Livable Neighborhoods Project

Support for neighborhoods to become thriving, self-reliant communities

A taste of what a Community Gathering in a neighborhood could be

Posted by Patricia Mikkelson on March 10, 2008

For the past year I have envisioned an intergenerational community gathering which would bring people together in their neighborhood or town to have fun, food, conversations, and networking which would lead to people finding friends with which to collaborate with on the projects they are passionate about which better their community in some way. You can read more and see my slide show here

The first Community Gathering I held back in September was magnificent, and I saw the potential was huge. We had it at a pavilion at a park, and people enjoyed it immensely and lots of great connections were made. But then the weather got cold, and I could not find any indoor locations. This is the hardest thing about having an intergenerational gathering with lots of activities going on at once–finding a place that is inexpensive or free.

Today I got a second chance to coordinate a different kind of community gathering. I was asked to coordinate the child care at the Ozark Natural Foods Co-op Annual Owners Meeting. I had coordinated this 4 times previously, and although every time it was a success, I always felt like there was something missing. This time, I approached the event as if it were a community gathering–and it clicked! The missing ingredient was lots of people of all ages interacting, with everyone having fun. I wanted everyone involved to experience a sense of connection and even family–and my experience was that it happened. I brought into it some unschooling principles, non-violent communication and open space technology principles. Here’s what happened.

If you walked into the room at any time during the 2 1/2 hour time frame, you would see people of all ages interacting happily and harmoniously. In one area was a mural art project, and kids of all ages had fun making a beautiful vision of an ideal neighborhood. The older kids and other adults helped the little ones, which was a beautiful sight to behold. Alison Carter, Creative Director of the Community Imagination Studio in Fayetteville, AR, facilitated the mural. I really liked the way she combined some direction–like putting layers of tissue paper to add both texture and color, but encouraged total creativity of expression. Everyone’s creativity was encouraged, and the mural turned out great. It also became a way to promote and educate people about the value of organizing neighborhoods, as well as the wonderful Community Imagination Studio.

Jackie lead some games about non-violent communication. The kids loved the way she helped them to see the value of compassionate sharing. I really liked the way she inspired the teens to get involved with the little ones. When she wasn’t leading games, she was being so present with the kids–that was a joy to see!

There was a game and reading corner with blocks, a funny fishing game, and stuffed animals. That was a popular corner! I was thrilled to see 6 foot plus eighteen year old boys getting down on the floor and playing with 2 year olds! I think they are finding some new giftings!

I put out some interesting books about neighborhood enrichment, communication, and other interesting topics for the parents who hung out to look at. Some parents stayed through the whole meeting since their kids were pretty young, while most flowed in and out as they felt comfortable.

I loved the role my husband played at the door. We could leave the door open (with no windows, it was a bit claustrophobic) but I knew that no child would escape with the watchful eye of Robert upon them! It was a little scary when a parent said her child was not to be found–but she was just hiding–maybe didn’t want to leave?

One of the best things about this gathering was that there were six teenagers present, and 2 pre-teens. I asked them to come in order to help with the little ones, and we had enough people to have almost one on one attention for the kids. What I experienced was so peaceful–we only had one conflict during the whole gathering, and that was near the end. A little boy said, “someone put graffiti on my dinosaur, and I don’t like it!” Someone said, “Maybe it was just mud splashing up from the ground.” Quickly his anger subsided and he said, “Oh, that must be it!” I think that is pretty good for a 2 1/2 hour event!

I wanted to have lots of little activities going on for all ages, but since there were so many children under three, the older kids mainly interacted with the younger ones. But I did get a chance to give a little class on how to make a green smoothie, near the end when many of the children had been picked up. Teens and adults gathered around to see how I made the smoothie, got samples, and experienced directly that green smoothies do not have to taste green! I enjoyed getting a bit carried away and being funny. I even timed myself and made a smoothie in 4 minutes! Everyone thought they were yummie. Since I think that green smoothies might just be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, I was overjoyed to get to share this with people.

