Video: “Together We Can Do More”

Our video team recently hit the sunny springtime streets of New York to ask Connectors why they’re excited about the Idealist Network.

Here are their top takeaways, in two bite-sized minutes:

What excites you about the Network?

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Create a resource inventory for your Team

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

A great thing about the Idealist Network is that everyone brings their own skills, connections, and knowledge to the table. A great thing about Google Docs (or even a spiral notebook) is that they allow you to use a simple template to create an inventory of all these resources. Share the knowledge, Team!

Below, Connector (and Idealist video producer) Liz Morrison of the Brooklyn, New York Team tells us a little about her experience starting such a resource inventory.

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Team Brooklyn. Liz is on the left.
(photo courtesy Liz Morrison)

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge of creating or maintaining your resource inventory and how have you addressed it?

A: The biggest challenge has been getting people to start using it! I’ve mentioned it at meetings, posted it on our Team page’s discussion board, and talked it up to every Brooklyn and New York Connector I’ve met. We’ve started to see people filing out the first sheet with contact information, which is great and helpful. But the next step is to get them to complete the info in the other tabs—that includes memberships/affiliations, meeting locations, and existing action resources.

In order to continue growing this document, I’ll keep giving friendly reminders about it at meetings and explaining the various information categories people can contribute to; post it again on our discussion board; and maybe print a paper copy for people to fill out on-the-spot at our next meeting. Hopefully as more Teams start creating their own resource inventories (like San Diego), more Connectors will learn about the concept and start using it as a matter of course!

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Field Report! Second Team meeting in Brooklyn, New York

On Wednesday April 16, six Brooklyn Connectors came together for our second meeting. We had a fun discussion that ranged from coining the adjective “connectory” to discussing ways we can build and support our Team.

Over the course of two hours we tackled the following questions:

What are some of the best ways that we can connect the Connectors?

We have a Team of 57 Connectors spread out across our large borough (fun fact: Brooklyn could be considered the 4th largest city in America!).

As we grow our Team, it’s important to us that we spend time building and strengthening our bonds to one another. We came up with some ways to spread information about ourselves and stay connected between meetings.

  • Use the Team message boards more to keep Connector conversations going between meetings

  • Encourage everyone to fill out the Brooklyn Team Resource Inventory spreadsheet so we can collect our shared knowledge, spot connections, and identify skills

  • Create a Doodle survey to find out what meeting times work best for the most people

  • Create a collaborative Google Map where Connectors can plot their location within Brooklyn so we can see if there are more Connectors in our specific neighborhoods

What do we need to be the best Idealist Connectors/Idealist ambassadors?

Before we reach out into the community, we want to make sure we’re being good ambassadors for Idealist and this movement. We decided to plan some future meetings to address our needs.

  • Common language to describe this Idealist movement. Before we start recruiting more Connectors or introducing ourselves to the greater Brooklyn Community, we want to brainstorm some common language and an “elevator pitch” that will quickly describe our mission, goals, and work. We know that Idealist is also working on this wording, so depending on when we schedule this meeting, we can tweak what Idealist creates to best fit the Brooklyn team.

  • Host some Connector trainings to help us build up similar skill sets. Possible training sessions could include:

    • Idealist 101: An introduction to all the things you can do on Idealist.org. Once we know more about the site, we can encourage more individuals and organizations to use Idealist tools to connect with opportunities for action.

    • Action Group Facilitator Training: Give some insights on the best ways to structure meetings, run discussions and brainstorms, help people identify obstacles to action, and follow through on their good intentions.

    • Social Media Boot Camp: Discuss and learn about how can we use our personal social media channels to amplify and spread the Brooklyn Team’s work and message.

    • Best Ways to Reach Out: Invite people from .orgs/.coms/.govs to talk to us about the best ways to reach out to their particular sector when we need help or want to invite them to participate.

  • Schedule fun, informal events to give Connectors time to get to know each other. From happy hours to team rock climbing, the purpose of these events will team building and social bonding. We scheduled our first “Bring a Friend Connector Social” for Wednesday night, May 7th.

Do you live in Brooklyn? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Check out Teams in your area. Not a Connector yet? Read all about it and join us.

