Tiny houses open big doors for Wisconsin’s homeless

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.

In October 2012, we were jazzed to write about the tiny houses movement, and have been excited to watch it gain traction since then. Here’s an update about a new use for tiny houses being developed in the Midwest.

Homelessness is an unfortunate fact in our society, and one we consistently struggle to understand and address. In Madison, Wisconsin, a group called OM Build has a new take on the issue—and it happens to be tiny. Say hello to…

Tiny houses!

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Too cute! One of OM Build’s tiny houses.
(photo courtesy Lauren Wagner)

These 99-square foot houses are built cheaply and without a need for serious, specialized construction skills. OM Build is betting they’ll help address the need for homeless housing in Madison and change the conversation around homelessness in the city.

Based on a similar project in Portland, Oregon, these tiny houses (for now) must be moved every 48 hours to comply with a city ordinance. (Good thing they’re built on wheels!) OM Build—which grew out of the Occupy movement in Madison last January (OM stands for Occupy Madison)—has been working with community leaders to change laws and make a more permanent “tiny village” possible. Not only would this alleviate the burden for residents of having to literally move house every two days, it would make it easier for people to form a community of neighbors.

As Brenda Konkel of OM Build says, “We started out doing this for homeless folks, but our ultimate goal is an eco-village where there are equal amounts of people who are formerly homeless and not.”

What makes it work?

  • The houses are cheap to build (around $5,000 per unit), easy to construct, and mobile.
  • Propane tanks for heat and pole-mounted solar panels for lighting make tiny house living both more affordable and environmentally friendly than many alternatives.
  • They are super cute and colorful—downright attractive! As Brenda puts it, “People don’t like tents.”
  • People approved to live in the houses contribute sweat equity toward their future homes (see the whole application process). This gives them work experience and a bigger emotional stake in caring for their new residence.
  • The project also appeals to people who are not homeless but who want to live in a more eco-friendly way. Garnering interest from multiple sides of the community is helping OM Build to crowdsource its ideas and tasks, and gain momentum across a wide audience.

Growing OM Build

OM Build completed its first two houses in the second half of last year, and house number three is currently in the works. They’ve also established a board of directors, of which half the members are homeless. They’re meeting with public officials regularly to get help navigating some legal red tape, and their offer to purchase a property where tiny houses could be parked permanently was recently accepted.

So far, OM Build has run on roughly $30,000 in donations. With the proceeds from an online fundraising campaign planned for this year and a recently-held silent auction, they hope to up their game.

Interested?

Tiny houses offer us a new way to look at an old problem. They give us a chance to use public space in a different, helpful way, and provide a real, physical tool with which we can counter homelessness.

They also remind us that good things can come in small packages.

To learn more about OM Build’s tiny house project, visit their website, or check out their campaign on Indiegogo.

Linkedin #1-1

 

Jordan Kifer is the co-founder of the “Art Is” project and a graduate of the University of Michigan where she completed her thesis, “Como Ser Afro-Latino/a? Examining Afro- and Latino/a Identities in the United States.” Jordan is a regular contributor to INSIGHT Magazine and works as a development assistant for Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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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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Can cookies connect us? One Minneapolis blogger’s year of happiness experiments

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days.

I used to work as a grant writer for a Minneapolis poverty-fighting organization, and respected the all-encompassing approach they took to their work: meet people’s basic needs for food, housing, education, and employment, and also try to give them hope through encouraging pep talks and personalized action plans.

But I realized over time that our program didn’t really complete the circle. After basic needs and a sense of hope, people also need to have a connection to others, to their community, to thrive instead of just survive.

After realizing this, I reflected on different aspects of connection for a couple of months: how can we foster connection with people, especially strangers? What makes one person feel they can connect with another, and what turns them off? I decided that the best (and most fun) way to answer my questions would be with a public experiment.

I wrote three simple poems that morning:

 

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“Magritte Jennifer” with balloons.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

“I talk to strangers

hoping to meet

someone like you”

 

“a day without you

is like a morning

without coffee”

 

“your smile

made me forget

my parking ticket”

 

Then I called a screen printer and had them transferred onto large balloons. I filled them with helium and hung them in fun places around the city: attached to a bicycle, wrapped around a doorknob, twisted around a tree trunk.

Now, I can’t speak for the strangers in the street since I never saw them find the balloons, but I did get an amazing response online when I blogged about the experiment—lots of nice comments about how people wished something like that would happen to them, and even more about how they would like to do something similar in their own communities.

