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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Photo: Jon Swihart.
Belly dancer performance and artist lecture at a potluck in Santa Monica. (The potluck founders are moving to a state where they will have to remember to call a potluck “hot dish.”)

A sense of community is important to us all. Today’s story is about artists in California using the act of breaking bread together as a way to build bonds and reduce isolation.

“When artists Jon Swihart and Kimberly Merrill move from Santa Monica to Minneapolis … they will be leaving behind both a cherished home and a remarkable artistic and social legacy. Inspired by their friends Mark Ryden and Marion Peck’s recent move out of state, the couple decided it was time for a change. …

“Paying the home’s mortgage for decades solely by working as an artist is something Jon considers one of his greatest accomplishments. Another is the role he played — along with Kim — in hosting 162 potlucks in their verdant backyard, each one featuring artists or other creative producers who spoke about their life and work.

“ ‘Painting can be so isolating,’ Jon notes. ‘So sometime in the late 1980s I started inviting artists over to the house to talk about their work. Word spread quickly and people started asking if they could join us. The potlucks officially launched in 2003 after we became a couple. At Kim’s suggestion we started using the backyard — and supplying plates and plastic cutlery — and things really took off.’ By the time COVID-19 forced Jon and Kim to discontinue them in 2020, the artist potlucks had taken on a life of their own, drawing as many as 200 people at a time from an email list of over 2,500 names. …

“The backyard potlucks followed a consistent formula that worked because so many people stepped up to contribute and help out. Around 6pm on a Saturday night, a long table filled up with potluck delicacies — both store bought and homemade — while a drink table was stocked with wine and beer. Jon and his tech crew would set up for the artist slideshow as Kim greeted visitors in her studio at the back of the house.

“The house itself, although only 1,300 square feet, was one of the attractions. Built in 1927, its tile floors, beamed ceilings, and arched doorways offered a sense of warmth and comfort. On top of that, Jon’s trove of antiques and art objects — which include a painting attributed to Jean-Léon Gérôme that was later authenticated on the show popular British TV show Fake or Fortune — provided sophisticated eye candy.

“Over time an extraordinary variety of artists stood under the lanterns in Jon and Kim’s backyard, discussing not just their work, but also the events and challenges of their lives.

‘I would tell the speakers to avoid art theory,’ Jon recalls, ‘and instead talk about how a passion for art sustained you through disasters and triumphs.’ …

“Every now and then a potluck broke the mold. At one unforgettable event, a group of fire-spitters recruited from the Venice Beach boardwalk performed on the sidewalk in front of the house, stopping traffic and astonishing the neighbors. Another off-the-charts event was art historian Gerald Ackerman’s talk, which was also a celebration of his 80th birthday. 

“As artist F. Scott Hess recalls: ‘Jerry, the world’s foremost authority on Jon’s favorite artist, Jean-Léon Gérôme, was a longtime friend of all of us. That night in Jon’s backyard there were theatrical recreations of Gérôme paintings, with costumes as close to the originals as was possible. And there was a belly dancer as well. Jerry was thrilled with the acting out of Gérôme’s ‘The Duel After the Masquerade,’ with Brian Apthorp as the wounded harlequin taking a good 10 minutes to die.

“To cap off the evening, Jerry was given a Gerald Ackerman Action Figure, in its original box, a creation of Peter Zokosky, with all the extras a topnotch art historian would need.

“The popularity of the potlucks brought innovations. Trekell Art Supplies began sending merchandise for one-dollar-ticket raffles that raised money to support the events. Artists also began to donate prints or small works of art to be included in the raffles. Artist Eric Davis soon began creating buttons that included a logo and event date along with the featured artist’s name and work. … Davis made between 40 and 100 buttons, which were given away for free: a total of over 7,500 in a span of 14 years.

“ ‘They were open events and anyone could come,’ Swihart comments. Art dealers, critics, students, and collectors began to attend, especially after Greg Escalante — a dealer and the founder of Juxtapoz Magazine — talked them up. Thousands of complete strangers streamed through the house. Amazingly, nothing was ever stolen, which gave Jon and Kim a new faith in humanity. …

“During many of the artist talks — held under strands of paper lamps and a glowing moon — there was absolute silence among the audience. The energy was positive, even magical, and artists who might have seemed unapproachable before laid themselves bare. Again and again the talks humanized artists by revealing them as people who had struggled and who, at some point, had been afraid to experiment with their art. 

“One notable speaker — Robert Williams, the legendary underground comic and ‘lowbrow’ artist — told the crowd how the dominance of Abstract Expressionism had inhibited the development of representational art when he was a student. Because Jon and Kim’s potlucks were not sponsored by an organization or institution, contrarian points of view, like those offered by Williams, were respected and even welcomed. … From Swihart’s point of view, having Robert Williams speak at a potluck was ‘like having Eric Clapton stop by to play in my garage band.’ …

“ It was a cauldron for friendships, conversation, networking, alchemy, and artistry,’ recalls Eric Davis. … Artist Peter Zokosky comments: ‘Even at the time, you knew something rare and miraculous was happening. Jon gave a forum to 100-plus artists over the years, and never once did he give a slideshow of his own work.’

“ ‘The potluck was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life,’ Jon states. ‘We had so many artists on our wishlist when COVID shut them down, but it was time to bring it to an end.’ ” 

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

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Image: Nations Online Project.
At an unnamed trailer park in Northern Virginia, residents help one another.

One recent morning as I returned from my walk, I was stopped by a woman even older than me walking slowly with a cane. She wanted directions to the hospital, apparently to visit a patient. “But,” I said, “you can’t walk there! It’s over a mile!” “I have to get to the hospital,” she said.

After trying unsuccessfully to come up with other transportation options for her (my own car was in the shop), I gave her directions and off she went. I hope she made it. Sometimes women are beyond amazing.

In August, Theresa Vargas at the Washington Post, wrote about how a group of immigrant women turned a manufactured-housing park into a real community.

“The heat was unforgiving and the mosquitoes were biting, but the women who filled the foldout chairs in Imelda Castro’s backyard didn’t seem bothered. During the pandemic, that small strip of greenery tucked behind a Northern Virginia trailer park has been a haven for them. It has served as a classroom, an office and a community play space.

“That backyard is where the women learned from a health-care worker what medical services their children are entitled to receive. That backyard is where a DJ played music on Día del Niño, Day of the Child, and the community invited a police officer to take a swing at a piñata. ‘She had never hit one before!’ said a woman who captured that moment on video. That backyard is where, every Friday, the women form an assembly line and empty with impressive efficiency a truck filled with fresh produce and other goods, and then make sure everyone in the trailer park who needs food gets it.

“ ‘If we didn’t have this community we’ve built, we’d be very vulnerable,’ Rosalia Mendoza said in Spanish as she sat in one of those foldout chairs. ‘We’re united, and it makes us stronger. What affects one trailer affects the whole community.’ …

“That’s why the women want people to know what they’ve created in that trailer park on Route 1. From a shared struggle, they have built something special — a network of moms who regularly check on one another, inform one another and push one another.

To spend time with those moms is to recognize this: Alone, some could find themselves drowning. But together, they’ve been able to do more than tread water.

“ ‘This is unique,’ Patricia Moreno said of the community. ‘This is not everywhere.’

“Moreno has spent the last two decades as an outreach worker for Anthem HealthKeepers Plus, a job that takes her into low-income communities throughout Northern Virginia to teach residents about their Medicaid benefits. Her fluency in Spanish and willingness to go into even the most neglected of neighborhoods has made her a welcome presence among Latino immigrants who don’t trust easily authority figures.

