Love, Chapman-style

Religious activist looks to improve a sometimes overlooked community

Church founder looks to improve his former neighborhood.

Church founder looks to improve his former neighborhood.

Photo by Kyle Emery

Chapman to Chico?
The neighborhood in southeast Chico has long been a county island surrounded by the city. That is changing as it's being annexed into city jurisdiction through community efforts and government mandate. Resistance to annexation remains, however.

Driving through Chapmantown one afternoon, Vince Haynie heard a voice that told him, “That’s your building right there.” He immediately made a U-turn, spoke to the owner of the building and chose it as the location for his new church.

Haynie grew up in inner-city Chicago, where, he said, he was consistently exposed to dangerous situations. Involvement in negative circumstances as a teenager made Haynie realize that he did not want to continue down a destructive path.

He moved to Los Angeles his senior year of high school and later attended Lassen College in Susanville, where he met his future wife, Kesha. Haynie graduated from Lassen College in 1985, and he and Kesha moved to Chico in 1992 to attend Chico State.

Since moving here, Haynie has had his share of court dealings and legal issues, but in recent years has focused his attention on the Chapmantown community, a neighborhood surrounded by the city of Chico, but still within the jurisdiction of Butte County.

Haynie said soon after moving into Chapmantown he became aware of the community’s negative reputation, though he believes that reputation does not reflect reality. The neighborhood lacks streetlights, sidewalks and gutters, which he suggests feeds its relatively high crime rate and fosters that bad reputation.

After attending the Neighborhood Church for nearly a decade, Haynie says God told him to start his own congregation. That is when he discovered the building that would become his church, Rhema Word of Faith.

“We knew that’s where we were meant to be at and start the ministry,” Haynie said.

His church was the sixth established in Chapmantown. As the youngest pastor, he said, he was seen as the new kid on the block. Haynie came up with the idea of all six churches working together to create outreach in the community, but the others, he said, were hesitant.

Haynie’s love for Chapmantown and desire to better its conditions and reputation led to the creation of the Love Chapmantown Community Coalition last year. He said its mission is to find and offer solutions to the issues and concerns of the community to improve the residents’ lives and ensure political, social and economical rights.

“A lot of people knew about Chapmantown, but putting the word ‘love’ in front of it… love is really powerful, love never fails,” Haynie said.

Full of passion and desire to transform the community, Haynie spent three months creating awareness about his new organization. In March 2011, the Love Chapmantown Community Coalition held its first meeting. Attendees shared with each other the reasons they were there. Many were aware of the stereotypes about Chapmantown and were interested in helping with its transformation.

A number of events, including potlucks in which people involved in the organization share ideas to improve the community, have been held in Chapmantown and helped community members become more aware and given them the chance to become involved. The organization held a community-service day in the neighborhood Jan. 16, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The coalition currently has more than 180 people on its email list, people who just want to be involved in the transformation, Haynie said.

Getting streetlights installed in Chapmantown is one of the organization’s most important tasks, he said. Butte County money has been available for this project, he said, but no one took the initiative to make it happen. Love Chapmantown’s biggest accomplishment so far is getting those streetlights installed, which is scheduled for later this year.

One community project Haynie supports is cChaos’ Chapman Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Fridays from 2-5 p.m. on Cleveland Avenue next to Chapman Elementary School. Among his goals is encouraging vendors from the Chico Certified Farmers Market to participate in Chapmantown as well, with the incentive that there is no cost to participate.

Sections of Chapmantown have been annexed into the city of Chico, while others remain in the county’s jurisdiction. Haynie said he believes if the entire community were considered part of Chico, more of its issues and concerns would be resolved. Counties, he said, have many cities to focus on, while cities can focus on improving communities within.

There is, of course, resistance among many Chapmantown residents to annexation, as evidenced by protests of the requirement that homeowners who hook up to the city sewer system, as mandated by the state, also move within the city’s jurisdiction.

Love Chapmantown is working to create a children’s choir, a youth/teen center and greater awareness of the farmers’ market. Haynie is enthusiastic about the market and sees it as a large part of Chapmantown’s transformation.

Residents are encouraged to become involved in the Love Chapmantown Community Coalition by attending one of its monthly meetings held at Subud Hall. The next meeting will be Friday (Jan. 27). The data collected at these meetings will be used as a basis to continue Chapmantown’s transformation.

Love Chapmantown is not the only religious-based organization making an effort to improve the neighorhood. Habitat for Humanity recently created a program called the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative offering help to low-income families who own their homes but need assistance with minor repairs. The program will focus on the Chapmantown area.

Habitat for Humanity will work with community organizations to decide what work needs to be done in each specific area.

For his part, Haynie says he is amazed by the transformation the community has made and remains optimistic about the future for both the neighborhood and Love Chapmantown.