Posts Tagged ‘Community’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Sugar+Beet+Exterior+Close+Up

Back in the Winter of 2011/12, my wife and a number of our Oak Park neighborhood friends got together for a night of wine and sewing. During that now mythical evening, my wife Jenny, and her good friend Cheryl Munoz starting having a serious discussion about local foods, healthy eating and co-ops.  One of them said something to the effect of, ‘why don’t we have a

The mythical start

The mythical start

co-op in Oak Park?’, and the other one said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know’? After a couple more glasses of Dionysian bliss, the two decided to rectify the situation. They were going to open a co-op in our town. It would be known as The Sugar Beet.

But, there was one big problem.  How do you open a co-op?  Well, the answer turned out to be multi-faceted.

The first step was to let the community know their plans, and try to get others on board.  Cheryl and Jenny, and many other volunteers did this by showing up each week at our local Farmers’ Market, meeting neighbors, handing out info, talking shop and just as importantly, getting to know the farmers.  The Sugar Beet was a dream of locavores, and local farmers and local businesses would be key to the co-op’s success.

Luckily, the second step was easy. We are lucky enough to have a lot of smart, and influential friends who have expertise in a variety of areas central to starting a business.  Cheryl herself had a background in food service, and event-planning;  Jenny is an English Professor, with great people skills and an infectious optimistic outlook.  But, the Sugar Beet was obviously going to be a project that needed the assistance of many others.  With Cheryl and Jenny at the head, meeting images (1)people and getting others involved, it did not take long for the co-op to go from dream, to possible reality. Cheryl’s husband Anthony is a graphic designer, and right off the bat, he dedicated his prodigious talents to giving the Sugar Beet a stylized image. T-Shirts with his designs began to be sold, and they started to pop-up all over town.  Other friends worked in real estate (helping to find where the co-op may be located), architecture (what it would eventually look like) and city government (assisting in the rocky shoals of licenses, taxes, etc.)  It quickly became obvious that the Sugar Beet was not just a handful of local moms and dads wanting healthy food for their kids.  Thousands of local friends, neighbors and colleagues were pushing for the Sugar Beet to take off.  And, take off it did.

By summer 2013, the process was getting so complex that Jen started to back away. Of course she still supported and helped in whatever way she could, but she began to realize things were getting too specialized from the business side of things; sometimes getting out of the way is the best move to make. Cheryl, on the other hand was still the tireless leader and true heart of the Sugar Beet. She carried on with a million small and large projects to reach co-op completion.

By 2014 the Sugar Beet had a physical space.  It was going to be located in a beautiful store front in the heart of Oak Park. Things were really moving now. During the last twelve months a wonderful staff was hired, and the Sugar Beet team started to set the place up. Every day the co-op was becoming more and more real.

On July 30th, 2015, the Sugar Beet opened it’s doors. To describe it as beautiful doesn’t do it justice. I am not just referring to the physical environment of the shop (though it really is physically stunning: see video).  No, I mean it is beautiful because of the fulfillment of so many dreams. The Sugar Beet was the shared goal of my community members, of my friends and of my family.  As I walked through the sliding doors that opening day, and saw so many friends, so many shoppers buying good, healthy, often local food, I had a huge foolish smile on my face. It was satisfaction mixed with pure joy.

So, come on down to the Sugar Beet Co-op! Buy some great local beer, or some delicious local sausage, or some hilariously named local soap.  My community, my friends and my family will thank you!

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I went to the theater, visited Redbox, logged onto Netflix, and watched DVDs and Blu-Rays I own. However, there is one thing I didn’t do:

I didn’t go to a video store.

Whenever I visit my parents out in the Chicago ‘burbs, I pass by Orland Video. It’s the video store my family would go to when I was a kid, and it’s one of only two brick and mortar video stores I know of that are still open.

Whenever I drive by, I wonder how – or even why – it is still open. With on-demand digital content and video rental kiosks, who are the customers that are keeping this store alive? Even my parents, who admittedly dislike technology and were the last people I knew who still went to video stores, migrated to Redbox years ago.Orland Video

Yet, the video store is still open, with its same yellow sign glowing at the end of a stripmall – a symbol of different, older times.