“Moreno first learned about the women when one of them, Ana Delia Romero, called to ask whether she could come speak to them about health care. …

“The population of the trailer park is one that nonprofit workers often worry about. The majority of the residents are immigrants from Central and South America, and their families are tied to the local economy by threads that are usually among the first to be severed during economic downturns. Most of the men work in construction and restaurant jobs, two industries that were hit hard during the pandemic, and many of the women don’t work because of a lack of access to transportation and child care. In the last few years, several families have gone weeks without income, and some have faced eviction.

“Moreno said many people in the communities she visits are hesitant to ask for help, or accept it, but these mothers have worked hard to turn their trailer park into a village. They watch one another’s children. They give one another rides. They invite people to come teach them about subjects that will benefit their families and their neighbors. …

“ ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a system like this,’ Moreno said.

“On the day I visited, she sat with eight of the women in the foldout chairs. Also there was Ivana Escobar, director of collective impact for United Community, a nonprofit that provides food to the trailer park and support to the women.

“ ‘We go to every community in this area,’ Escobar said, ‘and these women have made something stronger than anywhere else.’

“As the women tell it, Ana Delia Romero, who is partially blind, is the one who started bringing them together. She was the first person in the community to test positive for the coronavirus, and she ended up in the hospital for six days. After she recovered, she started volunteering with the Health Department. She knew many Latinos were hesitant to learn about the virus and the safety precautions they could take, and she wanted to help get that information to more people.

“She also wanted to make sure none of her neighbors was going hungry during the pandemic. She got involved with free food-distribution efforts and started knocking on her neighbors’ doors to ask whether they had enough to eat. …

“Escobar said that Romero asked United Community whether a truck could deliver food to the trailer park, and now, a truck comes every Friday. When it arrives, the women unload the contents and distribute them. On the day I met the women, all but one were wearing a United Community T-shirt. Escobar said they don’t get paid by the organization. They handle the food distribution as volunteers.

“ ‘The women here, they mobilized themselves,’ Escobar said. ‘You wouldn’t even know they’re struggling because of how they show up.’ …

“ ‘When Ana asked, “Who wants to volunteer?” the answer was “Me, me, me,” ‘ Elizabeth Villatoro said. ‘This community doesn’t have excuses. Ana doesn’t say, “I lost my vision, I can’t do anything.” Alberta doesn’t say, “I have children with special needs, I can’t do anything.” We do what we need to do.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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My friend Di, who is a trustee of our library, caught me going into the building Monday and said she had put a new bench in the Large Print section and asked me to let her know what I thought of it. Little did she know what a kindness I think benches are!

Sydney Page at the Washington Post reports on a kind man who was moved to make a bench for a weary bus rider he’d seen — and was then moved to make another bench and another.

“James Warren rides the public bus a lot in his hometown of Denver. Ever since he went car-free in 2017, he uses buses to get around if he can’t get to his destination on foot or bike. Many of the bus stops, he began to notice, lack seating for riders as they wait.

Then in January, Warren spotted a woman waiting for a bus along a busy road. There was no seating at the stop — and no sidewalk — so she sat in the dirt.

“ ‘For people to have to sit in the dirt while they’re waiting for a bus is just undignified,’ said Warren, 28, who works as a consultant for the Colorado Workforce Development Council. He wanted to do something about it. He decided to build a bench.

“ ‘I just took some scrap wood and went to town,’ Warren said, adding that he hoped this woman — and others seeking a seat — would not need to rest in the dirt again.

“He then realized that one bench was far from enough. There are more than 9,000 Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus stops in the Denver metro area, many of them without seating or shelter.

“Warren decided to contribute what he could. Perhaps, he thought, his homemade bench initiative might get the attention of transit or city officials who would see the need for better bus stops. …

“Since building his first bench in January, he has crafted seven more and placed them at bus stops around Denver — each made from scrap wood he finds in construction dumpsters. As far as design goes, ‘I mostly just wing it,’ Warren said.

“The benches take about three hours to build, and Warren inscribes ‘Be Kind’ on each one — either using a stencil or a wood-burning tool. …

“For Warren, what is most rewarding about his project is knowing his benches are being put to use.

” ‘I get a little giddy when I see someone using a bench,’ he said. ‘They are so thankful. … I met some ladies the other day who were talking about how they used the benches every single day,’ Warren added. ‘It fills me up. It’s air in my tires.’

“Although some of the benches have been vandalized or stolen, Warren said it doesn’t dampen his desire to make them. … ‘It’s not going to stop me,’ he said. ‘I’ll keep doing it. For every bench they steal, I’ll put out two more.’

“Warren said many people have hopped on his bench-making bandwagon, which has motivated him to build more. …

“Aleks Haugom, 32, heard what Warren was doing and was eager to join the effort. They spent an afternoon together building a bench.

“ ‘He showed me how he does it. It’s a pretty simple design, but it seems to work well,’ Haugom said. … ‘This guy has motivation [and not] just a normal amount, huge amounts of motivation. I have never seen anyone quite as motivated as James is to do these things. Hopefully it rubs off on me.’

“Others saw Warren’s work in the local news and decided to take out their tools, too. People also started donating supplies.

“ ‘That puts me over the moon,’ Warren said. ‘That’s the idea. Let’s just all help our neighbors.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
A public bench is a kindness.

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Photos: Valaurian Waller.
Ederique Goudia is a chef who came through for her community after Hurricane Ida. She is seen here with a statue commemorating child slaves on the Whitney Plantation — the only museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

Have you been following the efforts of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen as they serve the displaced people of Ukraine? Inspirational. Today I have a related story. It’s also about chefs who help desperate people by giving what they know best.

Xander Peters has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “Ederique Goudia isn’t the type who stops moving. From November through February, her life was like a hurricane’s gust, tossing her about the country between the community that raised her and the place she now calls home.

“In early November, Ms. Goudia and an entourage of chefs made their way from Detroit to her childhood hometown of Wallace, Louisiana, a community of nearly 600 about 50 miles outside New Orleans that had been pummeled by Hurricane Ida’s Category 4 strength last summer. Her foodways colleagues Raphael Wright and Jermond Booze, among a host of others from their home in Detroit, rallied around her and organized a day of service for the community, followed by their group’s inaugural diaspora dinner. …

“The day after they arrived back in Detroit, Ms. Goudia and company made a beeline back to the kitchen, where they began working alongside colleagues to prepare 50 family-sized Thanksgiving meals for their food-insecure community members. The meals were prepared through the food security group Make Food Not Waste, of which Ms. Goudia is the lead chef. 

“Food relief is about more than physical sustenance for Ms. Goudia and the many chefs who volunteer alongside her. It is a rung on the ladder to stability. And it can be the glue that holds communities together. ‘It creates a shared song amongst people, of a reset,’ says Detroit chef Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of ​​BlackMetroEats and one of the volunteers who traveled to Wallace with Ms. Goudia. …

“After Ida hit southeast Louisiana, [friends from the nonprofit Taste the Diaspora] were among the first to ask how her family fared, and they were well aware that it wasn’t feasible to get to Louisiana to help right away, as disaster recovery dragged on for weeks after the storm. They then suggested hosting local pop-up fundraisers. Before long, they had gathered a group of 15 or so members of the Detroit food community interested in traveling to Wallace. …

“[Ms. Goudia] knows small towns like hers don’t often receive disaster relief quickly while efforts concentrate on metro areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge first. Wallace sits in the middle of a petrochemical corridor and has long struggled with environmental justice issues.

“Ida made landfall on Aug. 29. As Ms. Goudia checked on her family, the Detroit food scene leaped into action. … In total they raised $8,500 and they distributed it to Wallace residents through the Descendants Project, an advocacy group for descendants of formerly enslaved people in Louisiana’s river parishes. … 

“By the time Ms. Goudia and her colleagues were ready to head to Wallace themselves, word had spread through the Detroit area. Soon sponsorships began rolling in: The Kresge Foundation, which expands opportunities for low-income individuals nationwide, was the first major group to chip in. Then ProsperUS Detroit, an economic development initiative, pitched in. Turning Tables NOLA caught wind of their efforts soon after and offered to help as well. …

“The Detroit food community’s support for Ms. Goudia and her hometown was, in some ways, as emotionally overwhelming as watching Ida hit her family. At the same time, it wasn’t surprising. It’s what Ms. Goudia has come to know as the heart of Detroit.