The feedback inspired me to plan more extreme “random acts of happiness.” I wanted the next to be interactive so I could gauge its true impact.

I’ve long been a fan of Henry David Thoreau, and try to live by the simple wisdom imparted in his classic book Walden. So this past July, I decided to celebrate America on the 4th, and Thoreau on his birthday, the 12th. I baked cookies to look like Walden Pond, made fun cards out of Thoreau quotes, and threw a little birthday party in the streets of Minneapolis.

Planning the experiment felt similar to throwing a birthday party for a friend. The excitement level was high, and I was anxious to make sure everyone had a good time. But my nerves about the public’s reaction skyrocketed as I walked out the door with cookies and cards in hand. Would anyone be receptive? Would people laugh, or smirk? I steeled myself for the worst and started off down Hennepin Avenue.

The first two people I approached denied my cookies, looked at me askance, and probably thought they had just avoided being poisoned. The third beamed when I mentioned Thoreau and asked if she could have two cookies (of course!). Then a trio of guys came over and asked if I was giving out treats. I told them about Thoreau’s birthday, they said they’d never heard of him, then each took a cookie and a card and walked away, munching happily.

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Jennifer’s Thoreau Birthday Party experiment.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

I met senior citizens, hipsters, big burly men, and women in sundresses. I talked with some about Thoreau, some about cookies, some about other topics altogether. Overall, I’d estimate that 10% thought I was disguising a kind act as a malicious crime, 20% thought I was weird, and 70% wanted me to meet their mom—not bad!

But I’d say that in 90% of cases, these strangers and I made a genuine, if brief, connection. I reached out with a simple gesture, and most of them reciprocated with kind curiosity. We met on middle ground. Over cookies.

Plus I had more fun talking to a bunch of strangers on the street than a bachelorette has dancing in Vegas.

That night in bed I journaled my ideas for more connection experiments. I wanted to find other ways to make people smile, see whether I could get a participation rate greater than 70%, and, selfishly, continue to feel the levity that comes with creating random acts of happiness.

Since then, I’ve enacted 40 more experiments—ranging from bubblegum competitions in the park to making ice cream with strangers at a lake—and there are 50 more I want to do next year. These random acts have put me in contact with hundreds of new people, let me in on unique stories about my neighbors, and taught me how easy connections can be to make—and how happy and whole they make us feel.

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Jennifer Prod is a blogger who believes in the power of creativity, positivity, and chocolate chip cookies. Most of Jennifer’s project ideas are replicable almost anywhere; if you want to get happy and create some connections, check them out on her blog.

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Project Homeless Connect: Why we need more one-stop shops like this

Across the U.S., there’s no shortage of people, projects, and organizations working to address homelessness. On Idealist alone, there are over 13,000 opportunities. In the spirit of spreading good ideas, today we’re featuring a snippet about Project Homeless Connect, an all-day fair which makes resources and services more accessible to the people who could use them most. To date, it’s been replicated in 264 cities from Baltimore to Denver to Portland.

This post by Scott Keyes originally appeared on ThinkProgress, a political news and analysis website.

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Trimming hair at a Project Homeless Connect event in Chapel Hill, NC
(photo courtesy townofchapelhill on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Say you’re homeless and you set out on Monday to run a single errand: get a discount train pass. You fork over $2 for the half-hour bus ride to get down to the San Francisco Mutual Transportation Agency office in order to apply. Another 30 minutes waiting in the lobby.

When your name is finally called, the meeting ends after two minutes because you don’t have an ID. So you hop back on the bus, out another $2, and head over to the County Clerk’s office. But because you didn’t bring a proof of residency document from a local shelter, you can’t get an ID. By this time it’s nearly 4:00 pm, the office will be closing soon, and you’re out enough money for a sandwich.

Indeed, when you don’t have a lot to spend, the path of any errand can be fraught with pitfalls.

Cris-crossing town on a bus is neither cheap nor quick. Agencies can have weird hours, and many homeless people don’t have access to the Internet to see what time they close.

What if you forgot a document? Some places won’t take you without an appointment, while others need you to come back for a follow-up next week. And even after you’ve secured an ID, a bus pass, and other bare minimums, your bag may get stolen one night, and you’ll have to repeat the entire process.

These are the mishaps that can make it extraordinarily difficult for a homeless person to satisfy a single need. And there are so many others besides: a shelter bed, a spot on the low-income housing waiting list, health care, a haircut, food. All this time spent trying to satisfy your basic needs is time not spent at work or in school.

