Posts Tagged ‘Orange Blossom Trail’

More Like Heaven

July 24, 2013
Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

Kids playing at Palms Trailer Park

By Phil Hissom

A while back we went around Palms Trailer Park in Orlando and asked, “How could this place be more like heaven?” The number one answer by far was, “When people drive by, they’d see kids playing.” The Palms is well known for lots of things but kids playing is not one of them. The answer was imaginative and hopeful and today it came to pass. While kids in the park do play in the back of the park, today they took ownership of a little plot of ground along Orange Blossom Trail. That’s a lot of people driving by and seeing a place that’s a bit more like heaven. The vision is becoming reality.

POLIS, who offices in the park, hosted some kids from Summit Church for a service project day. The kids were welcomed by residents and joined by several children from the park to do the work. Together, we did some painting in the community center, tended the grounds around the community gardens (left side of picture), and demolished a concrete structure that was in the grassy lot. After the work was done, the kids played a rousing game of soccer and had a blast. Everyone did an excellent job.

At the end of the day, we all gathered in the Palms Chapel (far end of the picture) to wrap things up and Maurice, one of the kids that lives in the park, took command of the podium. He got everyone’s attention and said, “I’m going to speak for the community today and say, ‘Thanks a lot. You guys are pretty cool. Come back if you can.'” He owned the room for a few minutes. The park is his home and he was glad to have shared it with some kids from elsewhere in the city and his friends from the park. We all smiled and couldn’t help but applaud Maurice for his kind words and blessing. He was delighted to speak for the community and did a tremendous job. No one asked him to do it. In fact, I was really not sure what he was going to say. He led us all into gratitude and joy – a perfect conclusion to a great day together.

We intend to build on this and create regular opportunities for recreation and believe this vision – more like heaven – will continue to guide us. Lord willing, we’ll be putting in some playground equipment in the next couple of months and partnering with Collins Recreation to roll out consistent, safe, and fun activities. We got a little closer today by moving out some debris and quite a bit closer by taking the time to really enjoy ourselves. Join us if you can. Pray for us if you can’t.

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom

Phil Hissom is the Founder of the POLIS Institute and the author of Dignity Serves. He can be reached at

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.


Who Doesn’t Like Barbecue?

April 20, 2012

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

Scott and Sammi, residents of The Palms Trailer Park on Orange Blossom Trail, care about their neighborhood.  When asked what they think would make The Palms a better place to live, they said, “A place where friends and family can gather to barbecue, socialize and have kids play safely.”

They believe that having this community space will bring people together to get to know one another, which will lead to more trust between neighbors and even diminish petty theft and fighting.

“When you know your neighbor and they know you’ve got their back, they’re less likely to pick a fight with you over stupid stuff,” Scott said.

And, after all, who doesn’t like barbecue?

There is a grassy area at the front of the neighborhood between the Trailer One Community Center and Palms Chapel that is not used or fenced in. The area borders one of the busiest streets in Orlando.  Kids wait for the bus in the morning, playing on the sidewalk while 18-wheelers race by.  The space has dead shrubbery and is riddled with ant piles and weeds.

Scott sees this area not as the “eyesore” that it currently is, but as a blank canvas that, if treated properly (with the help of neighbors and other donors), could turn into a place where friendships are grown and ideas and dreams are shared.

Scott is a Master Welder and landscaping expert. He spent time and energy creating a blueprint for a professional BBQ Pit, Smoker and Griddle.  He also plotted out the landscaping plans, soil grading and re-fencing that he says will be necessary to create a space that is peaceful, safely protected from the busy street and able to hold a vegetable and herb garden.

The project can be accomplished for less than $1,000.  Scott and Sammi have already been going door to door, to neighbors, with hand-drawn fliers showcasing the plans, asking people to pitch in.  Scott has also called several companies to ask for donations of cement block, sand, equipment etc.  He is committed to seeing this idea come to fruition.

And he could use your help! Please donate to POLIS and indicate “Project: BBQ” and your tax-deductible donation will directly support this effort. You can also give of your time and talent, or provide some of the necessary materials. Just contact us at and let us know. Help Scott and Sammi make their community a better place.

Oh, and come by and join us for a barbecue soon!

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-lesson course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Communications Skills: Are You a Good Listener?

March 8, 2012

By Michael Joe Murphy

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

That quote from Mother Teresa haunts me.

Yes, I appreciate solitude occasionally. But I fear loneliness. I desperately want to be loved. And there’s not a day that I’m not conscious about living in a lonely world, a lonely city.

Does anyone else sense a poverty of communication? Is anyone listening? Are you?

Sometimes that poverty hits me, but for no good reason: I’m blessed with family and friends who listen – really listen – to me.

Then there’s the poverty of isolation or exclusion because of gender, race, economic dislocation, living on the streets or, in the case of my friends at The Palms on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, because they live in a trailer court.

The key to people feeling loved is a perception that someone really listens to them — sometimes beneath their words spoken in anxiety or anger.  Do we do a good job listening? It’s tough.

There are a gazillion websites about “how to be a good listener.” My version resides on a battered index card, circa 1975, from the superintendent of my school district in Ohio, Ed Hamsher. He spoke at a Bible study, and what he shared was practical for someone about to go to college. On the now-frayed card, he wrote:


1. Listen underneath the words.
2. Consider and reflect back what you understand to help clarify. Do not make a judgment.
3. Lead the other person to discover his or her own solution by considering the option available.
4. Permit that person to be responsible for his or her own actions.