“ ‘The hospitality that lives in Detroit, it isn’t a one-off,’ says Ms. Goudia. ‘It isn’t surprising at all, because there is this Southern hospitality that’s here, that’s unmatched.’

“On the day of the Wallace dinner, as always, Ms. Goudia didn’t stop moving. She and her volunteers worked through the afternoon to prepare an evening meal of a beet-based African dish, mirliton dressing, baked spaghetti, cornbread tea cakes, and pralines.

“As he leaned against a picnic table out front, opening cans of corn, Mr. Osei-Bonsu of BlackMetroEats reflected on his and others’ trip down South so far, and what he hoped the meal would mean for the community.

“Healing a community’s emotional wounds through food ‘is definitely something that’s impactful,’ Mr. Osei-Bonsu says. ‘Today will be about so much more than just the consumption of food. It’ll also be a dialogue.’ …

“Ms. Goudia says from her home in Detroit several weeks later [that the point is] to use ‘food in a way that breathes life into people, that gives them what they didn’t think they needed at the time.’ She stops and reflects for a moment. ‘I think we were successful in that. … Everybody that came on the trip is now family. Not only with me, but with the residents of Wallace. I was blessed to be able to provide that for them.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, Detroit-based chef and founder of BlackMetroEats, sets the table for a 100-person Taste the Diaspora community dinner in Wallace, Louisiana, Nov. 21, 2021.

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Photo: Capital Area New Mainers Project.
Abdalnabi family members (left) are seen here with property manager Efrain Ferrusca (right). The family lives in what used to be St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hallowell, Maine, a building managed by Capital Area New Mainers Project [CANMP].

As church attendance decreases and buildings can no longer be supported by the remaining congregants, some properties are sold or donated to worthy causes. Tara Adhikari and Erika Page write about church transitions at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Victoria Stadnik glides on roller skates down one side of a wooden halfpipe decorated in neon spray paint. Light pours in through stained-glass windows, catching her body as she rotates through the air in the nave of what used to be St. Liborius Catholic Church [in St. Louis]. 

“After the church shut down in 1992, the building served briefly as a homeless shelter. Now, St. Liborius is better known as Sk8 Liborius – a skate park in use informally for a decade, with plans to open officially in three years.

“St. Liborius is one of hundreds of churches across the United States beginning a second life. As congregations dwindle – only 47% of American adults reported membership in a religious organization in 2020, down from 70% in 1999 according to a Gallup poll – churches are closing doors and changing hands. Developers have jumped at the chance to transform the consecrated spaces into luxury condos, cafes, mansions – even a Dollar Tree

“For some, the trend brings with it a sense of dismay. … But in some cities, residents are breathing new life into sacred spaces by giving fresh thought to what it means to serve, and who can constitute a congregation. Groups in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Hallowell, Maine, are finding that one fundamental purpose of church – community uplift – can take many forms. 

“ ‘These places are very powerful links to the history and the evolution of our neighborhoods,’ says Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, based in Philadelphia. Even though a church ‘may need repair, even though it may be empty, … it’s a bundle of assets. It’s a bundle of opportunities.’ …

“When Dave Blum, co-owner of Sk8 Liborius, speaks about his plans for the church, his voice echoes out across the sanctuary, ringing with the hope and certainty of a sermon. His team is creating not only a skate park but also an urban art studio where local artists can display and sell their work and children can learn skills ranging from metalworking to photography.  

“In every empty nook and cranny, he sees the potential to support a new congregation: underserved urban youth. He hopes skateboarding will get kids in the door – where vital lessons await. …

“The church was completed in 1889, and after years of neglect, it has a long way to go before it can pass an inspection and be formally opened to the public. Emergency exits, bathrooms, window repair, plumbing, electricity, and heat are just a few of the items on a to-do list of fixes estimated at $1 million. But donations are pouring in from supporters, and local skaters like Ms. Stadnik, who also works as a skating coach, spend weekends helping with repair work.

“ ‘A whole community came together to build these structures because it was important to them. And now, what we’re trying to do is have a whole community come together to maintain this structure,’ says Mr. Blum. 

“Welcoming newcomers into the fold is another function churches often fulfill. In Maine, a local nonprofit is continuing that mission by turning a former holy space into a home and community center.

He appreciates the sacredness of his new home and is just happy to finally have enough space to study. 

“Ali Al Braihi and Mohammed Abdalnabi came to the U.S. as refugees because war – in Iraq for the first and Syria for the second – made staying home impossible. Their journeys were different, but their families both ended up in Hallowell, Maine. Housing was limited, says Mr. Abdalnabi, and squeezing all nine members of his family into a two-bedroom apartment was ‘rough.’ Mr. Al Braihi had the same difficulty.

“Now, the 18 people that make up both families live in what used to be St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. … 

“ ‘What I feel is fortunate and thankful,’ says Mr. Al Braihi, now a college student. His family is Muslim, but he says he appreciates the sacredness of his new home and is just happy to finally have enough space to study. 

“After closing last summer, St. Matthew’s offered the building to Capital Area New Mainers Project (CANMP), which supports the growing number of refugees and other immigrants in the area.

“The congregation chose CANMP because it ‘felt like we would be carrying on the mission,’ says Chris Myers Asch, CANMP’s co-founder and executive director. ‘We take that responsibility very seriously. It’s hallowed ground.’ 

“Mr. Myers Asch and his team of volunteers are currently renovating the sanctuary to create the Hallowell Multicultural Center. When it’s ready, anyone in the community will be able to host events: dinners, talks, movie screenings, weddings – whatever brings people of different backgrounds together.”

More about church reuse at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/CSM.
Meidan “Abby” Lin poses in her apartment in Boston’s Chinatown. She and her husband bought the unit with help from the Chinatown Community Land Trust, which aims to stabilize the community through affordable housing, ownership of land, control of public lands like parks, and the preservation of cultural and historical sites.

One of the biggest challenges for America in these times is housing. Housing can help people with addictions get clean. It can reduce the need for long, polluting commutes to jobs in expensive urban areas, it can give people breathing space to pursue their interests and make better lives for their children.

One of the current experiments in providing housing that people can afford involves community land trusts.

Jocelyn Yang and Alexander Thompson write at the Christian Science Monitor, ‘In March 2016, [Meidan ‘Abby’] Lin; her husband, Yin Zheng; their young son, Yuchen; and Mr. Zheng’s mother left Fuzhou, Chin, … for another port half a world away on the Charles River in Boston.

“They shared their first apartment in Boston’s Chinatown with another family. During nights in that cramped space, Ms. Lin started dreaming of a place she could call her own. But Boston’s soaring real estate prices seemed to put that dream out of reach. Mr. Zheng works at a restaurant. Ms. Lin works at home.

“Then a friend told Ms. Lin about the Chinatown Community Land Trust. … The group was selling apartments at discount prices, and Ms. Lin jumped on the waitlist. But there was only one apartment big enough for her family. ‘I didn’t think we were able to get it,’ she says. All she could do was hope.

“Community land trusts [are] buying their own properties to preserve them as affordable housing in perpetuity and give residents more say over what happens in quickly changing neighborhoods. 

