Adam & Becca Stanley of Blueprint 58
How long have you lived in Atlanta?
Adam: We’ve lived down here for 4 years. We had a contract on this house about 5 years, but then because of renovations we didn’t move in until August 2011.
Becca: Adam and his dad renovated everything themselves, so they were here that whole first year.
Why did you decide to move to Adair Park?
Becca: When I worked for Metro Kidz, I was the site pastor for Herndon Homes which was a housing project. They closed that housing project, but those were all the kids that we had relationships with. Once they closed it down, everyone spread out. We knew some kids who lived in Pittsburgh who had moved from Herndon Homes. So that’s why we started looking here.
When did you start Blueprint 58?
Adam: We worked for a camp in between working with Metro Kidz through an organization called Vision Atlanta. It was called Camp Grace. I was still teaching, and Becca was going downtown 3 days a week. I’d join her on the weekends. Then I was asked to come on staff with the camp, and that was kind of the transition to starting Blueprint 58. I worked with the camp for 2 years, and our goal was to start mentoring the students that came to know Christ at camp. That way they would go back home, and we’d partner with that ministry to find a mentor for that student to disciple them. What ended up happening was, the recession hit. We lost a lot of our funding, so I became the camp director. I did that for 2 summers, and we decided that it was fun but definitely not my gifting. And we were still passionate about this idea of one-on-one mentoring, because that’s what was so influential in our lives. So we were encouraged to start our own nonprofit as we were looking at houses in the Adair Park/Pittsburgh community. We did, and that’s how it was born.
Becca: All of our kids were moving a lot. There’s just a lot of transience. So we knew we were either going to have to follow kids all over the place, or pick a community and go deep and trust that God’s going to bring the kids to us for whatever season they live there. We decided we want to find a spot and put down roots and try to make a difference there. To go deep instead of wide. Mentor Kidz is awesome. Camp Grace is awesome. But they’re both very wide and not very deep, but we see that these kids are making decisions and learning about Jesus. But then they go home, and they don’t really know what that means or what that looks like or how to actually walk that out in their daily life. We thought that if we can be a part of their daily lives and a spot where they can come and talk about it and ask questions and see a family and all those things, then we could really make a difference.
Where did the name Blueprint 58 come from?
Becca: It’s from Isaiah 58. This chapter talks about a true fast which is caring for the poor and loosening the chains of injustice. At the end it talks about being called a restorer of streets with dwellings, and we just really loved that picture for this neighborhood. When we moved in, most of the houses were abandoned. It felt like it could use some restoring. Even as we were restoring our house, we were struck by this idea that we want this community to be a place that God restores.
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
— Isaiah 58:12
How did you find it when you moved into the community? Were you immediately welcomed and accepted?
Becca: I felt like we were really accepted from the start.
Adam: We worked on the house for 9 months, so we were here everyday. We would have neighbors that would come by and ask if they could walk through. We were like — “Sure, no problem!” We even had the drug dealers and a couple of the gang members, and they would sit on the front porch and charge their phone. So I’d go out there and talk to them and got to know them through that. So when we moved in, we already knew a lot of the key people in the neighborhood — the residents, and the guys that were working the corner.
Becca: I think that helped. And they were all really surprised that we weren’t investors. They would always be like — “You’re going to live here?” I think they had seen white people coming in and working on houses, but it was investors or people who were not going to move in. I never felt like anyone didn’t accept us or want us here.
Adam: We were given some really good advice when we first looked at moving in. We were told, “Move in and don’t do anything for a year. Just get to know people in the community.” That was probably the best advice we’d ever been given, because so often we approach things as we’ve got this idea of what this group of people needs. Whether it’s an impoverished community or you’re trying to sell something to a business person, it’s “I know exactly what you need.” So coming in and asking questions, like how are you doing? What do you do after school? What’s in the community that’s already here? We got to see a lot of great things in the community, like there’s a BeltLine bike shop called Bearings Bike Shop. We hung out with them and got to know kids through the bike shop. We got to meet the church on the corner, where we now have our offices. Just getting to know the community before we said “we know what you need.” Because we were able to listen we were able to start things like the flag football team.
“Move in and don’t do anything for a year. Just get to know people in the community.”