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Action Groups are coming soon

We talked about Action Groups with the Connectors who attended the NYC Team meeting on Saturday, April 5th, and found people were happy to hear that these Groups will give us the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to start an Action Group for your neighborhood, school or workplace, OR one for an issue you care about—like education, homelessness, or human rights. (In the latter case you’d still be acting as a neutral facilitator/moderator, but within the issue that moves you most.)

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Yesterday morning I flew to our Portland office, which is where we do all of our web development. I hadn’t been here for three weeks, and when I walked in I felt wonderfully superfluous. Everyone was out getting lunch, but the walls were covered with charts and notes reflecting all the feedback we’ve received from all of you over the last four weeks, and it was clear that things are moving in the right direction.

Later in the afternoon we had a good meeting all about Action Groups. We’re itching to share them with you and see what you think!

More soon…

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Field report! Team meeting in New York City

This past Saturday, 30 Connectors from across New York City met at the Idealist office in midtown Manhattan. It was a chance for people to share their thoughts and questions about being a Connector and to talk about next steps.

Who was there? Backgrounds ranged from therapists and graduate students to mental health counselors, retired professionals, and even an office relocation specialist.

At the heart of the conversation was the importance of neutrality to the Connector role: it allows Connectors to have a greater impact because they can support more people taking action on more issues. How? By connecting them with just the right tool, resource, or contact to help them move forward.

Team meeting at the Idealist office

Team meeting at the Idealist office

People were excited to meet each other—so much so that the large group (there are 120 people on the NYC Team) agreed they’d rather stay together than subdivide into smaller Teams, at least for a while, so that they can all help support each other as everyone gets started.

Suggestions for next steps included drafting talking points for recruiting more Connectors, using the NYC Idealist office as a hub for Connectors to work on materials together, trying a Tool & Tactic, and completing their personal profiles so that everyone could see what skills and interests exist already in the Team.

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Not a Connector yet? Get the details and sign up here! Want to start or join a Team in your area? Search the possibilities here.

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These laundromats take your quarters AND your good ideas

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

One of the beauties of going to your local laundromat is the downtime you have as your clothes are tumbling in the washer and dryer. Sure, you could read a book, check email on your phone, flirt with that cute guy or girl folding their pants, or watch the news. But here’s a thought: what if you could spend that time making art?

That’s the idea behind The Laundromat Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that brings arts programs and education to, you guessed it, laundromats.

“If you have 15 minutes and are in the laundromat, or passing by, here’s something you can do. It’s untapped time and space,” says Executive Director Kemi llesanmi, who after four years of board service, officially joined the team about a year ago.

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Field Day in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
(photo by Ed Marshall)

The organization started in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in 2005. Since then, through their Create Change Public Artists Residency, they’ve commissioned artists to mount socially-engaged public art projects in laundromats across the greater NYC area. And through their arts education program Works in Progress, they’ve offered free drop-in summer workshops at the Laundry Room in Harlem.

Recently, they’ve expanded their arts education to Bed-Stuy and another modest-income NYC neighborhood, the Bronx’s Hunts Point, to anchor Works in Progress there each summer. Much like in Harlem, the idea is that The Laundromat Project will be a well-known staple in these neighborhoods for a long time to come.

“People want to do more than survive. They want to thrive,” Kemi says. “We’re helping people nurture their creative selves, which is part of helping them become their whole being. We want to appreciate that creativity, amplify it, connect it, ignite it, acknowledge it, value it, affirm it—all of those things.”

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Hunts Point Field Day participant
(photo by Arleen Santana)

While the sun is shining, the drop-in workshops give residents something tangible to bring home and instructions for how to do it again. Classes have ranged from making totebags to painting planter pots to constructing terrariums to creating jewelry with charms inspired by photographs of murals in Brooklyn.

The artists who run Works in Progress come from all walks of life and mediums. They’re painters, performers, dancers, writers, muralists, and more. All live in or nearby the neighborhoods where they teach.

Most of the art explores what it means to live in the community, and the hopes people have for it. “Hunts Point is_____,” for example, is a prompt from their tote bag workshop.

