Friends -

I know you and those in your community are doing brilliant, kind, creative things right now -- even the seemingly smallest things -- to respond to the current pandemic using the strengths and capacities within community.

I've been asked by my friend Cormac Russell to help spread the news about a wonderful story sharing platform and I want to invite you to add to it with YOUR story of what you and those you know have been up to.

You can read the full invitation here.

And see the platform itself right here.

I look forward to seeing your stories!

 ~ A

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Since COVID-19 erupted, I've been trying to find the "right" way to be useful. My attempts to help connect my neighborhood in Indianapolis, which I've moved from for now so my family can have childcare down in FL, are proving interminably slow. I can't sew and don't have a sewing machine, and my attempts through a friend's friend to support someone else's sewing campaign has met a dead end. I'm craving things to do with my time beyond reading about how badly this thing is hitting so many people, including communities of color and service workers. So far, the "concrete" help I've found a way to provide to others right now has been through donations to organizations based in the principles of mutual aid, community and individual capacity. I'm glad to have these avenues, but still crave a hands-on way I can give, help, support, and share.

As most often does, one of the answers came about quite organically and from left field, and was something I picked up doing almost without thinking about it -- from an inside urge I couldn't really help.

It began about a month and a half ago when my friend Amy Kedron posted an article she'd just written on Medium about how her experience organizing neighbors in her apartment complex in FL during a hurricane might prove useful in this time of COVID-19. Then more stories started pouring in, and tools, thought pieces, and beautiful visuals that inspired hope, courage, action or laughter (including many hilarious texts from my dear neighbor David across the street in Indy.)

So I did what I have done all my life:  Making lists! And organizing them, re-organizing, prettifying and reorganizing.

Here's the first one I made:

RESOURCES & INSPIRATION for Unleashing Abundance and Collective Care in Times of Crisis

Then I realized I needed one place to put all the amazing visuals I was seeing and put them here:

COVID-19 Visual Inspiration & Humor

And then this list sprang forth, because I wanted to lift up ways that those of us with some material security right now might share that in ways that go as directly as possible to people who are operating on principles of mutual aid, respecting the dignity of capacity of people (including those in need), and community building:

“Solidarity Not Charity” During COVID-19: Ways to Help While Building Community & Power

I had no big plans for these lists when I started them... but since they now exist, I've been sharing them on various channels I have some kind of connection to--and early on I invited my friends on the CommsTeam of the ABCD Institute to be co-creators of the first list. But to my delight, nearly every time I log into the "Resources and Inspiration" list, there are between 5 and 20 people also viewing it! (Yay for Google Docs for this fun, rewarding feature.)

I'm deeply happy to have found one outlet that merges my penchant for obsessively listing things, my love of stories and practical information, and my belief that our capacity to find a way through this critical time--maybe better than we were before? 

And while I still want to find my way into a more direct local flow of mutual aid within my community, perhaps there's a lesson here around trusting that our own assets, our own gifts -- infused with whatever passion makes those gifts feel most natural to give freely in one's spare time (including way after one should be going to bed!) -- is a good starting place for how we might begin to revive community in the bigger picture.

Who knows? This new world is a work in progress. But I feel better going into it with some lists in hand to use and share! And to be giving my gift.

How about you? What has your journey been so far in finding your way to be in community, exchange and contribution in these wild times?

Note: The lists are all crowdsourced so everyone is welcome to add to them too (info on contributing is in each list). 

COVID-19 Has Lit My Fire

By April Doner, 2020-03-26
COVID-19 Has Lit My Fire

I'm a young-ish working mother of a 2 year old who works in community development. I'm based in Indianapolis, IN but my job right now focuses on a national project and consists mostly of coaching others remotely around how to build community in their places.

Since my husband and I moved back here to Indianapolis about two years ago, one of my greatest frustrations and longings has been around a need for community in my own neighborhood -- because it's my passion and because, as a new parent, I am feeling first-hand the burden of our culture of isolation and yearn for more relationships of exchange and "mutual delight" in our and our daughter's life. But while I have made efforts to gradually get to know my neighbors and connect us all together, it's been incredibly slow since I find myself unable to find the time and energy -- between work, cooking dinner, cleaning house, caring for our child and keeping up with family -- to put the time into it that I know it needs. So, my sense of palpable isolation has remained.

But miraculously, over the last two weeks the growth of the COVID-19 viral threat has lit a fire under me. Despite new pressures like my husband and I needing to watch our daughter full time while also working (her daycare closed), the energy has just been there for me to get organizing. Below is my story so far... 

