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Issue 1: Community Revitalization

Recipes for Empowering Community Greyston, Mandala, Yonkers

by Chris Lazarus

Buddhism and brownies. The hard-core unemployable and a $3 million/year for-profit business. A manor house from the gilded age of America’s aristocracy and a cookbook from 13th century Japan. Bottom-line entrepreneurs with professional strategic plans, an HIV/AIDS health program and permanent housing for the homeless. Unlikely combinations? Only if you’re unfamiliar with what many consider to be one of the most successful examples of integrated community development and social change — the Greyston Mandala, with a 15 year record of commitment to the underserved in Yonkers, New York.

It all started when a Brooklyn-born aeronautical engineer, Bernard Glassman, became fascinated with Zen Buddhism, and in particular with the teachings of Dogen, the 13th century founder of Soto, Japan’s largest school of Zen. Dogen wrote a manual, entitled Instructions to the Cook, that used cooking as a metaphor to explain how to create a life that is lived fully and completely, “preparing the supreme meal.”

In 1996, the same year Glassman retired from the Greyston Mandala (to work on international peace), he published his own Instructions to the Cook, explaining how and why Greyston developed. It could be the recipe for an individual life, for a business, or for any organization working for social change. (New York: Bell Tower, 1996.)

Key concepts in Glassman’s Instructions: use what is available, don’t reject anything, maintain a balance of ingredients, put everything in the appropriate order, our faults are our best ingredients. Just as “the supreme meal” has five essential and interdependent courses: spirituality, learning/study, livelihood, social action and community/relationship, so the Greyston Mandala has five purposes: wealth creation, community services, personal growth, spirituality and organizational integration.

Zen and Right Livelihood

The cooking metaphor is especially appropriate for Greyston. Giving up a career at McDonnell Douglas in Southern California to devote himself full-time to Buddhism and social activism, Glassman returned to the East Coast and in 1982 founded the Zen Community of New York, which was based in the 19th century Greyston mansion Glassman bought with donations in an affluent area of the Bronx.

The Greyston Bakery was an enterprise started to support the Zen Community. Although wholesome bread was more in keeping with the ideal, it became quickly apparent that far higher profits could be generated selling cakes and pastries to restaurants, gourmet shops and corporate food services. Balancing practicality with idealism is one of the hallmarks of Greyston, undoubtedly under the influence of Roshi Glassman, who once earned a Ph.D. in mathematical engineering. As the bakery prospered, its mission metamorphosed, as it should according to Zen concepts:

“If we follow the principle of sustainability... we try to buy or create as much as we can use — no more and no less... If we find that we are making more money than we need, it’s time to enlarge the family we’re feeding.” Enlarging the family meant that, in addition to its purpose of providing a “right livelihood” for the Zen Community, the bakery became a means of training and employing homeless and jobless residents in the poor neighborhoods nearby. Helping those in need was the primary motivation Glassman selected Yonkers in the first place; located in the midst of one of the country’s most affluent suburban areas, Westchester County, the city itself has one of the highest rates of homelessness.

An Integrated Approach

The more Glassman and other members of the Greyston Mandala worked with the homeless, the unemployed and the poor, the more it reinforced the need for a holistic, integrated, multi-faceted approach to help these people become self-sufficient and break the cycle of welfare dependency, drugs, crime, and unemployment. It was not enough to just provide training and jobs; to hold and keep jobs, these people also needed child care, housing, healthcare, counseling on drug abuse and family problems, spirituality and a sense of belonging to and participating in a caring community.

So with funds from the sale of the Greyston mansion, the first building of the Greyston Family Inn was built and opened in 1991 to provide permanent housing for the homeless with a child day care center on the ground floor and a full spectrum of services for residents. Today there are three buildings, providing a total of 50 units to formerly homeless families.

Enlarging the family also meant helping other populations in need, including poor people with HIV/AIDS. In 1992, Greyston Health Services was formed and five years later opened Issan House and the Maitri Day Program in a former Catholic Monastery. The former houses 35 people with HIV/AIDS and the latter provides health, rehabilitative, counseling, and complementary services to 150 people with HIV/AIDS living in the surrounding community.

Community outreach and fresh produce were also the reasons for starting the Greyston Garden Project, which brought together people in the community to create five community gardens on neglected properties.

Join the Feast

In 1998, the professional management team and boards of the various Greyston organizations, which together assumed leadership of the Mandala after the departure of Glassman, assembled a strategic plan to guide the multi-faceted organization through the next five years. And they are making it available to others involved in social action and community revitalization. The strategic plan includes an organization chart, timeline for actions, and financial resources.

One of the key principles in Glassman’s book is “don’t worry about the competition”: “The world is so vast and there’s so much to be done that it doesn’t make sense to worry about competition. It’s like a feast. You don’t have to be afraid that the other guests are going to eat all the food.”

And the brownies? They are more than simply one of the delicious treats sold by the Greyston Bakery. They, too, were the result of networking and cooperation with others dedicated to social responsibility. In the early days of the Greyston Bakery, Glassman met Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream at the Social Venture Network, a coalition of socially responsible entrepreneurs and investors. To support the employment of “unemployable” and because the product quality was satisfactory, Ben and Jerry’s selected Greyston to provide the chocolate fudge brownie chips that go into their ice cream. That contract has accounted for a disproportionate amount of the bakery’s — and thus the entire Greyston Mandala’s — income. It was instrumental in growing the bakery from a small, money-losing operation into the $3 million/year profitable business that permanently employs 50 inner city men and women and provides short-term work and training for many others.