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Aisha asked Bed-Stuy residents one question: “If you could name a street after an important historical figure from your culture, who would you choose?” (photo by Aisha Cousins)

A select few artists each year are also chosen to be part of The Laundromat Project’s flagship program, the Create Change Residency, to bring bigger-scale public art projects to their neighborhoods. The Laundromat Project doesn’t just take anyone who can glue googly eyes—only serious artists who are serious about community building are invited to apply.

Once accepted, artists undergo a six-month training program where principles of art and social change are woven together. The idea is that the artists are embedded in the community they serve, asking and listening to what people want, and bringing fresh ideas to the drawing board.

“People like the idea of having building blocks in their neighborhood, like a policeman, or a teacher. We think of artists as one of those building blocks,” Kemi says. “They’re community assets and resourceful problem-solvers who come with questions and concerns from a left-of-center space, opening up possibilities for new ways of thinking. Why wouldn’t that be needed in a community?”

Last year’s projects included remixes of Aisha Cousin’s Mapping Soulville, a make-your-own-street-sign project; Art Jones’ Portrait of a Community as a Block, a multimedia installation focused on stores where people work and shop in Hunts Point; and Shani Peters’ The People’s Laundromat Theatre in Harlem.

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The Laundromat Project capitalizes on the abundant creativity already happening in neighborhoods.This mural in Hunts Point was created by THE POINT Community Development Corporation. (photo by Arleen Santana )

And the laundry list of offerings continues to grow. Last fall, The Laundromat Project hosted their first Field Day festival simultaneously in the three neighborhoods—themed around the issues of home, food, and history—with all sorts of free workshops, walking tours, poetry, dance, mini-film festivals, etc.

This year, they’re looking to do even more: in-school and after-school programs, a parent and community circle to help develop programming, commissioning 30 artists for more projects, and starting to put together a toolkit so that anyone anywhere can take their knowledge  to do something similar where they live.

The Laundromat Project’s goal with all of this is lasting change—not only a piece of art people can take home with them, but a memory that connects them with their community in a meaningful way.

“We ask our teaching artists to let us know what they hear on the street,” Kemi says. “There were some teenagers walking by this past summer in Harlem and one of our artists overheard them saying, ‘Remember when we used to do The Laundromat Project?’ So it sticks.”

To stay up to date with the latest Laundromat Project happenings, sign up for their mailing list and check out their blog.

From a button-maker to a Mac computer, you can help grant a wish by giving an in-kind donation. Peep their wish list here.

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VIDEO: How disaster can feed inspiration (the Shore Soup story)

Back in October, Idealist video producer Liz Morrison blogged about the Shore Soup Project, a new nonprofit in Queens, New York.

Right after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Robyn Hillman-­Harrigan made the simple decision to begin cooking hot meals for her Rockaway neighbors who had no heat, no electricity, or no homes. That first step started a life-changing journey that combines her passions for healthy food and community building.

In the year since, Robyn has established the project as a nonprofit and become its executive director. Shore Soup continues to cook and deliver healthy food to home-bound neighbors, but its scope has grown to include restoring a community garden, building an urban farm, hosting workshops on nutrition, opening a summer food truck, and planning a restaurant-slash-community center to provide healthy pay-­as­-you­-can meals for residents and visitors alike, no matter how much is in their wallets.

Watch Robyn’s personal and powerful story in her own words, and get inspired to start taking action on something you care about. As Robyn says, “It’s cliche to say every journey begins with a single step, but it’s true. You never know where it will take you.”

Robyn’s story is just one of countless examples of people in the Idealist community taking small steps that make a big difference. Do you have a “small steps” story to share? Email it to april@idealist.org.

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Poets in Unexpected Places: What art in public spaces can teach us about being fearless

Samantha Thornhill reciting a poem on the Brooklyn-bound Q train. (Photo by Syreeta McFadden)

Samantha Thornhill reciting a poem on a Brooklyn-bound Q train.
(photo courtesy Syreeta McFadden)

Samantha Thornhill and Jon Sands make art out of what many people fear more than death: public speaking.