“That mission has gained new urgency over the past year as homeowners reap the rewards of a red-hot real estate market while renters are hit with steep rent hikes, deepening the divide between the housing haves and have-nots. …

“ ‘As neighborhoods change and gentrify really fast, the idea of having community control and having more say about how neighborhoods are changing and who’s going to be able to live in the neighborhood over time, from an affordability perspective, I think becomes really important,’ says Beth Sorce, who works with community land trusts nationwide at the Grounded Solutions Network, an affordable housing advocacy group. …

“Land trusts raise money from donations, grants, and government funds to buy property. Then they lease the house or apartment to a buyer well below market value, but the trust retains ownership of the land.

“This way, occupants typically get an ownership stake in their homes. They build equity over time, but at a rate that is often capped at 1% or 2% a year. The trust, which is governed democratically by residents and neighbors, can decide to whom the dwelling can be sold and at what price, usually through a covenant in the lease. This ensures the property remains affordable.

“The land trust idea was imported to the United States by civil rights activist Charles Sherrod in the early 1970s from the kibbutzim of Israel. Mr. Sherrod saw land trusts as a way for Black Americans to buy agricultural land in the South. …

“Andre Perry, a housing policy expert at the Brookings Institution [has shown] that an ‘intrinsic value of whiteness’ persists at almost every step of home buying from the appraisal to the sale. Minorities, but especially Black people, must pay more and get less. 

“By taking property out of the traditional market, land trusts reduce the discrimination baked into that system and empower communities to actively fight it, Dr. Perry says. …

“In California, justice is what drives Jacqueline Rivera and her fellow housing activists in San Jose. In the heart of Silicon Valley, where even high-paid tech employees struggle to find housing, development was pushing out vibrant Black, Hispanic, and immigrant neighborhoods.

“In community conversations Ms. Rivera and her colleagues held around the city in 2018, land trusts kept coming up. Ms. Rivera grabbed hold of the idea, and by 2020 she was heading up the South Bay Community Land Trust.

“Success has not come easily, though.  By definition, land trusts do not make profits, and fundraising is the biggest challenge they face. To buy their first property, a fourplex in downtown San Jose, they need to fundraise at least $1 million, on top of the half million dollars they need to pay professional staff and make the organization run. Speed is a problem, too. Developers snap up properties with cash in a matter of days, while the land trust moves ‘at the pace of community,’ Ms. Rivera says. 

“Yet, in order to disrupt traditional real estate, land trusts ‘still have to play in the real estate game,’ she adds.

“Advocates stress that land trusts are just one tool in a broader approach to the affordability crisis, but it could be a more effective one with government help. Ms. Sorce, of Grounded Solutions, says state and local governments should invest money in land trusts and change appraisal policies so land trust properties aren’t paying taxes based on their speculative value. With or without such help, land trusts must innovate to succeed.

“ ‘When we think about community land trusts, so many times we think about just the homeownership level,’ says Sheldon Clark, who recently served as president of the board of the Douglass Community Land Trust in Washington, D.C. ‘And that really just doesn’t cover the housing needs that we have.’

“Douglass has units it’s maintaining as permanently affordable rentals and other properties set up as cooperatives. They’ve also helped tenants take advantage of a District of Columbia law that entitles them to buy their unit if their landlord plans to sell.

“Really, land trust leaders say, homeownership is just one aspect of their focus on what Mr. Clark calls the ‘big C’ in community land trusts: the community.

“Douglass organized food drives during the pandemic and helps connect residents to credit unions, as many are unbanked. In Boston’s Chinatown, the land trust helped save a local park.”

Find other examples of how land trusts strengthen communities at the Monitor, here. No firewall; nice photos.

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Photo: Chelsea Sheasley/Christian Science Monitor.
Diane Nicholls stands in the room where she teaches in Elmore, Vermont. The Elmore School is the state’s last one-room schoolhouse. Elmore residents are voting on whether to form their own independent school district to preserve the school.

Today is the day that residents of Elmore, Vermont, were scheduled to vote on whether or not to protect their one-room school. Although my own brief experience with a one-room school does not incline me to nostalgia, I understand why this community may be afraid to lose its identity in the larger district.

Chelsea Sheasley writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Each morning before school starts and after recess, Diane Nicholls rings the bell atop the snug one-room schoolhouse where she teaches.

“ ‘I don’t feel like I’m living in the 19th-century, but it is charming,’ says Ms. Nicholls, who educates a group of 18 students in the Elmore School, Vermont’s last operating one-room schoolhouse.

“The Elmore School, a public school serving students in grades one through three, is a cherished tradition in the tiny town of Elmore, with a population of under 1,000. Generations of students have attended since the school opened in the 1850s. Now, townspeople are wrestling with how best to support it.

“Residents will vote March 1 on whether the town should withdraw from a joint school district with two other nearby towns in order to strike out on their own in hopes of preemptively preserving their schoolhouse. Concerns mounted after a district-commissioned report released in November 2020 proposed five cost-saving recommendations, with four out of the five options suggesting closing the Elmore School. 

“Behind the ballot effort are questions that also play out in other rural areas: How much does a school contribute to a community’s identity?

Is a local school such a crucial community hub that taxpayers are willing to pay higher costs to preserve it?

“ ‘It’s difficult to say what forms the identity of a community, but we know these institutions like the Elmore Store, the school, are part of it, and we defend them as a proxy for defending the community,’ says Trevor Braun, an Elmore resident and board member of the Elmore Community Trust, a nonprofit that recently raised $400,000 to ensure the town’s general store didn’t close. 

“March 1 won’t mark the first time residents will vote on whether to form an independent school district. In December 2021 the town voted not to leave the joint district, Lamoille South Unified Union (LSUU), amid concerns that taxes might rise and unknowns over what forming an independent school district means. But enough townspeople signed a petition to bring the question back to the Town Meeting this week. 

“Elmore … is located 14 miles north of Stowe, a popular ski destination and home of the Trapp Family Lodge, known for its connection to the relatives portrayed in ‘The Sound of Music.’

“Elmore consists of a short main drag with the school, the general store across the street, town hall, and one church. The population swells with seasonal summer residents. 

“On a recent February morning, students in the cozy Elmore School classroom practiced nonfiction writing. A first grade student wrote about chickens, while a few desks over a third grader wrote about her favorite animal, polar bears. Kids write and draw on paper, with iPads handy on their desks to research questions.  …

” ‘I remember my very first day here and I just really liked it,’ says Ruby, a third grader, who says that now, as one of the oldest kids, she appreciates that ‘you can have friends younger than you and help them, and it’s fun to see and help them develop their skills.’ 

“Jon Osborne, an Elmore parent whose two children now attend college, says the Elmore School provided his kids with a ‘phenomenal’ experience, including building a tight-knit group of friends who helped each other in the classroom. …

“The superintendent and school board of LSUU say they have no plans to close the Elmore School. The report that recommended closing was completed under a previous superintendent and done by an outside group without consideration of local culture, says LSUU superintendent Ryan Heraty. …

“ ‘That sense of independence, of local control, is very Vermont,’ says Mr. Heraty. 

“But even with the school district’s assurances, some residents are skeptical about putting the future of the treasured school in the hands of others. A recent kerfuffle with the United States Postal Service over halting service to the post office inside the Elmore Store raised townspeople’s hackles. In an effective show of civic activism, the town rallied elected leaders and pressured the USPS to reverse course. …

“If Elmore were to leave LSUU, it’s unclear what would come next. Residents don’t know if the state would allow the town to revert to a previous agreement where older Elmore kids were allowed to attend their school of choice in other towns. Or the state might force the town to fully operate their own independent school district. (Another small Vermont locale offers a cautionary tale: In 2021 the town of Ripton voted to leave its school district but is now negotiating rejoining after the state said the town had to provide all the related services, like payroll and transportation.) …

“Inside The Elmore Store, where residents pop in and out to pick up mail and exchange town news, Kate Gluckman and Mike Stanley are settling in after moving from Mississippi to run the store for the Elmore Community Trust. They are enjoying the warm welcome from locals. 

