Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday with Caroline

This morning I woke up at Alpha Farm, a 38-year-old income-sharing community tucked into a finger valley of the Coast Range of western Oregon, just off the road from Eugene to Florence. After dancing between the rain drops (it is, after all, November and they say the rain will stop sometime in March... probably) from my guest accommodations in the old farm house to the New House (it was "new" about three decades ago, but the name stuck), I spent the next four hours communing over coffee and conversation with my dear friend Caroline Estes. It had been 18 months since I'd last seen her and we had a lot of catching up to do...

The Community
Alpha seems to be doing well. Although membership is low, the resident population (the pool from which members come) is high. There are about 16 adults living here now, with modest room for more. (It was sobering to realize that only three of the current folks were here 32 months ago, when I was last at Alpha, to help celebrate Caroline's 80th birthday. See my blog of March 19, 2008 for more about that.) A lot of the new energy is young and the community gardens are thriving.
One of the things I love about Alpha as an exemplar of a group committed to social change work is that they reserve a spot among their residents for "sanctuary." Under this program, the community accepts up to one person at a time who needs a safe home, yet may not be in a position in their life to give back in proportion to what they receive. It's just one way of the ways that Alpha tires to be an inspiring alternative to a mainstream culture that's fragmented and broken.
In addition to more long-term members, the community needs additional sources of income. Caroline has slowed down her career as a process consultant (see more below) and that income has not yet been replaced. They have a major deal in the works where they hope to get a large one-time cash payment from the federal government in exchange for conservation easements for portions of their 280 acres. on their property they have spotted owl habitat as well as some very old Douglas firs. The easements will protect forested areas from development and timbering. The money will be used to retire debt and capitalize a retirement fund.

The Work
Caroline is one of my mentors as a facilitator and a consensus trainer (I took courses from her in 1987 and 1991), and thus we talk shop when we have the chance. Sadly, Caroline's hearing has deteriorated to the point where she no longer thinks she can deliver solid work in large groups. As such, these days she's turning down invitations to work with groups larger than a dozen.

That said, she's thinking about reviving her 5-day introduction to consensus & facilitation workshops, where the size of each class is manageable. If she can get logistical support from the current batch of residents, she hopes to schedule three such trainings in 2011. As someone who was touched deeply by her teaching, I hope this happens. The world could definitely benefit from having more of Caroline's teaching in it.

The Community Network
Caroline and I also go back a long ways as community networkers. The first FIC organizational meeting was held in May 1987, and the first thing I did afterward was board a train for the West Coast. Not three days after that first meeting in Illinois, I was sitting down with Caroline for the first time, for coffee and conversation (just like today) at Alpha-Bit, her community's bookstore/cafe in Mapleton. A year later, Caroline joined the Fellowship Board—a position she still holds today.

Because she didn't make it to our recent FIC meetings in Massachusetts [see my blog of Nov 15 for more about that meeting] I filled her in on Board business and caught her up on all our mutual acquaintances. After 23 years of being allies in the change-the-world-for-the-better business, it takes a while to run through the list and tell all the stories.

It was my pleasure that I had a leisurely four hours today to devote to cultivating the garden of our friendship.

1 comment:

becca said...

Thanks for the update on Alpha and Caroline!