Monday, November 15, 2010

Focusing Your Search for Community

I've just completed three days of total immersion at the Fellowship for Intentional Community's fall organizational meetings, held at Mosaic Commons, a newly built cohousing community in Berlin MA.

The two biggest alligators that we wrestled with were:
a) Approving a plan to hold an Art of Community weekend in northern California next fall. We have a competent core team to organize the event and an exciting venue (Westminster Woods, near Occidental), yet we needed to work out concerns around risk (we can't afford to lose money), price (what is the right mix of profit potential and accessibility?), and dates (after much cogitation, we ultimately decided to nestle our event into a weekend midway between two West Coast iconic events: Burning Man and Bioneers, hoping we won't be lost between those well-established, flashier bookends).

b) Balancing the 2011 budget (with the likelihood of losing more than $10,000 this year, we had to do some serious belt tightening).

While both of the above topics are compelling, I'm going to devote today's entry to introducing a blog series that arose out of an inquiry that came to FIC in the days right before the meeting. A seeker wrote:

I was wondering if you do a compatibility questionnaire with people to help them explore their own needs and desires when it comes to what they are searching for in a community. Something to clarify their own ideas and feelings to help them make better choices or more specific choices as they search community.

There was considerable resonance with this topic among the Board, and we devoted an hour to it last Friday. While it's a core FIC mission to help seekers find community, using our tools assumes that the seeker has a somewhat clear notion about what they want. After being in the community business for more than two decades, we know that isn't always the case, and thus we understood to potency of the inquirer's request. What might FIC offer that will make searching for community less daunting, especially to folks sticking their toes into the water for the first time?

I'm going to cover this topic in four passes:
I. What does FIC already offer?
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

In today's offering, I'll tackle what we already have available:
o Communities Directory
We've been publishing this bible of who's doing what since 1990, and are releasing this week our 6th edition. The book has 512 pages, lists over 1000 North American communities, with groups offering descriptions in their own words. It retails for $35, but from now until the end of the year you can buy a copy for $30 (which includes shipping to a US address). There is no more comprehensive and accurate source in print. We also offer the information as an Online Directory with a searchable database.

o Communities magazine
This 80-page quarterly has been around since 1972. Each issue focuses on a theme and is packed with the issues, ideas, and inspiration of cooperative living. We cover both intentional communities, and creating community where you are. The magazine also offers a robust advertising section called Reach that specializes in listings of individuals looking for a home, and groups looking for members. A sample issue costs $5 (plus shipping) and a one-year subscription in the US costs $24.

o Visions of Utopia
This is a DVD that comes in two volumes. The first volume (94 min) was released in 2002 and contains an historical overview of intentional communities, plus segments profiling a representative sample of seven contemporary groups. Residents are telling their stories in their own voices. The second volume was released in 2009 (124 min) and features an additional 10 contemporary groups, completing the picture of the amazing range and breadth of what's out there today. Each volume sells for $30, or you can get both for $50 (plus shipping).

This is the URL of the home page for our family of websites. We get 2200 unique visitors every day, with the volume of traffic growing by more than 10% annually. About 95% of our inquiries arrive electronically these days and this is our main portal. If you look for "intentional community" on any search engine, our website will be at the top of the response. We've maintained this website since 1994, and nobody knows communities like we do.

o Community Bookshelf
This is a niche mail-order operation that specializes in titles on cooperative living, sustainability, group process, and right livelihood. Of particular note to seekers is Finding Community by Diana Christian. This 256-page gem was published in 2007 and is aimed expressly for people trying to figuring out how to sort out what kind of community might work well for them. It sells for $25, plus shipping.

o Art of Community
FIC periodically offers one- or two-day events where participants can get both information about community living and an experience of it at the same time. As I mentioned above, the Board just approved a plan to produce the next one, probably for the weekend of Sept 23-25 (we can't be sure of the dates until we sign the contract) in northern CA. In addition to rolling our own, we frequently partner with sister organizations to hold joint events, or are a regular player at others' events, offering an array of workshops and often bringing Bookshelf to the party. Here are three annual events where we a regular junior partner:
National cohousing conference (next one will be June 17-19, in Washington DC)Twin Oaks Communities Conference (next one will be Aug 19-21 in Louisa VA)
NASCO Institute (next one will be Nov 4-6 in Ann Arbor MI)

• • •
With the holidays just around the corner, you could do a lot worse than selecting from the list above for ideas to fill the stockings of loved ones. Think about giving the gift of community, and really bringing light into someone's life.

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