“Ms. Gluckman grew up in a neighboring Vermont town. The couple is still getting up to speed on the school independence vote. They were planning to listen to community members at a town forum and take their cues from the discussion. 

“ ‘I just want to support the community,’ says Mr. Stanley. ‘If it’s what’s best for the community, I will vote for it.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. In case you’re wondering, my experience was this: I spent the first month of first grade attending a one-room school on the island where I had spent the summer. My mother arranged for me to have the desk near the only person I knew slightly, an older girl who walked me to school, but the big boy whose desk it was became angry and threatening. I refused to go back after lunch, but that was a problem because the reading group for my age was in the afternoon. I didn’t catch up in reading until late in second grade back home.

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Photo: Ariel Cobbert.
At the Memphis, Tenn., library, Cloud901’s maker space is equipped with such high-tech tools as laser cutters and 3-D printers. The workshop is open to all ages, not just teens.

Today’s story is about an astonishingly innovative library in Memphis, Tennessee. It makes me ashamed to recall that my younger tradition-bound self thought libraries should never spend money on anything but books! Who knew the extended role libraries were going to play in people’s lives — from providing shelter during Ferguson, Missouri, protests to launching kids on undreamed-of careers. My own local library was recently renovated, and I wouldn’t give up a single 3-D machine.

Richard Grant writes at the Smithsonian magazine, “The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, a building of pale concrete and greenish glass, rises four stories in midtown Memphis. Walking through its automatic doors on a weekday afternoon, I hear unexpected sounds, muffled but unmistakable, almost shocking in a library context: the deep, quaking bass beats of Memphis hip-hop, plus a faint whine of power tools cutting through metal. …

“Here at the Central branch in Memphis, ukulele flash mobs materialize and seniors dance the fox trot in upstairs rooms. The library hosts U.S. naturalization ceremonies, job fairs, financial literacy seminars, jazz concerts, cooking classes, film screenings and many other events — more than 7,000 at last count. You can check out books and movies, to be sure, but also sewing machines, bicycle repair kits and laptop computers. And late fees? A thing of the past.

“The hip-hop beats and power tool noise are coming from an 8,300-square-foot teenage learning facility called Cloud901 (the numerals are the Memphis area code). Two stories high, it contains a state-of-the-art recording studio staffed by a professional audio engineer, a robotics lab that fields a highly competitive team in regional and national championships, and a video lab where local teens have made award-winning films. Cloud901 also features a fully equipped maker space (a kind of DIY technology innovation workshop), a performance stage, a hang-out area and an art studio. …

“Many cities have slashed their library budgets and closed branches. Memphis, Tennessee, one of the poorest cities in the nation, chose instead to invest, recently opening three new branches, for a total of 18, and increasing the library budget from $15 million in 2007 to almost $23 million today. Attendance at library programs has quadrupled in the last six years. In 2019, before the pandemic, more than 7,000 people attended the annual Bookstock festival, a celebration of literacy and education.

Memphis Public Libraries (MPL) is the only public library system in the country with its own television and radio station, and its branches receive more than two million visits a year.

“ ‘How did this happen?’ I asked Mayor Jim Strickland, who is serving his second term in office. He was sitting in his seventh-floor office with a view of downtown and the Mississippi River. ‘I’m a strong believer in libraries as a force for good,’ he said. ‘But none of this would have happened without our library director Keenon McCloy. She is amazing. We’ve got library people coming from all over the country to see what she’s done here.’

“McCloy is high-energy, fit from running, always busy, sometimes frenetic. Though passionate about public libraries, she has no training in the highly specialized field of librarianship, not even an undergrad degree in library science, and this provoked dismay and even uproar when she took over the Memphis system in January 2008. 

“ ‘I was the director of public services and neighborhoods for the city, and the mayor — it was Mayor Herenton at the time — appointed me without doing a search for other candidates,’ McCloy says over a salad lunch near her office in the Central branch. ‘It caused quite a stir in Libraryland.’ …

“McCloy’s first big task was to reorganize the funding and administration of the library system. Then she went looking for advice. She talked with directors from other states and visited acclaimed public libraries. ‘I wanted to meet the rock stars of Libraryland with the most progressive ideas,’ McCloy says. ‘And they all wanted to help me and share what they’d learned, because that’s how library people are. No one is proprietary and we’re not competitive with each other. We’re all about the greater good.’

“In Chicago, she toured the Harold Washington Library Center, where a 5,500-square-foot facility called YOUmedia opened in 2009. It was the first dedicated teen learning center in an American library, and it had a maker space and an in-house production studio to record teenage musicians. ‘That’s where I got the idea for Cloud901,’ says McCloy. ‘People kept saying the biggest problem at the Central library was all the teens hanging around, and I thought, well, they’re in our library, let’s find a way to redirect their energy.’

“The next step was to meet with the Memphis Library Foundation, a volunteer fundraising organization with connections in the business community and social elite. ‘I asked them if they would support a teen center at the Central branch,’ says McCloy. ‘Well, not immediately, but then they started raising money, and we decided to double the expense and really go for it.’

“Instead of a basic recording studio, McCloy and her team wanted a professional-quality studio. The legendary Memphis music producer Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell, co-owner of Royal Studios and a longtime supporter of the libraries, agreed to design it. For the maker space, they hired a native Memphian who had been overseeing such facilities in the Bay Area. He stocked the workshop with 3-D printers and other equipment, and brought in FedEx, a Memphis-based corporation, as a supporter. It was the same approach with the video and robotics labs: hire experts, buy the best equipment, recruit sponsors. Cloud901 opened in 2015, at a cost of $2.175 million. …

“When [when Janay Kelley, now 18] first arrived at the video lab, an instructor there, Amanda Willoughby, taught her how to use the equipment — cameras, lights, editing software. …

“The first film that Kelley made here was titled The Death of Hip-Hop. She lit and filmed herself. … ‘I was going to upload it onto YouTube, but Amanda insisted on entering it into the Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest.’ “

Read the rest of the story at the Smithsonian, here. It’s free. It’s a long article with fascinating testimonials. Pretty sure Laurie Graves will want to read the whole thing!

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Photo: Angel Valentin/The Guardian.
“Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food,” the Guardian reports. The three farms of Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico in Dorado “seek food sovereignty and climate solutions.”

The UK-based Guardian has some of the best coverage of North America to be found anywhere, and it’s free. Readers are asked to contribute, and I recommend doing so if you want to support good journalism.

A few days ago, the Guardian posted this update on an agricultural movement in Puerto Rico that, if taken up elsewhere, could make a big difference to the planet.

Nina Lakhani wrote, “Puerto Rico was once a thriving agricultural hub thanks to its tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and sustainable farming traditions. Today, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture and tens of thousands of acres of arable land sit idle. Meanwhile 85% of the food eaten in Puerto Rico is imported, grocery prices are among the highest in the US and last year two in five people experienced food insecurity.

“ ‘Unemployment is brutal, prices are brutal, migration from the island is brutal,’ said Denise Santos, who runs Puerto Rico’s food bank.

“Puerto Rico, a mountainous Caribbean archipelago, is also one of the places in the world most affected by extreme weather such as storms, floods and droughts. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the islands and people went hungry as ships were unable to dock at the damaged ports.

“In the face of so many challenges, a new wave of interest in food and farming among younger Puerto Ricans is flourishing, as part of a wider movement demanding political, environmental and social justice. Small scale sustainable farming known as agroecology is driving a resurgence in locally grown produce that chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers argue can help revitalize the local economy, improve food sovereignty and both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

“Agroecology is low impact agriculture that works with nature and local conditions to produce food sustainably so as to protect biodiversity and soil quality while drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.