I began a couple of weeks ago by researching what other neighborhoods are doing and then reaching out to my neighbors to float the idea of creating some kind of mutual support network for each other to get through this together and especially to make sure our most vulnerable are taken care of. Everyone I talked to said it sounded great, but no one at first stepped up to say they'd help. I was a bit more direct with some Moms I've gotten to know, and they shared candidly that they just didn't have the time or headspace right now with the support their families needed... but two suggested their husbands may be interested. So I asked them. Another couple who recently moved in serves on the neighborhood association board... so I listened to my gut and asked the wife. All said yes!

So, we are currently in the "building" phase of this, but personally for me even this first coming together of energy around a more connected, mutually supportive neighborhood is a huge first step. The urgency, and perhaps the global nature of this pandemic has pushed me to make more direct asks to learn who among those folks I know share my passion, and to be bolder than I may have been otherwise in inviting them to join me to make something real together.

At this point, I've taken the time to speak with each on the phone -- first to check in and see how they're doing -- and then to brainstorm a bit about the idea. I've been mindful not to make this about me, or what kind of structure I think we should use... but to try and open up a space where their own experience and ideas are just as important as mine. I know I cannot and don't want to be "the leader" of this, since i do have a full-time job (and a young child), and it's not something I or anyone is getting paid for. Through these conversations, I've been delighted at the ideas and considerations each person has offered up. One was a suggestion that we split the neighborhood into quadrants and just take on our own quadrant for now so as to not overwhelm ourselves and make this effort more appealing for neighbors... turns out this is something the neighborhood association has already been thinking. 

So I guess I'd call this the "building of a core." We are planning to meet in the next few days on Zoom to brainstorm together and come up with a plan that sounds good to all. So far, each person has agreed we think of this as community building BEYOND the crisis... something we want to keep growing when we're on the other end of it. We also want to find a way of connecting us all that uses technology wisely -- i.e. a platform that most people can access (including our Elders) and that will allow people to talk with and perhaps form collaborations with each other easily while not overwhelming anyone's phone. 

As this small group has been gradually forming, I've simultaneously begun trying to create even smaller structures of communication and exchange with the neighbors MOST immediately around me via a text thread I sent the other day when my husband and I were headed to the grocery store. I was honestly quite nervous about doing it, but in the spirit of boldness and experimentation, I wrote the 5 most immediate neighbors around our house and asked if anyone would like anything from the store (explaining that I'd read this is a good strategy among neighbors so fewer of us need to get exposed to public places.) One neighbor asked to be taken off the thread but in a very nice way... and I thanked him for his honesty and began a new thread, asking everyone to use that one. Everyone thanked me, and one asked me to grab her some dried mango. This same neighbor then offered to do the same for any of us when she goest in to her job at a huge grocery store on Thursdays! This seemed to me like a great connection for us all to have... "someone on the inside!" Another neighbor on the thread who seems to have the gift of neighborhood protectiveness has since been communicating on the thread about things he notices around us that concern him, and as a group we've been troubleshooting each one. One such case was a U-Haul that had been parked just north of us on the street for several days -- an occurrence he noted seems to happen every few months. (I'm NOT much of a "neighborhood watch" type, so I was completely oblivious to this!) As a group, we shared knowledge about this and through this, one neighbor took action and we solved the case -- it had been reserved through U-Haul and never turned in, and the company would come and pick it up ASAP. I was able to update the neighbor who'd been asked to be taken off the list, and he was delighted as well.

We've also been making efforts to hold informal conversations with neighbors as so many of us are out and about these days since our state just passed a "shelter at home" mandate, and many of us were already working from home anyway. It's amazing how many neighbors are walking the streets now! Through our walks and trying to talk to these neighbors we run into, we've been learning a lot and strengthening relationships.

Just yesterday, several of us were out and started chatting about how we are all coping with the situation and what's going on with us. We all stood far apart from each other but were still able to feel connected! We learned that one neighbor just got laid off (he is a contractor for airlines)...  so we promised to keep an ear out and also shared what we've heard about the new government relief package including support for contract workers (since we are both contractors too). We were also able to introduce the couple who lives two doors down with our neighbor David who has lived here for 50+ years, and actually once lived in the house the couple now owns!