But an innovative program from San Francisco is changing the game with a simple idea: bring all the service providers under one roof for an all-day fair.

Project Homeless Connect (PHC) began in 2004 under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. If someone doesn’t have an ID for a bus pass, she doesn’t have to schlep across town to get one and come back tomorrow, because the DMV has a booth set up at the event. She doesn’t need to sign up for an appointment with a doctor or optometrist or dentist weeks in advance; she can walk up and be seen immediately.

It’s a one-stop homeless shop, and it’s helped over 70,000 people in San Francisco alone over the last decade.

Read more about how Project Homeless Connect works here.

What other one-stop services shops do you know about? What other issues could this work for?

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TypeFace: How public art is helping Milwaukee residents find their voice

The value of art reaches beyond traditional museums and formal exhibitions. I have seen the arts galvanize communities, unite diverse groups of people, and provide a starting point for dialogue around difficult and important social issues. Art is a unique and powerful tool we can use to understand our communities.

There are important conversations people living in marginalized neighborhoods of Milwaukee, Wisconsin want to have, and art could be the perfect catalyst, but their voices are absent or muted in art’s more traditional settings. The museum is no longer sufficient.

Enter the TypeFace public art project, which unveiled a couple of weeks ago on some of the city’s vacant and foreclosed spaces.

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Milwaukee’s Sherman/Washington Park neighborhood.

Funded by a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation, the project provides a different forum, one that is accessible to everyone—no opening hours, admission fees, or shushing. Public art, after all,  is a community conversation held in the open where you can talk as loud as you want.

But what makes this project different from other public art installations? I admit that even as a borderline-obsessive lover of public art, I am wary of “feel good” mural projects. As an ethnographer, I am wary of those attempting to come from outside a community and play savior.

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Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood.

But TypeFace avoids these pitfalls by making conversation its centerpiece, not an afterthought. Featured artist Reginald Baylor’s installations result directly from the year Milwaukee documentarian Adam Carr spent with residents of four of Milwaukee’s roughest neighborhoods, talking with them about their lives and communities.

These are neighborhoods with high rates of crime, poverty, and unemployment; areas where people live but others rarely visit.

“People will come to areas for art, food, and entertainment,” explains Jeremy Fojut, ART Milwaukee president and my TypeFace tour guide when I visited. Giving people a reason to come into these areas is one of TypeFace’s goals.

 

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Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.

Each installation is covered with words and phrases from Adam’s interviews in each community that evoke a variety of emotions: good, bad, angry, brash, hopeful, reflective, realistic.

Quotations range from the serious—“How can I turn the fight into something positive?”and “Challenge them to act” at the Puzzled and Amazed site in the neighborhood of Harambee—to the silly and abstract: “They had my name carved in an ice cream cone” at the Panel Discussion installation in Sherman/Washington Park.

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Milwaukee’s Burnham Park neighborhood.

A perfect example of how public art can engage a community, TypeFace is more than inspirational. For cities with dead spaces, these conversation-centric installations can motivate residents to use public art as a way to talk with their own communities. TypeFace does not suffer from “savior syndrome,” but is a creation of the communities it’s in, made with residents very literally writing the script.

The year of conversations, workshops, and meetings is apparent in looking at the installations, and it’s exhilarating. By acknowledging the struggles and frustrations as well as the hopes and aspirations of the neighborhoods, TypeFace encourages us to begin knowing these communities and to continue the conversation.

To learn more about TypeFace and how you might bring something similar to your community, contact info@typefacemke.com.

Linkedin #1-1Jordan Kifer is the co-founder of the “Art Is” project and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where she completed her thesis “Como Ser Afro-Latino/a? Examining Afro- and Latino/a Identities in the United States.” Jordan is a regular contributor to INSIGHT Magazine and works as a development assistant for Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Mmm, delicious community! New supper club models pair food with camaraderie

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

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Food is love.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Do you hunger for a deeper connection to new cultures when you travel?

Do you thirst for closer friendships with your neighbors?

Does the thought of eating home-cooked meals away from home make your mouth water?

If so, join the (supper) club!

We may not have full agreement on what to call this trend yet—I’ve come across “meal-sharing platform,” “collaborative gastronomy,” “community-based alternative dining,” and “the social food movement”—but a rose (or rosé) by any other name is still all about eating and drinking with strangers near and far to gain broader cultural understanding, make new friends, and, of course, savor delicious meals.