  • “It involves a set of farming principles and practices that can be adapted to any ecosystem, microclimate and culture – a way of life practiced for thousands of years by indigenous people and peasant farmers. Farmers often integrate crops, livestock and trees (agroforestry) in order to maximize ecological conditions, such as a fruit orchard that aids water retention and provides shade for crops and grazing animals who in turn fertilize the earth to improve the yield.
  • “Crop rotation and crop cover are fundamental to this holistic approach, that takes into consideration the well-being of the Earth, those who produce the food as well as the local communities who eat it. …
  • “Advocates say agroecology offers locally driven solutions to a myriad of interconnected crises including food insecurity, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and global heating.
  • “Agroecology is a social and political movement seeking to influence public policies so that sustainable farming benefits from government support (tax breaks, subsidies, and bailouts) currently propping up the dominant industrial agriculture system which is a major cause of biodiversity loss and accounts for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gases.”

The Guardian goes on to profile “three agroecology farms striving to change what and how Puerto Ricans eat by challenging the political, economic and agricultural status quo.” Here is one.

Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico “is the collective brainchild of four graduates from [the Josco Bravo project] whose main objective is to improve access to healthy affordable food for vulnerable local communities. The farm is located off a highway in Dorado, an economically divided municipality with both multimillion dollar beach homes and families living hand-to-mouth in houses without indoor plumbing.

“The land belongs to a New York-based order of nuns who agreed to rent them 11 acres in 2017 for a symbolic amount ($1 per acre per year) after they’d almost given up hope of finding somewhere affordable. Back then it was a mess, having been used for years as an unauthorized rubbish dump, and they were still cleaning up when Maria struck, leaving many without work, shelter, food or clean water.

By the beginning of 2018, they were able to share the first crop – plantain, beans, yuca and papaya – with families going hungry.

” ‘Agroecology has always been a form of resistance against colonial capitalism, and here we are trying to rescue collective working and reject individualism by reconnecting people to the land and food, and building trust and solidarity,’ said Marissa Reyes-Diaz, 32, a biology graduate who also works for the nonprofit El Puente: Latino Climate Action Network. (All four members of the collective have second jobs.)

“Agroforestry is a big focus here, and there are fragrant fruit trees growing alongside a variety of crops, which has created multiple small ecosystems that help keep precious nutrients and rainwater in the ground. (Diversity enhances a farm’s resilience, as different crops are vulnerable and resistant to different pests, climate extremes and soil deficiencies.)

“So far the orchards have helped them survive two very dry spells, but it’s not enough to sustain and grow the farm, even with rainwater tanks and water from a neighbouring farmer. They’re trying to raise $40,000 to build a well connecting to the underground aquifer as water remains the biggest obstacle to long term success.

“But Güakiá is not just a farm, it’s also a community hub where neighbors come to enjoy the green spaces and try unfamiliar produce such as beets, turmeric roots and wild basil, as well as taste tomatoes fresh from the vine.

“Some locals volunteer, others exchange their food waste (needed to make compost) for vegetables, and prices remain accessible. They’ve hosted festivals with live music, art exhibitions, self defence classes, yoga and dominos — a very popular Caribbean pastime — and have built an emergency shelter fitted with solar panels ready for the next climate catastrophe. Reyes-Diaz said: ‘Agroecology has never been just about producing food, it’s also about sustaining our physical and mental health and spiritual well-being.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Zunis Help Design the Park

Photo: Zuni Youth Enrichment Project.
By incorporating the Zuni people into the planning, design, and execution, a unique park in New Mexico addresses health on multiple levels.

Call it the department of “Don’t tell people what they need. Ask them.” It’s a bit of wisdom that organizations and government entities proposing to do good have been trying to apply to their work for years now. Unfortunately, past failures mean they first have to overcome suspicion.

Amanda Loudin reports at Shelterforce, “Six artists reside in the Shack family home in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. While that many artists living under one roof is an anomaly, in the Zuni tribe there’s at least one artist living in nearly 70 percent of households, according to a study by the University of New Mexico. Art is part and parcel of the tribe’s history and culture.

“The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) understands this, so when it began planning a new youth center and park in 2015, Zuni artists and community members were invited to play a central role in the design and execution of the project.

“Their opinions and their art were woven into the fabric of the process from start to finish. The end result is the 2.5-acre H’on A:wan, or ‘Of the People,’ Community Park, which officially welcomed youth and the wider tribal community in 2018.

“ZYEP is a grassroots nonprofit founded by community members with the mission of enhancing the health of the tribe’s youth, who number 2,900 of the 10,000 tribe members. Zuni households face many challenges, including systemic poverty, which affects one in two Zuni families with children. And poverty, of course, is closely linked to health.

“Daryl Shack, one of the six artists in his Zuni household, played an integral role in the youth center/park project. ‘I kind of became involved by accident,’ Shack says. ‘We had a Main Street Art Walk project underway, and I was already involved in that to help ensure the modernization included a cultural aspect to it. When I heard about the park project, I wanted to learn more.’

“Funding for the park and community center originated with ArtPlace America, a 10-year collaboration among federal agencies, foundations, and financial institutions. … By design, the projects involve artists, culture bearers, and community members in every step of the planning and implementation.

“With the grant money, ZYEP set its sights on developing a center for youth that would benefit their spiritual well-being. To ZYEP, this meant Zuni art, history, and culture needed to be integral to the project. But Zuni youth also need access to safe spaces to play and be physically active, says ZYEP Executive Director Joe Claunch.

“ ‘We were well aware of the fact that they lacked space where they could run, play, and fall down without getting injured — every surface was either concrete or desert,’ he says. ‘The park represents a green space that celebrates Zuni identity and [is a] safe place where kids and families could engage in a range of healthy activities without concern.’

“Like many kids today, the Zuni youth have access to technology, which can quickly override cultural influences and healthy traditions. ‘Kids can get stuck on technology and start practicing a sedentary lifestyle, planting the seeds for preventable diseases,’ says Claunch. …

“The original intent for the park goes back more than a decade. ‘We had a local pediatrician who heard too many times from youth that they had nothing going on in their summers,’ Claunch explains. ‘He recognized that they needed healthy spaces and places, not just activity.’ …

“On a spiritual/emotional level, [the park] is a supervised space with a positive, culturally sensitive staff in place to encourage healthy activity. ‘We provide training to our staff that focuses on the strengths of the community, the family, and the youth.’ …

“In 2014, ZYEP approached the Zuni Tribal Council about acquiring land to develop the park and community center. Together, they found a spot near the center of the village, and ZYEP leased 2.5 acres. A year later, they applied for the ArtPlace America grant. …

“Typical government-sponsored development brings with it an institutional look, says Claunch, rather than a cultural look. Think chain link fences, sometimes even topped with barbed wire, which is unwelcoming and devoid of character. The same goes to new housing developments, which are designed for the nuclear family, rather than the extended family commonly found in Zuni culture. A government-designed home will look like a typical two-to- three-bedroom home, whereas a traditional Zuni home will house three to four families living under one roof — much larger in structure with large communal spaces for family functions like meals.

Having a recent history of development that often neglected the role of Zuni culture meant that when approached by ZYEP, community members were initially skeptical about the good intentions of the project. …

“Like others in his community, Shack came to the table with a healthy dose of skepticism. ‘Usually, grants come into Zuni and the planning and models are made, the meetings are held and that’s where it ends,’ he says. ‘When the park project was directed to the artists community, I was hesitant but interested.’

“Shack’s first introduction to the project was in a large-scale meeting he attended to listen in and hear about the planning process. ‘Subsequent meetings were smaller, and that’s when I decided to sign on,’ he explains.