It wasn’t many months until the wisdom borne on the index card became invaluable, in situations large and small, significant and seemingly without meaning, but all deeply important.

Knock-knock came a rapping at my dorm room door. “Murph, I slept with a girl. We didn’t use a condom. She’s Catholic, like me. What if she’s pregnant? What do we do?”

I had spilled a few beers with the guy at dorm floor parties. We had talked about the Bible, and I’d bought a copy of the Living Bible (Catholic edition) for him. But, it’s not as if I had the answer to his question. So I listened as closely as I could, and I haltingly spit back what he’d just shared:

“So, you didn’t use protection? Do you know her? What do you think you’d do? What do you think she’d want to do?”

Listen underneath the words. Check. Reflect back on what was shared. Help clarify. Check. Don’t be judgmental. Check. Let the person be responsible. Check.

There was quite a bit of listening and sharing over the next several weeks, and finally sighs of relief. There were lessons learned. That index card proved invaluable.

When I’ve been at the Community Center at the Palms on Saturdays, I’ve listened, or tried to listen, to unspoken concerns, moods, aspirations, hopes, fears.

Outside the Community Center, I’ve heard hurtful and vicious words hurled in anger by men and women on SOBT.

Inside the Community Center, I’ve listened to the prideful determination of people stepping up as leaders.  They brim with confidence and hope, wanting to make the Palms a better place to live.

I’ve listened to a soft-spoken young woman boast that she’s been working in a bistro, full time with benefits, since last April. (We both griped about Orlando’s lousy bus service.)

I’ve listened to an older woman, rapid fire, share that she’s bipolar and “intimidated.”

“No one listens,” she declared. I sat in rapt attention.

Did she know I was listening – or trying hard to listen? Did she feel as if she were important? That I understood her fears and shared her indignation about a laundry list of injustices?

Mother Teresa amplified her line about loneliness and poverty.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, or in a trailer park on South Orange Blossom Trail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a dorm room at Kent State University, my alma mater, or in Harvard Yard.

Wherever you are in life, listen. Without condemnation. Without judgment.

I’ll be praying for you, and the person to whom you’re listening.

May you both feel unconditional love.

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.

Neighborhood Leading with LaDeitra: Determination and Patience

February 18, 2012

LaDeitra and Rebecca

By Rebecca Lujan Loveless

The Community Center at The Palms Trailer Park bustled with life on a recent cool Saturday morning. This was unusual because up until that week, the trailer that housed the Community Center was open only Monday through Friday. This Saturday, the residents came in and out, using the computers, sitting to chat with neighbors over cups of coffee, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the spirit of “togetherness” in this overlooked but much under-rated community.

The Palms Trailer Park is located between two highways on Orange Blossom Trail – “OBT” as it is affectionately referred to. OBT is notorious for the business of buying and selling women. So whenever I tell people where my office is located – in a trailer park on OBT – I am generally met with some kind of a joke about “working the Trail.” And while my work involves befriending women who do, in fact, “work the Trail,” it also involves listening to the hopes and concerns of other people, too:

  • The former inmate who is unemployable because of his past.
  • The older woman who has never worked a day in her life because of her crippling disabilities.
  • The young, single mom who is passionate about her children having a chance to succeed with opportunities she never had.

Recently, I have become friends with a young, single mom who has taught me so much about determination and quiet patience. LaDeitra is curious and funny. She is hopeful yet cautious. She leads people with ease and yet is hesitant to be called a “leader.” She cares about her neighborhood and wants to be a part of creating a place where her kids can play safely, where she knows her neighbors well enough to understand their needs.

When I first met her at the Community Center, LaDeitra was shy and quiet. She would come to use the computers and then leave as quietly as she came in. But over time she began to pick up on some of the conversations around her. As people would visit the Community Center, we would talk about their ideas to improve the neighborhood. LaDeitra grew curious. Eventually she started contributing to these informal conversations. Finally, after several months of listening and observing she asked if she could come to the weekly meeting for our volunteer Hosts of the Community Center.

Once LaDeitra was trained as a Community Center Host, there was no stopping her. She began talking to her neighbors, listening to them dream about “what could be” at The Palms. She convenes people for Neighborhood Meetings, and it was her organization and determination that allowed the center to start opening on Saturdays.

The work of Asset Based Community Development can be very lonely. Am I the only one who thinks this neighborhood is great? Does everyone (including the residents here) think this place is a joke? These are admittedly my dismal thoughts on days when I feel heavy-laden with the reality of generational poverty.

But LaDeitra reminds me, “Things take time.” She reminds me that there are others who care about this forgotten part of Orlando. She confirms my deep suspicion that when the talents of the poor are properly engaged, their well-being improves. She engages my talents of leadership and organization and, in turn, allows me – even invites me – to engage her talents to influence her neighbors toward change.

Each Saturday, if you stop by The Palms Trailer Park, you will see LaDeitra with her notebook open, listening to the dreams of her neighbors. She writes them down, showing that what her neighbors have to say is important. She talks to others about these ideas and invites people to find ways to empower them.

LaDeitra is hesitant to be called a “leader,” and yet each week she leads me to believe that change – even in the most unlikely place – is possible.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.