Here’s how some pioneers are doing it:

Meals with a side of cultural exchange

  • Cookening‘s motto is “Connecting people and cultures through food.” Sign up on their site to attend or host home-cooked meals and meet people from all over the world. Hosts post information about themselves and sample menus they might cook, then state their desired “contribution.” Guests peruse the host profiles (searchable by location, type of meal, languages spoken, maximum number of guests, and more) and send a booking request when they see something they like.

Home cooking

  • Adentro Dinner Club in Argentina is a bit different: a Buenos Aires couple opens their home to travelers every Wednesday night for a traditional asado (Argentine barbecue) for about US$60 per person.
  • An Italian counterpart, Home Food, began in 2004 in conjunction with The Association for the Guardianship and Exploitation of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy (talk about a mouthful). Guests join the association for €50 and can then sign up for various experiences (“Not only food,” explains the website, “but tradition, territory, love”).
  • And Brooklyn, New York’s “part-time restaurant” Neighbor uses the tagline “What we eat in our house” and serves on the last Saturday of every month. A four-course dinner with drinks is $85, and attendance is capped at eight people, first-RSVP, first-served.

Food party!

  • Still other variations on the theme include NYC’s The Ghetto Gourmet, which organized roughly 400 “underground dinner parties” from 2003 to 2008 and lives on today as “a portal into the world of underground restaurants, speakeasies, supperclubs and other community-based alternatives for dining and entertainment.” On the site, you can start or join a “foodie group,” plan your get-togethers, and post menus and photos from your meals.
  • Chaos Cooking organizes events across the U.S. and promotes ultimate collaboration, describing their model as: “Everyone brings the ingredients to make of dish of their choice. Everyone cooks together and then helps restore the space to its original condition.”
  • UK-based Find a Supper Club offers a hub where visitors can “discover where and when your local underground restaurant/pop up/supper club is!”, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Learn how to find great “closed-door restaurants” and get acquainted with new foods and people while traveling, or get inspired with tips to start your own right at home.

No matter how you slice it, supper clubs’ resurging popularity is testament to our deep desire for community, conversation, and sharing. And food. Definitely food.

Tell us how an alternative dining experience has been a positive influence on you or in your community.

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Breaking new ground: How a Kansas City organization is helping refugees put down roots

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

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Khadijo Yussuf, a graduate of New Roots, broke ground at her own farm site this past spring.
(photo courtesy New Roots Facebook)

Now that they’ve harvested the last of the tomatoes, the farmers at New Roots are spending the winter cultivating some of their other skills: driving, English, and small business management.

New Roots—a partnership between the food justice organization Cultivate KC and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas—provides refugees in Kansas City the space and resources they need to gain income and self-sufficiency for their families through farming.

Many refugees who come to the U.S. already have extensive agricultural experience, but lack the resources and language skills needed to set up their own farms.

New Roots runs a four-year program with 16 refugee families who are each given a quarter-acre of land to grow their choice of crops. They’re also given access to seeds, equipment, and other important resources like English language classes, help setting up bank accounts, and driving lessons.

Rachel Pollock, program coordinator for New Roots, says that six of their graduates have gone on to buy property and start their own farms.

One of her favorite success stories is that of Khadijo, a Somali woman who was relocated to the U.S. a few years ago. Women are especially well-suited for the program, Rachel says, because they’re used to working hard to provide for their kids.

After four years in the New Roots program, Khadijo now drives her own van to the market to sell the food she’s grown. A mother of six, she’s recently purchased a home with a vacant lot where she’s planted vegetables and fruit trees.

“She loves being able to raise her kids in the garden,” says Rachel.

While the learning curve is steep for refugees like Khadijo, they’re not the only ones who learn from New Roots.

“When our farmers sell their vegetables at the markets, it gives families here in Kansas City the opportunity to interact with people that they might never interact with otherwise—we get to bridge cultures both ways.”

The best part about working with refugee farmers, says Rachel, is the chance to offer homes and security to people who have felt unsettled for years.

“Being able to grow your own food is so important—especially for people who haven’t felt safe or felt self-determination over their lives in a really long time,” says Rachel. “Food is so tied into feeling like we’re home.”

Interested in refugee issues? Search Idealist for over 2,000 opportunities around the globe.