Reducing such heavy reliance on this one good customer is, in fact, one of the goals of the strategic plan which is excerpted and summarized on the next page.

Excerpts from Greyston Mandala Strategic Plan of March 1997

From the Executive Summary:

Greyston’s unique vision of an integrated set of programs that addresses the needs of the whole individual, including jobs, housing, child care, health care, relationships, education, and spirituality, is its most important asset. Greyston’s integrative philosophy offers a basis on which to develop programs that are different from, and more effective than, those provided by more conventional social service and community development agencies.

Mission Statement:

To create a new model of community development inspired by core values of the Buddhist tradition: commitment to a path of personal growth, development of wisdom and compassion, and celebration of the wholeness and interdependence of all life.

To heal and enlighten our society by: empowering ourselves and others to lead self-sufficient and productive lives, working with the rejected parts of society, including the rejected parts in ourselves, and creating and stewarding healthy institutions which in their very nature are catalysts for individual and community transformation.

First Principles:

Concept of Mandala… a schema for viewing life and society holistically and approaching societal problems integratively. The mandala serves as a three-fold model: of the integrated, well-functioning individual self; of the integrated, well-functioning community; and of the positive integration of self within community… Corresponding to the five aspects of life and of energy (body, heart, mind, spirit, self) are five overarching goals of Greyston as a community-based organization: wealth creation, community services, personal growth, spirituality, organizational integration.

Concept of Path… The concept of path is used to look at the evolution of systems — individuals, communities — over time. While the mandala teaches us that the five roles (provider, caretaker, learner, seeker, leader/member) constitute an inseparable whole, the path shows us that they emerge more or less sequentially, with an individual’s efforts primarily focused in one or two areas at a time.

Self-Sufficiency in Community… The path toward self-sufficiency is the never-finished process of realizing one’s full human potential in the context of community and of generational succession. The path toward self-sufficiency is in reality a path from dependence through relative independence to a conscious and pro-active state of interdependence. Thus “self-sufficiency in community” is the common goal for all Greyston constituents, be they clients, tenants, staff, board members, or volunteers… Greyston is a permanent, living, and growing community, a “village” providing resources and supports for all of its inhabitants and seeking to empower them into greater levels of self-efficacy, service to others and spiritual growth.

Spirituality… Greyston sees personal growth and community transformation as fundamentally spiritual processes…The spiritual principles of Deep Attention, Exchanging Self and Other, and Compassionate Action offer all members of the Greyston community, the challenge and the opportunity to join together their inner and their outer lives. It is in the daily integration of these two dimensions, which are so often alienated in contemporary life, that the key to higher meaning and purpose in life can be found.

Opportunities and Challenges 1998-2002

The strategic priorities are to “build out” the three sectors of the mandala that are already well established — wealth creation, community services, and organizational integration — and to “fill in” the two underdeveloped sectors — personal growth and spirituality.

At the same time, Greyston must respond to challenges and opportunities presented by significant changes in the external environment that have occurred or are currently in process: income inequality; welfare reform; devolution; increased understanding of the multi-dimensional character of poverty; capriciousness of housing and social service programs; increased support for affordable home ownership; new local initiatives; evolution of the HIV crisis; health care revolution; increased interest in spiritual growth.

14 Key Strategic Initiatives

A. Wealth Creation Sector

1. Job development initiative in both the for-profit bakery and Greyston’s non-profits.

2. Affordable housing initiative, including attention to the “working poor.”

3. Asset building initiative, to support constituents’ accumulation of personal and family capital.

B. Community Services Sector

4. Family Resource Center initiative — to expand and integrate support services and extend these to Greyston community members beyond the Greyston Family Inn tenants.

5. Healing Center initiative to integrate complementary and holistic health therapies with traditional treatments for those with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses and disabilities.

6. HIV special needs managed care initiative to prepare for the Medicaid managed care environment.

7. Community gardens initiative — to pursue purchase or donation of plots currently on loan from public or private owners.

C. Personal Growth Sector

8. PathMaker initiative — develop the PathMaker program (a pilot program was implemented in December 1997) which will reach across all of the Greyston operating entities, for-profits as well as not-for-profit, and encompass all constituents in a common approach to personal, vocational, and spiritual development in the context of a supportive, value-driven community.

D. Spirituality Sector

9. Spirituality initiative — one of the challenges for Greyston will be to create, through a process of open dialog, a language around spirituality that is inclusive and respectful of the many different ways that people access spirituality in their lives.

10. Interfaith initiative — including renovation of the chapel complex at the former Catholic monastery (used by the HIV/AIDS housing and day program) as a place for interfaith activities; also the formation of an interfaith advisory board and local spiritual advisory board.

Organizational Integration Sector

11. Governance and management initiative to create more effective boards and advisory groups and to build senior management capacity.

12. Providers initiative to increase and diversify the donor base and financial assets

13. Community relations, marketing and volunteerism initiative.

14. Quality initiative to meet high performance standards.

To obtain a complete copy of Greyston’s strategic plan, please contact David Rome, Senior Vice President of Planning & Development, Greyston Foundation, 21 Park Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703-3401. T: 914-376-3900, F: 914-376-1333, Email: david@greyston.org.

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