Our daughter loves dogs, so when the dog from our other next door neighbor came out to roam their gigantic yard, she insisted that we go say hello to it. I obliged, which took me away from the group conversation... but then led me to see the neighbor who owns that property. We began chatting and sharing all kinds of updates about the virus, including her insights about the local situation since her husband works in the ER. Toward the end of the conversation, this neighbor kindly offered us to come into their large yard anytime we want to let our daughter run around. We told her how amazing that would be, since she loves dogs so much but we don't (yet) have one of our own! We left this conversation moved by her generosity and this delightful new resource we can use as we try to keep our little girl entertained while we watch her full-time (with no access to playgrounds that have been deemed unsafe.)


Finally, as mostly new arrivals in a community that is racially and economically mixed (and gentrifying), one of my priorities -- which the core of connectors each agreed should be our shared priority -- is that any larger effort should be respectful of and in good relationship with those neighbors who have been here for many years and may already be actively connected to one another. None of us knows the best way to do this but it's a question we want to explore together. In my own sense of urgency around this question, I sought out a colleague of mine last week who has been a long-time community builder working for many years alongside the neighbors here, mostly in the southern part of the neighborhood and many of them lower income folks of color. He is an expert at avoiding the many false and harmful assumptions in our country and our community around people of color, and he is a brilliant innovator in and actively challenging these assumptions by focusing his work on shining a light on and finding ways to support and invest in folks' capacities, gifts and contributions to their neighbors' lives. 

Having seen a lot of "white do-gooder" efforts targeting the neighborhood as well as white-led neighborhood groups in action, he encouraged me to simply seek to see and notice how those with fewer means are responding to this crisis and helping each other out. He also named some connectors he knows who are doing this actively each day in this neighborhood. So as I work with the neighbors it's been easiest for me to join forces with in my immediate surrounding, I also plan to reach out to these connectors and learn from them, while trying to find openings and opportunities for us to perhaps bridge these "two neighborhoods" through simple relationship-building, seeing and sharing gifts, and hopefully some wonderful in-person parties, meals and projects once we are on the other side of this pandemic.

For the first time in a long time, I am feeling like a whole person. This crisis has fully activated my passion and need for immediate neighborhood connectedness and to be actively building it around me -- not just "for others" or some theoretical idea of "building community," but also because my life cries out for it every single day. And as the scary, sad and horrific news articles pour in, I feel like in a way I've been vaccinated and am safe from the feelings of powerlessness this kind of news often provokes in one's mind and soul. I see the willingness to do, care and share emerging around me from within my neighbors and I know that, no matter how much any of us may struggle or suffer, we will find a way forward together.

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Greetings friends,

I'd like to share one of my recent blogs, an attempt to distill just a smidgen of the richness to be enjoyed at the Connecting 4 Community Conference in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago...

Below is the beginning of the blog. It was also featured on the Abundant Communityand Axiom News- yay!

C4C: Harnessing & Harvesting the ignorant perfection of ordinary people (Pt. 1)

Last week, I drove with friends and colleagues from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to attend the three-dayConnecting for Communities(C4C)conference, a powerful gathering of master and apprentice change agents and social entrepreneurs across sectors and communities, from around the world.


I came for many reasons and with many feelings. I was excited to see elders and friends who have shaped my thinking and my growth throughout the years, includingJohn McKnight,Peter Blockand my friends Caitlin, Terri and Cheri, who doincredible work around inclusion and community organizingin Georgia. (SeeList of Speakers here) I was eager to meet new folks in the field and hear their stories.

I came to see, as someone passionate about convening people myself, how these particular rockstars-in-the-field crafted our coming together.I also came to get a sense of whats newnew learning, new challenges, new opportunities to shift the systems around us to more citizen-centered, bottom-up, effective ways of living and structuring our approaches to the problems we see around us. I came to be refreshed in a way that only these things can refresh mefinding solace, camaraderie, a community of my own among people who, unlike most of society, understand what I do without the need for a 1-hour explanation.

Finally, I came with a question and a doubt: going to yet another conference about community-building, was I going to learn the same old things? Was this going to be worth it?

On all fronts, I was not disappointed.

Read the rest:

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The Village Connectors Project

By April Doner, 2013-01-09


I'm excited to share that a story I wrote about wonderful asset-based work being done by neighbors in Bradenton, FL, has been published on the Abundant Community Website. Check it out and share your thoughts in the comments, or below. I'd love to hear what y'all think.

~ April


Anna DAste makes and teaches ceramic art on 12th Street in the ""Village of the Arts" in Bradenton, FL. Shewas part of the original group of artists who moved into the neighborhood 13 years ago to start the Village.

When Anna moved in, she dreamed of living in a real communitywhere people know and care about each other and do things together. She hoped to have strong relationships not just with other Village artists but with other neighbors as well.