I first tried Netflix during my college days. Back then, Netflix mailed out physical copies of DVDs. It was a slow and obnoxious process. Netflix had some perks, but it was still far easier and faster to drive over to the video store. When Netflix first started offering streaming services, technology hadn’t quite caught up with the concept yet. Internet speeds weren’t fast enough – at least they weren’t in my house, or anyone else’s I knew. The movie would take a dreadfully long time to load, then about ten minutes of the movie would play, and it would go right back to the loading screen. Trying to watch a 90 minute movie was more of a three or four-hour process.

However, anyone with common sense knew that as soon as streaming content got faster, the old ways – the video stores – were going to die. And this was before Redbox emerged, adding just one more nail in the video store’s coffin.

These advancements in movie-viewing technology are great: they’re easier, cheaper, and more convenient than the old ways.

Still, we’ve lost something with the demise of the video store. They were more than just a place to rent movies and video games.

They were a part of the family. On Fridays, once the school week was over, my dad and I would go to the video store to wander the aisles. I could rent movies or video games, and he would rent a movie for him and mom to watch. He’d notoriously pick anything that was labeled as “Funny” on the box, my mom wouldn’t like it, and he’d defend himself by saying, “But the box said it was hilariously funny.” The weekend was then coming to a close officially when someone, usually mom, would ask, “Did anyone remember to return the videos?”

Video stores were a part of the neighborhood community. At their peak, videos stores were everywhere, so each drew from the neighborhoods immediately around it. Thus, there was always a good chance of bumping into neighbors and friends. Also, the employees and owners would get to know all the regulars. The video store was a place for familiar faces.

Video stores were a hangout for friends. Especially in my teens, I made countless trips with my brother and his friends, or with my friends, to the video store. The trip wasn’t just about picking a movie – usually a B-movie that we suspected would be so bad it would be good. The trip was about being together, discussing movies, arguing over what to pick, and figuring out who could rent the movies since most of us had late charges on our own accounts that we didn’t want to pay.

With the rise of smartphones, there are plenty of people and studies that bemoan how the technology – which is incredibly beneficial – has led to a decrease in social interaction. I, like most anyone else, wouldn’t give up my smartphone, but it’s hard to ignore some of the negative effects the technology has had, especially for those of us who lived before smartphones were in everyone’s hands.

Similarly, video stores are another, less-often cited, example of a decline in community due to an increase in technology.

Just as I wouldn’t give up my smartphone, I wouldn’t opt to go back to the old ways of the video store. At its most basic function, the video store was to rent movies, and we now have better, faster, easier ways to do that.

But, whenever I see that old yellow sign on the video store, I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the fun times that have been left behind with our technological step forward.

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve been thinking about circles lately, those of man-made origin, built to provide a place for interaction, engagement, and celebration. The mystical togetherness inherent in the circle pervades all cultures and traditions.bonfire

 

 

A circle promotes intimacy

A circle promotes unity

A circle promotes equality

 

 

While I’ve been busy training to be a conservatory docent, a separate group has been training at The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, an impressive outdoor space complete with a “Council Ring,” a circular meeting space modeled on Native American custom and reminiscent of many highly fraught, circular gathering spots in the woods I frequented in my youth.

CouncilRing

I encountered wonderful, glorious campfire traditions as a girl at YMCA sleep-away and Girl Scout camp. Fortunately, my family’s home also had a generous property that allowed for bonfire parties throughout our later school years, which between me and my six siblings lasted about three decades.

La_danseMatisse

La danse (I), by Henri Matisse

The circle remains ever-present in interactions with my family and friends. On Christmas, we (Mom, four sisters, two brothers, four brothers-in-law, two sisters-in-law, ten nieces and five nephews and I) form a circle, hold hands, and pause to give thanks and ask for future blessings: a phenomenal moment, imperfect though it may be. All of my friend groups form circles, around countless tables, on a thousand dance floors. Many of my favorite friend circles are shaped by folding chairs pulled together on a lawn, ideally with a fire pit at the center.

When I think like a teacher (which I frequently do), I know circles encourage engagement and provide a powerful tool for education.

I’m launching a seriously fabulous class this term, Summer 1, 2014, at RMU. The class is terrific largely because the students are willing to get into a circle and discuss ideas. Therein lays all the great mysteries of meaningful human interaction: cooperation and communication.

More important than all of the lofty, grandiose promises of the circle is students’ willingness to participate. If students don’t show up, really show up—physically and intellectually—learning just will not happen.