“From the get-go, says Claunch, ZYEP aimed to build trust in the community, and did it by engaging residents in conversation. ‘We didn’t make any promises but assured them that over time, we’d show them we were serious about having them shape decisions,’ he says. ‘The artists took on the role of advocates and cast the vision. They also took the feedback and concerns from the neighbors, often in the Zuni language. If it weren’t for the artists, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.’ ”

Read more about how this beautiful park came together at Shelterforce, here.

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Photo: University of Canterbury.
Maoris teach that we’re all in the same canoe, an understanding that enough New Zealanders have absorbed to make Covid restrictions successful there.

I don’t know much about the Maoris of New Zealand (does the Disney movie Moana count?), but having seen how successful New Zealand and its prime minister have been in dealing with Covid, I’m not surprised to learn that the high level of cooperation among the populace relates to absorption of Maori values.

In an opinion piece at the Washington Post, Matthew Milner and Richard Ngata explain.

“Life in New Zealand is almost back to normal. While the United States has seen more than half a million deaths from covid-19 — with a death rate of more than 160 per 100,000 of population — New Zealand has lost only 26 people at a rate of 0.53 per 100,000.

“Two months ago, one of us, Richard, went to a New Year’s festival with more than 12,000 fellow revelers — something barely imaginable in the United States, where most concerts are online-only. Meanwhile, teachers, including Matthew’s parents, have been instructing in person since May [2020] without requiring masks or social distancing measures.

“Why has New Zealand fared so much better? Many people argue that these differences stem from New Zealand’s geographic advantages, and there is no doubt that being an island nation has helped. But … there is a deeper reason: Manaakitanga.

“While New Zealand hasn’t always been great at recognizing or celebrating our indigenous Māori culture, campaigning by Māori advocates has helped to ensure that Māori culture is now well-incorporated into society.

Manaakitanga is one of many customs of the Māori people that are now taught in New Zealand schools. It holds that others have importance equal to, and even greater than, one’s own.

“Manaakitanga is about understanding the power of the collective. It derives from the Māori term ‘mana,’ which is the spiritual life force and energy that every living thing possesses. When you honor the mana of others, your own mana will increase through the respect you have earned. When you acknowledge these connections, you understand that your freedom as an individual is only as strong as your place in the community.

“This community approach underpins many aspects of life in New Zealand. We provide health care to anyone who needs it. Our gun safety laws focus on keeping the community safe. And manaakitanga is one of four key values the Teachers Council for New Zealand wants teachers to focus on in the classroom.

“But never has the importance of manaakitanga to our society been more evident than at the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Last March, when New Zealand went into full lockdown, people were not permitted to see others outside their ‘bubble’ (such as a household); only one person from each bubble could leave at any given time, and not travel farther than five miles from the house.

“This strict lockdown lasted six long weeks, and while there was political pushback, the ‘team of 5 million,’ as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calls New Zealanders, stayed home and stamped out the virus.

New Zealanders were willing to give up many of their individual freedoms and face personal hardship for the benefit of the community. …

“Still, people found ways to connect and support each other. The lesson of the coronavirus is that an individual approach is not sufficient and that it takes a team for us all to gain true freedom. The Māori proverb ‘He waka eke noa’ expresses these sentiments clearly: We are all in this canoe together. …

“While [the US president] was playing down the virus, Ardern was running daily broadcasts alongside the nation’s director-general of health to clearly communicate the latest updates and restrictions. The central message: ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe, Be Kind.’ ” More at the Washington Post, here.

If you want to dig deeper, check out research by Diane Ruwhiu and Graham Elkin at the Leadership journal on the “converging pathways of contemporary leadership,” here. The authors describe “two emerging domains in leadership – servant leadership and Indigenous Māori leadership. Both not only have strong resonance with each other,” they say, “but also reflect a common concern with individual and collective morality that draws us to the significance of human relationships.”

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Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
John Fallon gathers squash at the 8,000-square-foot traffic island in Beverly Farms.

Today my friends surprised me with a bag of apples from a tree in their yard. They are not farmers, but many nonfarmers are getting into growing things these days. Some gardeners are growing especially to share.

Consider the Beverly, Mass., man who appropriated a traffic island for a community garden.

John Laidler reports at the Boston Globe, “Growing up in Beverly Farms, John Fallon developed a talent for cultivating vegetables by helping his Irish immigrant father tend the family’s backyard garden. A half-century later, Fallon is drawing on those farming skills — refined through many years of his own gardening — to help improve the lives of people in need.

“Since 2016, Fallon has been growing vegetables on a traffic island in Beverly Farms and donating them — together with vegetables from his own garden — to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that serve low-income families.

“In the first four years of his nonprofit operation, Fallon annually harvested and donated on average 3,000 pounds of produce. This year, in response to COVID-19, he expects to raise that volume to about 5,000 pounds. …

“Now retired as a test engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fallon, 61, cited the need to promote economic and social justice as a motivation for his philanthropic farming. …

“ ‘Everyone should help those less fortunate than them,’ said Fallon, who experienced losing a job himself when he was laid off from his longtime semiconductor job in 2007.

“Fallon’s philanthropy began in 2014 when he donated surplus tomato plants from his home garden to a farming program for inner-city children. …

“In 2016, Fallon came up with the idea of growing crops on the idle traffic island on Hale Street. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the island, authorized him to farm the land for free provided he donate any crops he raised to charity. …

“His 8,000-square-foot Beverly Farms Gardens produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, regular and golden zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, and acorn and butternut squash.

“Fallon does all the growing and harvesting himself, with occasional help from volunteers, including students from Landmark School in Beverly, and Gordon College’s women’s soccer team. …

“Although his program is self-funded, Fallon has received donations from individuals, local businesses, and churches. The Farms-Prides Community Association helped him purchase compost last year and plans a fund-raising effort to assist him with other expenses.

“ ‘I have watched John over the last five years turn a barren plot of land into a lush, productive garden supplying food to needy families,’ Rick Lord, the association’s president, said by e-mail. …

“Fallon hopes he can inspire others to do similar work. … ‘My vision would be for each town or city to set aside 4 acres, whatever it takes to feed the homeless in their area,’ he said.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Another take on the story is at the Salem News, here.

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When residents of Holyoke, Colorado, saw local businesses struggling in the pandemic, they stepped up.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when many problems call for attention at the same time. In one small Colorado town, the almost unimaginable generosity of the community helped neighbors — and built a lifetime bond.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “Brenda Hernandez Ramirez thought she might have to close the doors of her family’s small-town Mexican restaurant for good when she was temporarily forced to shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With bills piling up and no income, ‘we weren’t prepared for the challenges that covid-19 brought,’ said Ramirez, who owns Taqueria Hernandez in Holyoke, Colo., population 2,313.

“When she and her employees heard in late March that a Help Holyoke campaign had been started to assist small businesses, Ramirez said she felt grateful, thinking she might get a few hundred dollars to help pay her utilities.

“Two months later, when Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Director Holly Ferguson stopped by with a check, Ramirez was shocked to learn that people in her farming community had donated their government stimulus checks and dipped into their bank accounts to raise $93,592 — enough to help every business in town affected by the shutdown.

“In addition to about $2,000 to pay her restaurant bills, Ramirez also received smaller checks for each of her six employees.

‘We were overwhelmed with emotion,’ said Ramirez, 24. ‘Feeling our community’s support during the pandemic gave us the ambition to keep on going. I’m beyond thankful.’

“The Help Holyoke fund came about after Tom Bennett, president of the town’s First Pioneer National Bank, wondered if people might be willing to part with the $1,200 stimulus checks that most had received from the federal government.

