Featured photo: Cindy McMillion
Caritas Village, a beloved community center in the Binghampton neighborhood is preparing for some major renovations this year. We sat down with Leslie Barker, the new Executive Director to learn more.
Choose901: As the new director of Caritas Village, what are some of your initial plans?
Leslie Barker: The plans for early 2017 are to renovate the building. We will be making changes downstairs in the restaurant/kitchen and upstairs. We are hoping to have a great space upstairs for meetings, events, and performances. Because of these plans, my immediate goals will be to make sure all of that goes as smoothly as possible. After that, my goals will be to utilize the space to its greatest potential.
I live in the neighborhood, so Binghampton is not new to me. However, I know that this position will give me a completely new perspective on the neighborhood. I plan on jumping in head first and building new relationships with community members I don’t know and forming deeper ones with the ones I have already spent time with. People look out for each other in Binghampton and the Village provides a place to connect. My most important goal is to do just that – to connect. I want to learn the stories of the people who spend time at the Village and to invite others to join us. I plan on doing a lot of listening.
C901: In taking on this new position, what are you most excited about?
LB: I am most excited about forming new relationships. The sense of community within the walls of the Caritas Village is tangible. As humans, we are all searching for connection. I am so excited and beyond honored to be able to spend my days in a place that is built on community. Also, the food is incredible, so I’m pretty excited to share some meals with old and new friends.
C901: How will you sustain and grow the mission and meaning of Caritas Village?
LB: I am an artist. My background is in theatre. I write and direct for the stage. I am also an advocate and believer in the power of all the arts. The past few years, through my work as the Director of Outreach and Education at Theatre Memphis, I have been able to focus on art as community engagement.
The Village is overflowing with art. From our art gallery to our Artist-In- Residence program, art is definitely a way that people connect at the Village. I hope to bring even more arts programming to the table. Onie Johns, founder of the Caritas Village, has always told me that her dream is to have art all of the time for the young people of the neighborhood. I hope to do just that. To me, art means sharing stories in a way that we can all understand them. There is infinite power in that – and hope. I am always dreaming up possible programs, performances, and collaborations.
C901: What does Caritas Village mean to you?
LB: To me, just like for so many others, the Caritas Village is a home away from home. It is a refuge from the rest of the world – a place that openly offers love and kindness with outstretched hands. It is a beam of light that cuts through even the darkest of days.
I started going to the Village a few years ago as part of a women’s writing group. After that, I was hooked.
One morning, during that writing group, I wrote this:
I write here – On Wednesdays at the Caritas Village. I am usually late. I wear no makeup. I don’t iron my clothes, but I am accepted.
I see familiar faces drink tea, coffee, and eat raspberry scones. I am allowed to be tired or frustrated or perfectly content.
Black and white checkered table cloths, paintings, soup, and salt and pepper shakers – pen and paper grow roots here. Words are seeds and puzzles and ropes that tie me to my fellow pilgrims, my fellow travelers.
Here I see community – a spark, a star, a classroom, a church, a home.
At least five years later, I still feel every bit of that.
Leslie Barker previously served as director of Outreach and Education with Theatre Memphis. During her tenure with the organization, she spearheaded SPEAK – a program designed to motivate Melrose High Schools students to use art as a technique to address social issues. She also provided instruction and facilitation for the Rhodes College/Central High School Theatre Memphis fellowship, developed workshop and summer camp curriculum and, wrote scripts and directed plays for the Theatre Memphis touring company ShoWagon. Baker is a seasoned arts educator, stage director, grant writer, program creator, mentor and motivator.
Learn more about Caritas Village in this video by High Ground News:
Caritas Village is located at 2509 Harvard Avenue and is open Monday through Saturday from 10am-8pm with food service starting at 11am. Free wifi is available as well as meeting areas. They will begin renovations later this year and are looking for building materials, plumbers, demolition help, packers, bookkeeping help and craftsman. Interested in helping? Go to their contact page and send a message to learn more.