Do both of you do Blueprint 58 full-time now?
Becca: Adam does. The plan was for both of us to do it full-time, but 2 days after we moved in Caden was born with a heart defect. So he had open heart surgery when he was 5 days old, but because of that we need my job’s health insurance. So I work about 25 hours a week, and Adam does this full-time.
This is a lifestyle for y’all. This is not a check-in/check-out volunteer situation. You live here. You’ve committed. How have you seen that impact your kids?
Becca: I think it’s really good for them. They have been young enough so far that I’m not really sure that they’ve understood some of the hard stuff we have walked through or encountered.
Adam: They’re like family, Zach and Sabo taught Jayci how to walk and they’ve seen all our kids grow up.
Becca: Yeah, they’re like family. I think recognizing that we open our home, and we help people. And not just that we help people but that we have real relationships with people. That has been really good for them to look outside of themselves, because that’s hard for kids. Jayci is now starting to ask a lot of questions, like boys who wind up in prison and girls who have babies. It just means we have to talk about those things. It’s hard, because I’d rather not. But not talking about them isn’t better. Just because she doesn’t know about something or we don’t have to talk through something, it doesn’t mean it’s not still there and not something we shouldn’t be talking about.
Adam: It took us a while to find a balance. There was one point where we had preschool age kids through middle school age kids in our house everyday from the time they got out of school until the time we had to put our kids to bed. That was a really challenging season for us to learn how to say no. It’s ok to say, “No, we need our family time.” It’s finding that balance between making sure that we spend enough time with our family and making sure we continue to do the work in the community.
Becca: Also, so our kids never resent us or feel like we’re there for the other kids but not them. Or like we are putting them first. And recognizing that it’s good for the neighborhood kids to see us prioritizing our family.
How did you meet Zach?
Becca: About 9 years ago, I was the site pastor for Herndon Homes through Metro Kidz. Each week, there were between 30 and 100 kids that would come to church from Herndon Homes. We were spending a lot of time in that housing project, and we were in charge of them. So any time there was discipline, me and Adam were in charge of those kids. One of those kids, Sabo, was getting in trouble and getting kicked out of church every week. He was eight years old at the time. We were like — “Why is he so angry? What’s underneath this?” We thought, if somebody doesn’t step into his life and try to go deeper, this is not going to end anywhere good. Plus, he was so little to be so angry. Adam and I started inviting him to come out to lunch with us after church, and his best friend was Zach who would come along. We spent a lot of time with them over the years. Then we’d ask if they wanted to go to a Braves game or a Thrashers game. Then we brought them out to our house in the suburbs, and they were amazed. That’s part of why we moved down here. They couldn’t understand that — you don’t rent your house? They’re not going to tear it down? They wouldn’t let me walk outside at night, and we lived in the suburbs. For them to see that there are other ways to live, and for us to know that we could offer that vision for more kids if we lived in the city — so it was building those relationships that ultimately led us to move.
What long-term change have you seen come out of your time with the kids and Blueprint 58 so far?
Adam: I don’t know. I think that there’s a lot of people that have done community development for a long time, and probably a lot better than us. One of those guys is Dr. Perkins. He says that, “It takes a minimum of ten years or maybe 15 years investing in a community before you’ll see something change, if you’re fortunate enough to see it.” I think one big change we’ve seen, not necessarily because of anything we’ve done except for being the income class we’re in and the color of our skin, is the gentrification of the neighborhood.
Becca: It’s not necessarily how we would have wanted it to change, but it’s not like we didn’t want it to get better. We hear less gun shots, and it’s not like we want to hear more gun shots. But I think what’s actually happening is that problems are getting moved away, because a different income class is living here. It’s kind of a snowball effect.In that way the community has changed a lot.
Adam: We have 35 students that are mentored now. If we look at some way that we’re able to influence change for our mentors, the vast majority of them have been impacted because of the students they mentor. And the students they mentor have been impacted as well. It’s neat to see that through what God laid on our hearts, the one-on-one mentoring ministry, we’ve been able to create 35 change agents in the community. They can then go and share that it’s not as simple as — “Oh, if they just had 2 parents at home.” Or, “If they just cared about their education.” They can be voices for the unheard in our community. Also, a lot of the change has centered around our lives, like the change in our own thinking. One of the first people that we got to know in the neighborhood was the gang in the community. They would hang out at our house. We watched the Super Bowl game together. Then we started a flag football league, because they came and asked, “Hey, we want to stay out of trouble. Will you help us?”