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Hi Friends! Here is an article I recently published in a local online newspaper I write for. To me it shows how economic and creative development happens naturally when people are connecting and sharing their gifts in a welcoming space, as well as the power of community and social networks to transmit information. I had a lot of fun writing this article!

The first part is below, then please click on link for full article. Also if you like it, please be sure to click "Like" on the linked page! (it pays to follow the link by the way, there's a beautiful video of one of the singers featured)

OPEN MICS: Growing and Connecting Local Talent

Last Tuesday, I was enjoying a date with a lovely person at Busch Gardens during the day, when I got a text from my friend Alisdair Lee inviting me to come see him play a few new songs at Growler's Pub's Open Mic Night around 10 p.m.

It had been a long day, including a 90-minute wait for a roller coaster as the sky poured and rumbled in true Florida summer style --- but in the spirit of supporting a friend and fellow artist, we went.
I ended up getting much more than I bargained for: Besides soaking up some incredible performances, I gained a great new insight into this phenomenon that has always held a magnetic pull for me ... and I hatched a new Sarasota adventure plan!

I learned that open mics play a unique and powerful role in the creative development of our local music/performance scene and economy. To go deeper into this, I've decided to launch a "Roving Open Mic Sarasota Tour," with monthly report-backs via This Week in Sarasota on the following questions:

  • What, in essence, are these things called "open mics?"
  • When and where are they happening in Sarasota, and what is the "flavor" of each one?
  • What value do they hold for musicians, music-lovers, the venues that host them ... and the rest of us?
* * *

The Growler's open mic was a great evening. I watched my friend perform some new material with his unique style of nuanced, well-crafted lyrics and surprising chords. I chatted with friends and drank probably too much delicious craft beer (love me some Oatmeal Stout!). Friend and talented poet Zachariah Skylab read two of his compositions, including "When I Sang Godfire."



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"Me, Mom & the Boy Who Checked Me Out"

By April Doner, 2012-05-14

This article started as a facebook "status update" as I was musing on an interesting exchange that had happened minutes before at our local grocery store check-out line... it made me reflect on how technology can pull us away from rich community interactions, but how we an also bounce back and have fun doing it...


I was on the phone with my mom as I went to check out my groceries at Publix the other night. I was on a mission to satisfy a mad craving formac n cheese and pick up some bananas, apples and yogurt for my favorite morning smoothies.

My favorite Publix at 10th and Cocoanut (Sarasota, FL).

I got to the counter, still on the phone. But I always feel kinda skeezy for being on the phone and ignoring the checkout person, so I said to the friendly-looking young man,Im sorry for being on the phone right now.

He said, Its okay; at least you are apologizing at least youreacknowledgingme. He did not say this in a snarky wayjust delightfully honest and honestly grateful.

Liking this, I took it a step further. Im on the phone with my mom, actually.

Ahwell tell your mom I said hi.

Okay! Mom, I spoke into the phone while scanning his nametage, Thomas says hi.

Mom said, Oh, thats nice. Whos Thomas?

The young fellow at Publix whos checking me outerr, whos doing the checkout for my groceries, I said, blushing and performing a little embarrassed monkey dance.

Well, you tell Thomas I hope he has a wonderful night, she said, with great emphasis on the word wonderful.

This experience made me incredibly happy. What a nice little crossing-over of interactions, coming out feeling the opposite of skeezy!And beyond not feeling sneezy, it made me happy for other reasons that go deep into my feelings on modern technology and social media. They also make me more aware of a waning appreciation for interactions with people in the world around us that are not planned or pre-sorted.


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Hi ABCD friends!

This is a piece I just published in a local community news/blog group that I write for. I've included the first part and a link to the rest of the article below that.

Please click "Like" on the main page it takes you to if you do indeed like it, and PLEASE share your thoughts, stories and insights as well as any critical feedback on the article itself. I'm trying hard to create a style that everyone can be inspired by and relate to while presenting these totally different ways of seeing community and society (ie. ABCD) from the norm.

I can really use your help!!!




Last Thursday, I was lucky to be one creative cog among many in the wonderfully un-defineable local phenomenon known as"The End of the Dial Tone Radical Experimental Collaborative Music Band Band"atThe Rusty Hook.

Besides being great fun at every upredictable moment, this project has taught me about the art of leadership that's creative, effective and enduring. I'd like to share those lessons as best I can, as well some tantalizing photos and live-art from the evening, and attempt to describe the experience itself.

What is "The End of the Dial Tone?"In its own words:

A collaborative performance deconstruction of the traditional musical jam, featuring musical egos in free fall. Comprised of top-tier musicians who wouldnt normally play together----totally unrehearsed---in a venue-agnostic nomadic musical caravanserai.