“Even during normal times, it’s not easy to run a business in a small town, he said. … ‘Having our restaurants, bars, salons, the gym and movie theater shut down was unprecedented. You start thinking, “What if that was me?” ‘

“Bennett contacted Ferguson, Phillips County Economic Development Director Trisha Herman and Brenda Brandt, publisher of the Holyoke Enterprise, and arranged a meeting at the newspaper’s office to talk about his idea to help save their downtown. …

“The group members quickly developed a plan: They would get the word out about Help Holyoke through the Enterprise, the local radio station and social media, plus enlist high school students to help call everyone in town. Once the donations were collected, they would cut checks based on how many employees each business owner had to lay off. …

“Karen Ortner, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Holyoke High School, rounded up members of the Family Career and Community Leaders of America club she advises and put the teens to work calling every household in Holyoke.

“ ‘We split up the phone book with two other student organizations — the Future Business Leaders of America and the Future Farmers of America,’ she said. ‘Almost everyone the kids called said they’d give what they could.’ …

“ ‘This is a supportive, tightknit town,’ added FCCLA President Amy Mackay, 17. ‘Everybody knows everybody and they knew exactly who that money would be going to in the end.’ …

“ ‘This was the best way we could make a difference,’ said Nancy Colglazier, 67, executive director of Holyoke’s Melissa Memorial Hospital Foundation. … Colglazier and her husband, Harvey Colglazier donated one of their $1,200 checks to the fund after seeing how abandoned their downtown had become, she said. …

“Said chamber director Ferguson, ‘Some gave $10, some gave $100 and little kids came to my office to empty their piggy banks,’ she said. ‘Everyone did what they could and showed overwhelming compassion.’ …

“In addition to receiving about $3,500 from Help Holyoke, Veronica Marroquin, 44, who runs Veronica’s Hair and Nail Salon, also received checks from customers who wanted to pay for the haircuts they missed due to covid-19, she said.

“ ‘I’d been really worried, and I got teary-eyed when I saw everybody’s generosity,’ Marroquin said. ‘I’m close friends with my clients — they’re family. But this took it to a new level,’ she said. ‘None of us will forget their kindness.’ ” More here.

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042920ddp20countrystore

Photo: Gareth Henderson
Messages of hope fill a window at the Bernard General Store in Barnard, Vermont.

When you’re feeling down, it’s a sign of health to look for comfort, which actually can be found in many places. Some people find it in phone calls to distant friends. Others find it in reading, music, exercise, or nature; in donating to people worse off or in watching children playing and laughing.

Gareth Henderson writes for the Christian Science Monitor that in Small Town America, some people are finding comfort at the general store.

“As COVID-19 restrictions were tightening in mid-March,” Henderson writes, “Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva made a big decision: They pledged to keep the doors of the Barnard General Store open, no matter what.

“Now the Barnard store has a grocery home-delivery system supported by volunteers, and they also offer curbside pickup. But it’s been a long haul for the store, in this remote Vermont town of about 900 people, located a half-hour from the nearest grocery establishment.

‘Most days we are working 10 to 12 hours a day, but we are happy to do it for our community,’ Ms. Bradley says. …

“Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the South and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

“Eight years ago, the Barnard store closed for about a year but came roaring back after a community trust with hundreds of local members raised the funds to save the business. It reopened in 2013, with Ms. Bradley and Mr. Minerva as the new owners. The community simply would not let the store fail. …

“These Vermont stores have become essential food hubs. With most country store buildings closed during Vermont’s state of emergency – which was extended beyond May 15 – online ordering and curbside pickup has become the trend. Such is the case a 40-minute drive south at the South Woodstock Country Store, which has been running its curbside operation since early April. Around noon each Friday, co-owner Simi Johnston, donning her mask, puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup.

“For Ms. Johnston, the main focus is continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

“The entire operation is sanitized, and the store tries not to touch deliveries for 24 hours. The first week of curbside, the store saw 20 orders – which is nothing like being fully open.

“ ‘It’s a huge hit, for sure, but we’re definitely hoping there’ll be a lot of understanding from everyone around that,’ Ms. Johnston says. …

“ ‘The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,’ she says. ‘Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.’

“With Vermont’s unemployment rate soaring to more than 20% during the pandemic, many stores are also finding a way to give back, even while they themselves struggle. In Craftsbury, which sits an hour south of the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, businesses have joined forces to set up a pop-up food pantry. The Craftsbury General Store put out a call for donations, and they came in fast.

“ ‘There’s been a lot of generosity in that realm,’ says co-owner Kit Basom.

“At the store, the doors are closed to the public, but they’re doing business seven days a week, filling online and phone orders for curbside pickup. The store’s owners have added a third person to help with phones, and everyone is on deck to be a ‘personal shopper.’ …

“The Craftsbury store has also added a ‘virtual tour’ on its website, so customers can browse the shelves digitally. The staff regularly updates an online list of items people can order in bulk – think flour, rice, or pasta.

“ ‘We’re moving a lot more product from our grocery section than we ever did before,’ Ms. Basom says.

“For many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together. There is growing concern about the warmer months, from May to October, when these small village stores usually make the majority of their annual income. Though it’s been on their minds, Ms. Bradley from the Barnard store says she is confident they will find a way to make it.

“ ‘It’s sink or swim time and there is no way we will let ourselves sink,’ she says.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Bank of America
Nonprofit Haley House uses food and community ties to provide job training and to revitalize neighborhoods. When it was closed 11 months for reflection, it was sorely missed in Dudley Square, now Nubian Square.

There’s a nonprofit gathering place in Boston’s Roxbury section where food and mission come together. But when persistent financial losses seemed to threaten its future, fans far and wide worried.

In December, Kay Lazar reported at the Boston Globe, “The little bakery that could is making a comeback.

“When Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury, a bustling eatery and beloved community gathering place, closed its doors in January [2019], its executive director vowed it wasn’t goodbye. It was a timeout to figure out how to make the grand social experiment in Dudley Square financially sustainable. Since its opening in 2005, it never broke even.

“Now the cafe, known for providing job training for former prisoners and hosting community discussions, poetry slams, live music, and community dinners, is planning to reopen in mid-December. It will feature a new menu with an international flair (and some reimagined old favorites). …

“Pivotal to its sustainability, says Bing Broderick, the cafe’s executive director, is its new open-book approach. The restaurant’s financial information is being shared with workers, everyone from the cashier to the dishwasher, and each is being trained to be an efficiency expert. They’ll learn how seemingly little things, such as food waste or showing up late for work, affect the entire operation. Employees will have a say in menu pricing and taste-testing new dishes.

‘It’s very empowering if everyone understands how they can help the success of the business and lead to a better organization overall,’ Broderick said. …

“All food assembly will be moved to the kitchen to free up more space for its legendary live performances, as well as for private events, such as wedding receptions and corporate meetings that Broderick hopes will help them bridge the financial gap. …

“The meals will be bowl-based, with customers choosing a base of grits, home fries, mixed salad greens, or rice, with a pick of protein options — including vegetarian offerings — and a sauce topping. The new recipes will reflect the culturally diverse Dudley Square [now Nubian Square] area, including the bakery’s workers, with African- and Caribbean-influenced sauces and spices. …

“The process of redesigning the menu has featured some fascinating in-house discussions among the bakery’s international staff, [new general manager Misha Thomas] said.

“ ‘It’s been cool to get their thoughts,’ she said. ‘Everyone has an idea of how spicy things are supposed to be.’ …

“One thing that will not be changing is Haley House’s social mission. Founded in 1966 as a provider of food and shelter for the homeless in the South End, Haley House, the bakery’s nonprofit parent company, uses food and community ties to provide job training and help revitalize neighborhoods. … The meal and training programs went on hiatus after the bakery closed last winter, but Broderick said they will be bringing them back.

“Also returning will be cultural events in the evening, from jazz and history to poetry and movies, all offering a beacon in a community that has weathered some tough times and frustrating one-step-forward-two-steps-back revitalization efforts.

“ ‘The arts and cultural programming at the cafe was very much its identity and community ownership, too,’ Broderick said.”

More here.

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