(Title borrowed from SoS Twin Cities!)
I just got back to the Pioneer Valley from a week in Hartford, CT at the Grand Aspirations National Gathering.
Spending the past week in Hartford, CT with 50 other young leaders in the transition to a sustaining economy was re-affirming and joyful. I feel more connected than ever to other people across the country who are refusing to accept the standards options laid out for youth and community progress. While we all faced struggles and doubts during our summer programs, coming together this past week proved to me that collectively we are more powerful, knowledgeable and hold more potential than I can imagine.
A few of my highlights from the week:
- We’re learning our to sustain ourselves. I’m a food person. At gatherings I tend to take on some responsibility for making sure everyone gets feed well. This gathering had the biggest outpouring of food donations of any I have attended (short of Occupy Wall Street’s kitchen!). We brought bags and bags of veggies from our farm in Greenfield, Mass. The Hartford team had preserved vegetables for us all summer. Sarah Murphy (formerly of the Detroit program) brought boxes and boxes of vegetables from her farm in New Hampshire. We talk a lot about growing our own food and sustaining ourselves. I’m excited to say we’re actually doing that.
- We’re building our identity as a national organization. This week we got to review, discuss and revise the Strategic Plan for Grand Aspirations. This afforded the opportunity to discuss what the purpose, role and vision of our group are. People who first heard of GA this summer, and those who helped found it five years ago (and those of us in between), came together and sought built our collective understanding and direction.
- Our struggles are bound up in each other. We all know that it’s not enough to just act in our local communities. The issues which effect our neighborhoods also act on national and international scales. That’s why I’m so excited that we talked about how to support new programs in an accessible way, how to learn from the struggles other communities face and value the connections we build across geography and culture.
- We’re getting some serious stuff done (but having lots of fun). Listening to presentations and conversations this past week, I learned about so many successful strategies and projects. From the new Bike and Walk Center opening in S. Minneapolis, to the hundreds of pounds of compost diverted from the waste stream in Middleton, to the hundreds of homes canvassed for energy efficiency in Iowa City, to the solar installation training going on in Highland Park, to the Yard Sharing network in Chicago, to the… okay you get the idea. We are achieving results.
Some of the best advice I got this summer came from a farmer named Ricky in Orange, MA. He encouraged me to always be thinking about what comes next, and to prepare for my next project before getting too burnt out on my current endeavors. He farms full time, but felt burn-out on the horizon. So he started devoting one day a week to his wood working practice. There is always more to be done on the farm, but he chose for himself to set that boundary, and grow in a new direction.
For me, that’s what the GA national community is about. Every time I feel discouraged or doubtful, I hear about something new that inspires and motivates. I can shift what I’m doing to better meet my needs, and lean on the people around me for help. Spaces like the National Gathering can help us become agile and resilient individually and collectively. It’s those spaces which keep me coming back for more.