Poets in Unexpected Places (or PUP, “Pop-up Poets”) is a New York City-based poetry performance group that creates large-scale poetry installations in public spaces like subway cars, ferries, classrooms, and parks.

Here’s how it works: one of the five PUP poets (called “Curators”) stands up and reads either their own or someone else’s poem. Then it’s another poet’s turn. And so on.

After the third or fourth poet shares something, people start to see that this isn’t a random act of art. They begin taking their ear buds out, or looking up to chuckle with the person sitting next to them. This moment of connection is what the PUP Curators are trying to create.

“You see people sharing an experience. People who were disconnected before, staring at their iPods, are now connecting. They’re part of a story where everyone has a role to play,” Samantha says. “And that’s revolutionary.”

They’ve had audiences react with indifference and (rarely) with hostility, but the overall response since PUP’s start in 2008 has been really positive. Audience members have even joined in and shared their own work—poems, raps, dances, even a monologue from Romeo and Juliet. When this happens, the brave civilians are called “Pop-up Passengers.”

 

Transforming fear

Even for experienced teachers and performers like the PUP Curators, sharing something as personal as a poem (especially an unsolicited poem) in a public space is definitely a risk. Each Curator has their own strategy for dealing with the fear and making something positive from it.

Samantha says she takes power from the surprise of not knowing what’s going to happen.

“I harness that energy of uncertainty and nerves, and I let it bring me to a positive space. Then it’s not fear anymore,” she says.

It’s helped her become a braver person overall. “I was able to tell myself that if I can stand up on a train and do a poem, then I can dismantle other fears that are holding me back.”

Jon says the whole idea for PUP was pretty much a dare. He was riding a late night L train with his friend Adam, another co-founder of PUP, who told him he’d give him $2 if he did a poem—right then and there.

“Of course we were afraid—but when you’re afraid of something, that’s usually a good sign that you should try it,” he says.

Acting on good intentions

Knowing what they want to do—and why they’re passionate about it—helps the Curators stay focused and committed to the act of storytelling and transforming public spaces.

“I believe in doing something with intention—to really dissect what you’re doing and why you’re doing it—otherwise it might seem like a frivolous action. It’s okay to be afraid, as long as it’s not paralyzing or destabilizing, but the intention and the passion have to be there,” Samantha says.

If you’re trying to get to the root of your intentions, Jon thinks there’s something to be said for just going with your feelings and opening up to the unknown.

“There’s really a value in saying ‘yes’ and seeing what happens.”

When have you channeled fear into a positive emotion? How did you do it?

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What Humans of New York can teach us about not caring what people think

 

There’s been a lot press a lately about Brandon Stanton, founder of the Humans of New York photojournalism project.

If you’ve been following the HONY story as religiously as I have, you’ll know that last week Brandon released a book of his 400 best portraits since beginning the project in 2010.

I love HONY for a myriad of reasons. I love how he captures beauty in all its diverse forms amidst the chaos and congestion of the city. I love how his subjects are so unbelievably raw and wise. I love how he connects me to a place where I once lived.

And finally I love Brandon’s chutzpah, not least because he approaches random strangers all the time, but because he took a chance on his passion. Before millions of people started following his blog, Brandon was a bond trader in Chicago. Then he quit his job, picked up, and moved to NYC with a camera in hand to try and make it.

People thought he was crazy.

This is a common fear that we hear from you, our Idealist community. Brandon’s story is a great example of preserving, despite the people around you thinking you’re cuckoo.

Here’s a snippet from Huffington Post on how HONY came to be:

My initial plan was to take 10,000 street portraits to plot on an interactive map, creating a photographic census of the city.

But I was completely broke. My friends and family thought I was crazy. I’d only had six months of photography experience, yet I was moving across the country to be a photographer. Despite the absurdity of the decision, I felt confident. I knew that my photography skills left a lot to be desired. But I also knew that I had the best idea of my life, and that everything else could be figured out as I went along.

I made that move about 2.5 years ago. There were a lot of lonely times. That first year was tough. I knew nobody in New York. I never knew where rent was coming from. All I did was take photographs. I never took a day off. I worked every single holiday. I took thousands of portraits before anyone paid attention. But even though I didn’t have much to show for it, I knew that I was getting better, and I knew the photographs were special.