Total sensory meltdown.

Personally, I haven't seen any event that rivals this for originality, spontaneous energy and continuous evolution in this community. (Check out TWIS contributorJessi Smith's"Behind the Scenes" articlefor more background.)

Live-art by Van Jazmin and Eric de Barrios.

Beneath the surface, to me the Dial Tone is a mini-model of community at its best. I'm REALLY into community. And artists. These two passions motivated me to join with like-minded artists in 2010 and formUprise Art Collective. Building an organization with a small group of other people has been one of the greatest challenges and joys of my life. One of the things that has kept me going is to be able to know and watch other people who are making things happen based on their passion. John Lichtenstein of The End of the Dial Tone is one of those people.

Andrew Sink, Mitchell Englander, John Lichtenstein

What is "Leadership," anyway?

This is an important point I need to quickly explore. I don't want to fall into a common trap of thinking on leadership. That is, thinking that these people---"leaders," as we call them---are a unique breed of people with magical powers to bring people together and make things happen. In the bookEverybody Leads, Public Allies founderPaul Schmitzoffers a new way of thinking about of leadership: rather than a role for a special and select few, it's a set of actions that anybody can take. Schmitz lists three new ways of seeing leadership:

  1. Leadership is an action many can take, not a position few can hold.

    Figure model Erin Hood

  2. Leadership is about taking responsibility---personal and social---to work with others for common goals.
  3. Leadership is about the practice of values that engage community members and groups to work effectively toward common goals.

The reason I think this is so important is that our times call for leadership, and our old way of seeing and trying to engage leadership is not keeping up with the demand. Also, it's just not as fun to wait around for magical leader people to make things happen. Schmitz writes, "It is our goal to change both the face and the practice of leadership, thus unleashing the energy of thousands of leaders who have the skills not just to build programs and organizations, but also to build community capacity and sustainable solutions."

Chris Flannagan and Alix Sun

I know that you may not think a regular artistic improv project fits what many of us think is a "world-changing" effort. More on that later. Basically, leadership to me is about making things happen.The Dial Tone has been happening for over a year now, with a consistent and consistently enthusiastic cast of performers and fans. Its success points to something being done right that, in my view, applies across the board to other kinds of community efforts.

Here are the things I've noticed from John Lichtenstein and the Dial Tone about creative, effective leadership:

1. Be a little selfish

In other words, if you're going to undertake an idea together with others, you don't have to be Mother Theresa. Make it about something you actually want to do yourself. Just by creating a space for people to join you in some kind of activity---whether its playing music, knitting, walking your dog or figuring out ways to end homelessness---you will be improving the world.

"Dial Tone" organizer John Lichtenstein

When you realize it will be more fun, more interesting, more creative and effective with other people doing it with you, you have a good starting formula for a great project. John's a musician. While he's motivated by the desire to see more local musicians playing together, and could probably explain to you how that benefits the community, he also has a "selfish" desire to play with other musicians too.

And that's okay! In fact, I'd say its crucial. If he were doing all the legwork it takes to pull off not only the Dial Tone events but also the elaborate and equally outside-the-box promo video shoots out of a general humanitarian desire that never hit on the things he enjoys doing most, I'm pretty sure he would have burned out after the first couple of shows.

Furthermore, not only does making that choice help initiatorsnotburn out---it provides an ever-available source ofenergy from within that person that is also a magnet for others. In other words, by starting with your own passion, you are more likely to attract others who have that passion, because the energy is already there---in you and in them.While in one sense I do participate in the Dial Tone because it's something I believe in, it meets my own "selfish" needs and motives: I get to make art together with others, I get recognized for my contribution and I get to develop my skills. (Show off time: here are some of my drawings from evening!)

More live-art by ... me! (April Doner)

Live-art, April Doner

ArtistVan Jazminshared with me that he participates because, "Being a cartoon artist is so restrictive, having to always restrict myself to what the client wants ...I like being there and drawing what inspires me---and that is what people want to see! Being in there in the room and creating things that are desirable both to the project and to me."

This "selfish seed"/"magnet" approach also saves energy. You don't have to add the task of convincing others that your project is something they should join---they are already ready to jump in. In my opinion, we've forgotten that having and acting upon our own personal interest, skill, or passion is a good thing in itself, and the action of acting upon that interest, skill or passion in concert with others in a community setting should be celebrated as highly as "selfless" philanthropy and other more traditional models of social contribution.


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