Becca: There was a boy that got shot right outside our house. It was not long after we moved in, and he was in that gang. Adam visited him in the hospital, and then he and his friends came down and asked if we could help them stay out of trouble. We obviously said yes! So, Adam started a football team. And I think the flag football league in the neighborhood has been one of my favorite, most beautiful things here. We do it so the parents can come, but also so new people in the neighborhood can see the boys doing something positive. That’s been a really cool thing.
ATL 1X1: That’s really amazing that they came and asked for your help.
Becca: I think that goes back to us not wanting to move into the neighborhood with an idea of what we’re going to do. Because we wouldn’t have said sports. We like football, but we wouldn’t have said we’re going to start a sports ministry. But for us to say, “Ok, God. Whatever it is.” It also led us to meet and build relationships with other kids in the neighborhood, and one of those kids ended up living with us for a year. Just being able to say, we’re not going anywhere. That takes the weight off of us to say, we have to change your ideas immediately. Because we’re here. The invitation is always open.
What made this approach of helping others work for your family? And what advice would you give to people to find what may work best for their family and community?
Becca: I would say that we are pretty uniquely shaped to do this kind of ministry. We are both pretty flexible and ok with a little (or a lot) chaos. We always say that we are bad at a lot of things, but we are good at being flexible. We are ok with kids being allowed on our front porch or coming in and making a mess. That doesn’t faze us. Not everyone is like that. We didn’t do a good job of getting to know our neighbors when we lived in the suburbs. If we can all love our neighbors as ourselves, which is really what we’re doing, you can do that anywhere. It’s actually probably harder in the suburbs.
Adam: Yeah, you don’t have front porches. You have back porches. You have garages.
Becca: There’s people outside here all the time. Part of that makes it easier. Adam works in his garden and meets people walking by all day. But you can do that wherever you are. It’s just going to take intentionality.
Adam: If you want to do something in your community, like mentoring, it’s not this huge act of righteousness. It’s the small things that you can do. The biggest steps towards doing ministry in our community have been the small acts that we’ve done. A tree fell in our neighbor’s backyard. I went over with a neighbor, and we split the wood. Now, we are great friends with our neighbor who is in her 80s.
“If you want to do something in your community, it’s not this huge act of righteousness. It’s the small things that you can do. ”
Becca: I’m a big proponent of “show up before you’re ready.” A lot of people say, “Well, once all my kids are in school, then I’ll have time to do this…or we’ll save up some money first… or once we get our house clean, we can invite people over.” I feel like we were like, I’m not sure we know what we’re doing, but we’re going to do it anyway. Just be willing to do it and trust God that He’s going to show up and provide what you need. Another thing is building a relationship with someone who’s not like you. Whether it’s formally through an organization or just building a friendship with someone who doesn’t come from where you are or look like you. Shane Claiborne says in his book The Irresistible Revolution, which was a catalyst for us in coming to do ministry, “The problem is not that Americans don’t care for the poor. The problem is that Americans don’t know the poor.” Because once you know people, it changes things. For most of our mentors who have built relationships, no longer can that person be a stereotype. No longer can you ignore that their school is so terrible. All those things come along with relationship, and it’s messier and harder. You really have to redefine success, because if we didn’t we would be like — what are we doing? But it’s about being faithful and building that relationship — that’s success.
ATL 1X1: I like that y’all are willing to be imperfect, because to me that makes anyone feel more comfortable.
You ask people to commit to being a mentor from 4th grade to graduation. That’s a big leap. Have people taken on that commitment?
Becca: We ask people to commit for at least 2 years. If you have a relationship with a kid for 2 years, it’s not going to be that hard to keep going. Our longest mentors have been with kids since we started 4 years ago. We don’t ask for a lot of hours a month in the hopes that once you build a real relationship, you’re going to want to stick with them for the long haul. If you had told us in the beginning that we’d end up living downtown, we would have said, “nope — we’re just asking these kids out to lunch.”