Have you ever taken a chance on a seemingly crazy idea, only to have it be more successful than you ever could’ve imagined?

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A shore thing: How soup is rebuilding community in the Rockaways

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Robyn set up a hot food station on a street corner a few days after Hurricane Sandy devastated her neighborhood.

Almost exactly a year ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of Robyn Hillman-­Harrigan’s Rockaway Beach neighborhood in Queens, New York.

“Nothing was where you expected it to be,” Robyn says. “It felt like our beach town had turned into a war zone over night.”

At that time, Robyn wasn’t thinking about founding a nonprofit and opening a community restaurant. She was thinking about how she could help her neighbors.

On the first day after the storm, she started by bringing batches of hot cocoa, tea, and coffee to the people around her. The next day, she and her friends set up her propane camping stove outside on a makeshift table made from driftwood. They cooked batches of soup and warmed up donated food. A line formed down the block as people came out to eat a hot meal and find comfort in community.

A few days into the disaster, Robyn took a step back and thought about how she could increase her impact beyond that one street corner. She realized she needed better communication, a bigger kitchen, and a system that would help her reach the maximum number of people.

So she formed a Facebook group and asked her network for specific donations. The response was overwhelming. A friend lent space in his restaurant’s kitchen. Another worked with farms upstate to donate produce. A number of people volunteered to help cook and deliver the soup.

Thus, the Rockaway Rescue Alliance Shore Soup Project was born.

Since then, Robyn has centered the project around her two passions—providing access to healthy food options, and building community around food.

So far, the Alliance has founded a community garden, hosted workshops on nutrition, and continued to cook and deliver organic soups to homebound residents. They also recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a summer food truck that provides healthy pay-­as­-you­-can meals to the residents of the Rockaways, who are still living in a food desert.

They’re now more determined than ever to be a resource in their community for a long time to come. Currently, they’re raising seed capital to open SHORE, a pay-­as­-you­-can restaurant that will double as a community center.

Robyn is excited to move into this next phase, though she knows it will continue to be hard work.

“Throughout this process there’s been a lot of red tape and struggle. And we’ve learned that things change and new needs arise,” she says. “This process requires continuous readjustment and the ability to shift and adapt.”

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Robyn delivering meals to the residents of Rockaway, Queens.

Lessons learned

1. Follow your passion and you will find your path.

Robyn has always cared about increasing access to healthy food and community building, and directly after Sandy, she found ways to use her passion to help.

“We just launched right into it. We were so excited and determined,” she says. “We didn’t think about a year from now. We didn’t think about worst case scenarios.”

2. Word of mouth can build momentum and make it real.

In the days following the storm, Robyn realized that people in other parts of the city didn’t know about the devastation in her neighborhood. But she figured that if they did, they would want to help.

That led her to creating a Facebook page, where she posted photos of the devastation and of her efforts to provide warm meals and a feeling of community. And people did pick up on it; just through word of mouth, she was able to get donations and volunteers. It also forced her to name the project, making it more official and sustainable.

3. Talking to people helps you gain wisdom and build a network of supporters.

Before jumping into growing the organization, Robyn took time to talk to people to get their feedback and advice. She started by reaching out to members in her community, then found other organizations who were doing similar work. These informational interviews provided insightful advice and also helped her to build a strong network of supporters.

Along with the residents, these supporters have helped the Shore Soup Project grow from a relief effort into a real, forward-thinking organization—something Robyn never could have imagined before the storm.

“We all have the power and ability to do things. If we choose to harness that power, we can do so much. But if we let our doubts stand in the way, we will never start,” she says. “The storm was the catalyst that helped me overcome those doubts and take the first step.”

The Shore Soup Project is hosting a benefit event to raise seed funds for their SHORE restaurant this Wednesday, October 23, in New York City. If you like delicious food, local booze, and great art for auction, check out their event page on Idealist for ticket details and to RSVP. If you attend, you may be featured in an upcoming Idealist video!

Shore Soup Project is also looking for volunteers to help them cook and deliver soup, as well as to fill a part-time position as their Head Chef and Kitchen Manager

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