In Community: The Structure of Belonging, author Peter Block suggests that the true vehicle for change is not elected leaders, but groups of people coming together at the local level and deciding, “What will we create today?” Harnessing the power of stories and conversation is a goal all communities should strive for, and makes an ideal vehicle for engaging elders with the larger community, to share their experiences and increase their social capital.
Here in Rochester, St. John’s Ambassador Gerry Stryker has worked with our community to facilitate a Coffeehouse series, involving elders from St. John’s, as well as from our emerging “new urbanism-style” Brickstone community, with the greater Rochester community. This weekly series connects the generations around education, discussion and/or creative expression.
One upcoming coffeehouse will feature local resident Ricard Lunt introducing the concept of the “Story Slam”–an “open mic” for attendees to get up and share a true-life story in 5 minutes or less,. No doubt the stories themselves will spark some vigorous discussion and generate common bonds.
Other sessions will include:
– A performance of two a capella groups–a barbershop group from St. John’s and a vocal group from a local college
– Kids and adults in a multigenerational discussion of children’s literature
– A local pastor speaking on “God as Politician”
– A local curator giving a behind-the-scenes look at how an art exhibit is put together
– A history of one couple’s years living in India
Such an event can be planned with minimal expense and expertise, and has a powerful effect on community and elder empowerment. For a further evolution of this concept to provide an ideal vehicle for community development, read about Dr. Emi Kiyota’s Ibasho Cafe concept here: http://www.ibasho.org/projects/ibashocafe.html
The first Ibasho Cafe is in development in Ofunato, Japan, and will give the residents of this tsunami-flattened city a vehicle for rebuilding and reconnecting after the 2011 disaster. I have been working with Emi to develop principles that help communities integrate people living with dementia successfully into this model.
National candidate platforms are nice to hear, but convening community gatherings has the potential to improve our lives more than the folks in Washington, DC.