Renewal of the South Bronx
Renewal of the South Bronx
By Nathan Deardorf
Sara Miller’s job is not just a career—it’s a way of life. She runs a non-profit organization called A House on Beekman in the poorest part of America: the South Bronx. Its purpose is to join God in the renewal of the South Bronx.
What this looks like practically is a series of seamless programs from birth to adulthood for her neighbors, with the goal of breaking generational poverty. The program begins with “Babies to Three,” which empowers mothers, fathers, and caregivers to be the best parents they can be during the critical early years. Then the children grow up and move on to their preschool after-school program, which grows with those kids through middle and high school and beyond.
When asked what her typical day looks like, Miller smiles and says, “There is no typical day.” But many days include a hodgepodge of figuring out finances, communicating on the organization’s behalf, fundraising, supporting and meeting with her staff of fourteen, and spending afternoons at one of the programs with the kids because “that’s the part that gives me life.”
She says, “What motivated me to start A House on Beekman was my neighbors. What motivated me to move to the South Bronx was my relationship with God.” Miller moved from suburban Texas to New York City to study acting at NYU. But two years into college, she began to feel that her actions and her faith were not lining up. She felt convicted as a Christian to think about her responsibilities to these communities. Because the South Bronx is so poor, she knew Christ would spend time there if he were alive today, so she wanted to as well. At the age of 20, she and a friend from NYU rented a home on Beekman Avenue.
“To be clear, I didn’t move here to fix anything. I didn’t think I was coming with answers, or to help. I moved here to see God, not to fix anyone,” Miller says. She spent the first four years in the South Bronx living simply as a neighbor and friend—“We only responded in love with friends and neighbors, the same way I would have treated my real sister.” After these four years in the community, she began to develop the blueprints for the seamless programs with the input of her neighbors.
The biggest challenge Miller has faced throughout her time in the South Bronx is not any external factors, but her own lack of patience. Working with children as they grow up is slow. It’s hard to put years of love into a kid, only for them to check out when they don’t feel like coming around anymore. Focusing on the long-term shaping of lives can be difficult when immediate reality isn’t easy. Recently one of Miller’s best friends was moved to a different shelter with only a day’s notice. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “Not just to lose a friend, but it brings to the forefront that I often take for granted a stability and way of life that others just don’t have.”
It is this sort of thing that Miller hopes to be a part of preventing in the future. Her goal for the next few years is to continue living and growing with the children and adults of her neighborhood—just as hope itself is doing.