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Try this! Open a “pay-what-you-can” café and nourish your neighbors

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

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One Acre Cafe is just weeks away from their grand opening.
(photo via OAC Facebook)

When Jan Orchard read stories to her first-grade students, they seemed fidgety—even for seven-year-olds. On mornings when she brought in blueberry muffins, though, they paid much more attention to her.

“They were hungry,” she says.

That’s when she started to understand just how much food insecurity was affecting her community in Johnson City, Tennessee—and decided to do something about it. Last year, she quit her teaching job to open One Acre Café, a “pay what you can” restaurant that’s just a few weeks away from turning on its ovens.

For Jan, the most exciting part about One Acre Café is how the community has come together over the past year to help open its doors. Its existence is owed to the culmination of over 1,000 volunteer hours and $80,000 worth of donated equipment, building materials, and labor.

“Someone donated a $15,000 granite countertop, the plumbing company donated a toilet, a tile company donated all the tile for the bathrooms, and a furniture company donated couches for our lounge,” she says.

Even though all these donations are going towards a charitable café, it’s not going to be a “free” restaurant.

“The idea behind the café is that everyone can contribute something. People are asked to invest in a resource for their community in exchange for their time, and for that, they’ll be fed,” she says.

Payment for a meal comes in the form either of a cash donation ($4, $6, or $8 depending on portion size) or as one hour of volunteer time doing something like rolling silverware, serving food, or greeting patrons.

Beyond being a great place to go and eat, Jan dreams of making One Acre Café a gathering place in the community where people can have interesting conversations and connect with one another.

“What happens when people lose their jobs is that they get deeper and deeper in debt and they become ashamed to go out into the community,” she says. “The idea behind the café is that there should be a neighborhood place where everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a nice meal and have a good conversation without feeling uncomfortable or ashamed about whether or not they have a lot of money.”

How you can replicate it

1. Use a model

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The site of One Acre Café is a former bar and vacant building in downtown Johnson City which has been a real “fixer-upper.”
(photo via OAC Facebook)

Early in the planning stages for One Acre Café, Jan reached out to the One World Everybody Eats Foundation (OWEE), a nonprofit dedicated to fighting food insecurity by helping people start pay-what-you-can restaurants.

They offer best practices, mentorship, and “start-up” kits (basically a ‘paint by numbers’ on how to start a community restaurant) to people who are interested in starting one in their community.

2. Ask other community restaurants for advice

Part of the OWEE model is that once you’re up and running, you should be there to mentor other people who also want to start a community restaurant. One Acre Café had a lot of guidance from the F.A.R.M. Café in Boone, Tennessee.

“What makes these cafés different from other restaurants is that they’re not in competition with one another, they’re trying to help one another,” Jan says.

3. Follow up with people who offer help

Jan’s benefited greatly from believing that when people want to help out, you should let them.

A year ago when she was first getting started, she held a community meeting and silent auction to help get the word out about her plans. At the meeting, she put out some volunteer forms.

Jan was able to grow OAC’s strong volunteer base by calling up everybody who filled out a form.

One of their volunteers, a construction worker named Ernest, has put in a lot of time helping with renovations and monitoring construction permits. But you can tell he’s getting excited about opening day because he has more on his mind than the construction projects. He stopped Jan a few weeks ago with an important question:

“A bunch of the guys here wanted me to make sure you were gonna serve some nice hearty soups and stews with good bread.”

Jan assured him, yes, they’d make sure to have some on the menu.

Are you interested in setting up a community restaurant in your area? Reach out to the One World Everybody Eats Foundation at community@oneworldeverybodyeats.org.

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Try this! Blend cooking lessons with English language courses. Mix well.

The students of Cooking Up English are a real melting pot of languages and cultures.

The students of Cooking Up English fixing some kebabs for the grill. (photo courtesy Casey Smith)

The idea

Casey Smith marinated on the idea for a long time. It started when she was living in Santiago a few years ago with her husband and trying to learn Spanish. She found it was easier for her to pick up words from her Chilean cookbook than to remember what she was learning in her twice-a-week language class.

“The act of having to translate the recipe and actually cooking it and tasting everything—that really worked for me,” says Casey. “I found I remembered all those words. I could really connect with it.”

The flavors, the tactile experience of making the recipes with her own hands, the surprise and delight of her Chilean neighbors when they found out she was making their favorite recipes—it all helped her learn a new language and feel connected to her community while she was in a new place.

