A blue box at the corner of Poplar and West 5th Streets is a symbol for how the community cares for its own. The “Common Good Box” stays stocked with items anyone who needs can take.
The husband and wife duo behind the box is the Klines. Rebekah, born and raised in Owensboro, and Justin, a Nebraska native, met on a mission trip. They imagined they’d be missionaries overseas together, but for the past nine years, they’ve been serving right here at home. Commissioned by their church, Heritage Baptist, they’ve made their life on the west side a ministry of its own.
“When you think of missionaries you usually think of overseas,” said Rebekah, “But Heritage really had a vision for starting right where you’re at and Justin and I felt that way very much too — it starts right where you’re at, with your neighbor.”
Justin said they identified the neighborhood as a place to invest because they saw a lot of children coming from broken homes, and many without a father figure.
About nine years ago, Justin started teaching breakdance lessons and mentoring at the Neblett Center, and the couple started holding community cookouts on the west side — all while living on the east side of town.
“It became apparent that if we really wanted to have an impact we had to live (in the neighborhood),” said Justin. “In through these doors are the neighborhood kids, and to be able to have them over for pancakes on Sundays and things like that, we needed to be here and be available.”
And so they moved into the house at 5th and Poplar, and are now a hub for activity in the community.
“I think the thing that kickstarted everything was vacation Bible school,” said Rebekah. “We do it right out in the side yard, and the idea was to bring VBS to the kids.”
The program started with about 30 kids and has had more than 100 every year since. The Klines said it’s not your typical church Vacation Bible School with themes like dinosaurs or space. The themes are culturally relevant and geared toward the kids they’re trying to reach. This year the theme was “lit” and last year it was the 100 emoji.
One spin-off from the successful VBS is a weekly boot camp, offering a place where parents and children alike can come and work out for free with members of the community. All held on the Kline’s side yard.
“We have such a vibrant relationship with the children in the neighborhood, we wanted to do an outreach with the adults,” Rebekah said. As a professional personal trainer, it’s a perfect way to “use the gifts and talents I’ve been given to help others,” she said.
They also hold a yearly block party and do special holiday activities. But beyond the programs, it’s the everyday interactions that are meaningful to the Klines.
Rebekah said their purpose was driven by a verse from the Bible, John 1:14, “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
“When we think about Jesus, that’s what he did. He dwelt among the people and he was available and people could come and ask him for things. And we want to be available,” Justin said.
“It’s letting kids come in after school when they get off the bus, it’s walking through the neighborhood interacting. It’s just the ordinary, nothing extraordinary, nothing glamorous moments,” Rebekah adds. “We’ve been through some scary things living here, as well. There’s violence and crime and shootings, but we feel very safe because we have such a clear calling.”
Justin said a couple of months ago some men in the neighborhood asked if the drugs and violence ever concerned him with regard to the safety of his family.
“I told him that those were the very reasons why we moved here. That was what we signed up for,” he said. “We’ve never felt more of a part of a community. And obviously, we stand out, we’re the minority here, but we feel like family because that’s the way that we’re treated.”
That community is the mindset behind the box of items in front of the house.
“It’s called the common good box because we don’t ever want to come across like ‘you guys need us, we can help you,'” Rebekah said. “The idea is you can come and bring something yourself and bless your neighbors or if you need something you can come and get it. I may need something one day and go out there and take it – it’s common good because we’re all in this together.”
They’ve met new people from all around the community who stop to donate, including regulars who have their kids stock the box on Sunday afternoons. People bring everything, from food to clothes and toiletries and supplies for back to school.
As it’s getting cooler, Rebekah suggested hats, scarves and other cold-weather items are a good idea for anyone who wants to donate, as well as items not available from the Help Office, like lightbulbs or feminine hygiene products.
Additionally, if anyone wants to join the boot camp workout, it’s every Monday at 6 p.m. at 5th and Poplar and it’s free for anyone in the community.