in 3 equal parts: community, training people in the church, and non-profits. Spending money on the community means building programs and having charitable events for the community (for example holding a Financial Peace University class, having a food drive, or tutoring). Training people in the church helps activate our membership and helps them to understand how they can engage with the community. Finally, we’re finding out that it’s very hard to find enough community programs to spend all of our contributions, so funding worthy non-profits is a great way to help out the larger community and put money toward a good cause.

Thanks for the great discussion Will, I learned a lot!

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