Engaged RMU Students!

My RMU Students engaging in conversation!

Thus, I ask my students to get into a circle, to join the circle, to make a circle: all requests for their active involvement. Teachers need students to join in the process to make education happen. When students comply, when they truly form a circle, a “community of scholars” as I have come to call it, I gratefully seize the opportunity to enjoy the pinnacle of shared experiences, honest dialogue undertaken with the intent of mutual understanding. Another mystical moment, brought about through the magic of the earliest of human knowledge, sensing in that circle, we can all belong, we can all be heard.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m moving in June, as my seriously misguided landlord is raising the rent by $200 a month. I will not go down the rabbit hole of my anger towards that man, at least not in this post. What I want to talk about is my deep devotion to my neighborhood, the matchless Logan Square. When people discover that I am looking for a new apartment, they sometimes ask me if I plan on staying in the neighborhood. I fight the urge to respond with incredulity. I know the joys of life in an authentic neighborhood, so I couldn’t even imagine living anywhere else; Logan Square is my home.

Logan Square is the friendliest place I have ever lived. My two closest girl friends in Chicago, Leah and Hanna, live within easy walking distance, and I happily and regularly brighten their respective doorways. Other lovely friends live in the area (Matt and Kris and both Ryans), a brood of people who I have come to call my “Urban Family.” We host holiday brunches and celebrate birthdays. I have quotes tacked above my desk at work. One from Oliver Wendell Holmes reads, “Where we love is home.” It occurs to me now that my neighborhood is part of my Urban Family, too.

I am warmly welcomed at my local haunts. The regularity with which people lean over to kiss the world’s best bar owner, Maria, is positively extraordinary. I have often conjectured that if a person from a foreign country stumbled into the Whirlaway, he would get the impression that kissing customers is the cultural norm. Maria hosts potlucks and cook-offs and cookouts to which we all contribute food cooked from favorite family recipes. I expect Bryce’s sister to bring “funeral potatoes,” and Katie to bring phenomenal baked goods. When a loyal customer has a birthday, Maria provides the cake. I am missed at Dunlay’s if I don’t go often enough. A favorite waitress recently gave me a hug because it had been too long since she’d seen me. I delight in being a regular and greeting other regulars, whose names and stories I know, an aspect central to the neighborhood experience.

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I adore the small circular park in the center of the square, which features The Illinois Centennial Monument. The Urban Family picnics there in three seasons. We eat and drink and read and talk, and we are not alone. Neighborhood acquaintances say hello, then enjoy the park with bocce sets and Frisbees. The park buzzes with life. There are events and gatherings, film screenings, rock concerts and street fairs. The dates for this year’s Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival are already marked on my calendar. Something called “The Culture Coach” pulled up last summer and treated us to performances by Flamenco dancers and offered impromptu Mambo lessons. My friends and I were just relaxing in the park, and voila: spontaneous dancing!

The neighborhood provides everything a person needs. The Logan Square branch of The Chicago Public Library bustles with neighborhood activity. Gwen, the lady who works at the circulation desk, personifies welcome, cheerfully helping patrons and calling them by first name. I voted early there this past fall, where I found a long line of my hard-working, civic-minded neighbors at 6am. The neighborhood garden, known as the Atlgeld-Sawyer farm,  was started by my charming neighbors Margaret and Johanna, and members of the Urban Family volunteer as part of the compost team. The Farmer’s Market will be moving to its outdoor location soon, where I’ll expect to spontaneously encounter at least one friend each Sunday. I recently got my bike, Orangina, spruced up at Boulevard Bikes. When I asked the woman fixing my bike, “do you want to hear something weird?” She and her coworkers instantly said, in unison, “yes,” another sure sign that Logan Square is where I belong.

When I got hurt, neighbors rushed to my aid. A man whose name I don’t know put his arm around me and comforted me while he phoned the police. A woman I’d never met introduced herself as Drea and wiped blood off me with a wet towel fetched from nearby apartment. Another woman brought me a glass of cold water. They stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I suspect that I pass these kind strangers on the streets of my neighborhood, at least I like thinking they, and others like them, are around me all the time.

The neighborhood gets a lot of great press, which is reflected in the rent increase, but only residents know the genuine value of a place. There is inestimable wealth in the true community of people I know and love in my neighborhood, my home: Logan Square.