How many mentors have you had to date?
Adam: We’ve had 37, and we currently have 35. We want to bring on 20 new students every year. 10 boys and 10 girls. In their school career from 4th grade to 8th grade we’ll see up to 160 students.
What would you say breaks your heart about the city of Atlanta?
Becca: There are systems and injustices that really break my heart. Like the fact that these kids go to a school that is failing them, not preparing them and not equipped to be what they need. The system of mass incarceration too. Seeing some of our boys go into the prison system and seeing what a mess the whole thing is. It’s more of those systematic injustices that break my heart.
Adam: I think about how segregated our city is. A lot of the middle class, no matter what race, lives on the Northeast side of town, and the low income community, which is predominantly African American, is on the Southwest side of town. Now, we’re seeing this gentrification happen. The people are displaced, and the students that we see that have to leave because the rent goes up. It’s just the simple economic factors that play into all of that. But the people who really need it most can’t stay here to reap the benefit of the Beltline going in or rising home values. That’s what is the hardest thing for me to see in Atlanta. There’s just this disconnect between the communities of Atlanta. If you go down Ponce, the streets on the North side of Ponce have different names from the streets on the South side of Ponce, and that dates back to segregation. There is a lot of beautiful culture on the Northeast side of town and a lot of beautiful culture on the Southwest side of town. But how do we get those cultures to merge? And it’s very fear driven.
Becca: And it goes back to that thing that it’s not that we don’t care about the poor, but we don’t know the poor. I think if we can get people to know people who don’t look like them, then that’s going to change things.
What excites you most about the future of Blueprint 58 and your neighborhood?
Becca: It’ll be interesting to see what ends up happening in our area, because it’s gentrifying so much.
Adam: We’ve got a group of middle income couples who are moving into the neighborhood and will be starting families. We’ll eventually have a group of kids who need a school to go to, and the parents won’t be content to send them to any school. So how do we make the school better? Then if it’s better for kids who are in our neighborhood, then it’s better for all kids. The Beltline going in allows great access to getting around Atlanta, which provides access for all kids. With gentrification, there are very negative things that happen. But there are also some very positive things that happen. We may get a grocery story or a coffee shop in the neighborhood that we can walk to.
Becca: All of those things are exciting to me as long as we can make sure it’s accessible for everybody. There’s a lot of uncertainty that can be exciting or scary or both.
Adam: With Blueprint 58 being able to say our neighborhoods are more connected with the things that are happening in our city, then we can have mentors that can walk or bike to each other’s house. We can have more access to more mentors that know this community, because the Beltline goes through. We can begin to leverage those things that are happening in the city to our advantage. That’s a lot of fun for me to dream about.
If you could challenge the citizens of Atlanta to step up and help their neighbor, what would you say?
Adam: So much of what we see now is fear-driven. Stop being afraid.
Becca: Show up before you feel like you’re ready. Don’t wait until you feel like you have it all together, and say “Now I feel like I can do this.” God doesn’t need us to have everything together before He can use us. To recognize that each and every person is uniquely equipped to love the people around them, whether they realize that or not. And the only person missing out is them. Because if we weren’t doing this, God’s going to raise someone up. The help might come from somewhere else, but what if you were there for such a time as this? And you were there to love your neighbors as best you can in whatever that looks like. Even if you feel like you can’t. We feel like that all the time.
“Show up before you feel like you’re ready.”
Adam: You’ve got to get over yourself too. You’ve got to set yourself aside, and stop saying, “I’m not good enough to do that or I’m not Christian enough to do that” or whatever your excuse is. You are your own worst enemy. You’re getting in your own way. Just get over all that stuff and do it.
Becca: Do a little step that you know how to do too. When we first moved in, we made cookies and went to all the houses. We had popsicles on the front porch. Do something small and see where God takes your from there.
If you had to describe your time in Adair Park in one word, what would you say?
Adam: Adventurous. Everyday is a new adventure. You never know what you’re going to get into.
Becca: People ask if we can describe a typical day, and we say there’s no such thing.
As told to Kristen on November 3, 2015