I also taught the teens how to make a planting pot out of newspaper. I had watched three different techniques on youtube.com the night before. I just knew I wanted to share this skill, and send people home with some seeds to germinate. The first try was a failure–I forgot exactly how to do it. But right on the spot I adapted some techniques that I had learned, and we made some great pots! Then Mariah (who had sponsored a seed exchange just the week before which I attended) came over and showed us another great technique. They planted swiss chard and lettuce in their little pots. I sure hope they are inspired to get their gardens going now! And make some green smoothies with the greens they grow. I loved how it fit together.

I had tons of other idea for the 5 year olds and up–a braided rope out of recycled material, making a video of a play they made up by using props that stimulated their imagination, a sing along where I played guitar and my son played bass, and cooperative games. I had even imagined bringing in sticks and leaves to demonstrate a debris hut (an emergency shelter that is easy to make, and could save your life!) Let’s face it–I wanted this to be a whole festival! But since there were so many really young children who needed lots of attention, and I was busy so much of the time with little details that are important for smooth flowing, I didn’t have time to use my talents.

But I am so glad that a lot of energy went into the mural because it will be displayed at Ozark Natural Foods and I think people will enjoy it and be inspired by it.

The most exciting thing that happened was that the adults who gave so much loving attention to the children–Lindsay, Alison, Jackie, and Celestiel are really excited about duplicating this activity–only with more generations being present. They liked my idea about the Community Gathering because then we have more people who can contribute and help and more activities and conversations can be had. In fact, I had a number of wonderful conversations with people during the child care–when I had a moment to spare–and I enjoyed connecting in this very meaningful way. I feel grateful that Lindsey took all of our email addresses and wants to get us together to organize something!

What was the most thrilling about this activity was that I got to be with my whole family. Robert had his role as the signing in person and guard at the door. Mahriyanna, my 12 year old, enjoyed spending time  with her best friend, Olivia and connecting with the younger ones. My son, Chris, encouraged his friends from the Living Springs neighborhood to come. I finally realized that if I was going to get my eighteen year old to attend things, it needed to be something his friends wanted to attend. I was so delighted that 5 homeschooled teens saw this as an opportunity to serve as well as spend time with their friends.

It all boils down to having fun. If you build something that is fun–they will come! Some find art fun. Others find playing with blocks fun. Still others find discussing how to accomplish a project fun. When everyone can come together and find fun–they will come, and they will meet people and do things they might never have done. For example, the books on the table might have inspired someone. I know that often one book can help me get clearer on my journey.  And the teens might not have ever tasted a green smoothie, or learned how to make a newspaper pot. The little ones most certainly must have felt a sense of safety and unconditional love as they were showered with attention and affection by so many. Adults met people they would not have met, and got to catch each other dong good.

Perhaps this is the bottom line. We really do need to feel a sense of hopefulness and vision in order to be motivated to keep going to help make this world a better place–whatever our spiritual path. When we can share together in an environment  which brings out the best in all of us, and makes it easy for us to love, it increases the sense of connection and belonging. Just think what might happen if we could have this kind of experience every week in our own neighborhood. What if we could build relationships and find ways to cooperate so that having fun we did such things as: create an emergency plan for our neighborhood; start a community garden and help everyone garden and grow and abundance of food; start a neighborhood watch co-op and do proactive things to help make our neighborhoods safe; find meaningful things for at-risk youth to do so their lives can be more fulfilled; and the list is really endless. When people gather in an environment which is conducive to cooperation, usually they will cooperate because I believe that people naturally want to help each other.

As a follower of Christ, I want to live out the teachings of Jesus: Love God with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Loving God can be kind of nebulous sometimes–but loving my neighbor is very clear! I hope this article inspires you to read more of the articles on this blog and to take steps to enrich your neighborhood!

One Response to “A taste of what a Community Gathering in a neighborhood could be”

  1. […] her Livable Neighborhoods Project Patricia Mikkelson reports on her open space practice, in neighborhood and child care, informed by unschooling, non-violent […]

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