Back in her home of Austin, Texas, Casey found that there were a lot of people who were looking for a similar experience as they were learning English in the U.S. That’s why in 2010 Casey started Cooking Up English, a hybrid cooking course and ESL program, to help folks looking to practice their English while getting a taste of American culture.

The classes, which take place in a local church kitchen, are focused around different themes. Right now they’re offering a five-week series on American breakfasts. Later this fall, it will be comfort foods.

With a spatula in hand, students practice everything from food vocabulary to expressions like “eyeballing it” while practicing conversational English as they put together the dishes.

The course also takes students on field trips to the local farmers’ market where they can learn about healthy, local foods while practicing their English by talking with the vendors.

How you can replicate it

Since its start, Cooking Up English has engaged students from 14 different countries, including Colombia, Hungary, Iraq, Russia, and South Korea.

Some are visitors, some have recently moved to the U.S., but everyone wants to practice their language skills in a supportive, appetizing environment.

Casey Smith (center) and some of her students showing off their aprons.

Casey Smith (center) and some of her students showing off their aprons. (photo courtesy Casey Smith)

If you’re interested in starting a similar project in your community, here’s Casey’s recipe for success:

1. Be open and welcoming.

Your students shouldn’t be the only ones who are there to listen and learn. As a facilitator, it’s also important for you to have an open mind.

“When you’re trying to do cultural exchange and language learning, it’s important to be on the same playing field,” says Casey. “Try not to oppress your language on another person, but to really be in a receiving mode.”

Casey says one of the most surprising and wonderful developments from Cooking Up English has been the enthusiasm her students have had for sharing their own language and recipes. At the end of the American breakfasts series, for example, students stood up in front of the class to present a breakfast recipe from their own country.

2. Use existing groups to help spread the word.

Casey says one of the biggest challenges in getting Cooking Up English off the ground was getting the word out and letting people know it existed. To help with this, they tapped into groups that were already working with their target populations—churches, immigrant groups, other ESL programs, mosques, and temples—to help spread the word.

3. Use a model.

Cooking Up English now offers complete curriculum sets including five weeks of ready-to-use materials with vocabulary essentials, visual glossaries, student worksheets, and teaching manuals for each of their eight series.

4. Be prepared.

Even if you use the Cooking Up English curriculum kit to help get you started, it’s important to have your logistics figured out. Make sure you reserve a comfortable kitchen site and have between five and seven committed instructors lined up.

For each class, Casey suggests having at least two teachers working together. “It’s always helpful to have another set of eyes to make sure a cup of salt doesn’t end up in the recipe instead of a teaspoon.”

5. Celebrate.

At the end of the Cooking Up English series, Casey likes to put on a dinner party at a board member’s home. At one of these parties, a student from Vietnam told her that even though he had lived with his family in the U.S. for three years, it was the first party he had been to in his new country.

“He felt so special to be invited,” Casey says.“I encourage everyone to have an open table, an open mind, and an open heart. We don’t want any of our new residents to wait to be invited to be a part of our community.”

Want to use Casey’s curriculum to start a Cooking Up English chapter where you live? Get in touch with her directly at csmith@cookingupenglish.org.

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Legal Cuts: Law office + barbershop = community

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Barbers on the job at Legal Cuts.
Not pictured: the lawyer working in the back.
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

“Traditional law offices can be intimidating, but folks are comfortable sharing their problems with a barber,” says Donald Howard, the 32-year-old attorney-coiffeur who opened a combination barber shop and law office in New Britain, Connecticut this past spring.

“I thought it was the perfect marriage,” he continues. “People could feel comfortable in this environment and feel they can trust the lawyer. I want to make sure legal services are available to these people,” who he believes may be intimidated by walking into a traditional law office.

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Legal Cuts price list
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

The tough job market many recent law school grads are facing prompted Howard to think outside the norm and become the entrepreneur of a “hybrid business.” (Legal Grind, a combo law office and coffee house in Santa Monica, was considered the first when it opened in 2009.)

In Howard’s case, the impetus to start was two-fold: he needed a job, and he wanted to help his neighbors.

“I believe the barbershop is the epicenter of the community,” he says. “People can come in here and play checkers or chess and get to know their surroundings. … It’s gimmicky, but I want people to know that it’s a gimmicky thing that could work and it can help them out.”

Read more about the events that inspired Howard to open Legal Cuts in this Connecticut Law Tribune story.

Do you know of other hybrid businesses that are creating jobs while aiming to better serve a community? Educate us in the comments below.

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