Monday, September 15, 2014

Opportunity Village as a place for pooling and mobilizing local resources—PART 1: Community Education

In my opinion, one of the best things about Opportunity Village is seeing the type of collaboration that has emerged simply by making a space available for pooling and mobilizing local community resources. Here we see urban space reclaimed and invested with value—creating a place for people to gather.

These kind of ideas have been inspired by my involvement with the City Repair project. City Repair is based on "the idea that localization—of culture, of economy, of decision-making—is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture."

I had similar goals for Opportunity Village, and back when it was just an idea, I made the claim that"Opportunity Village will create a landscape that would be infused with place so that people would be encouraged to gather and interact with each other.  Within the Village, this idea of place allows for people in a similar situation to work together in order to help themselves.  At the larger scale, it provides an effective avenue for collaboration between the housed and the unhoused."

Now, with the village being open for a year, we see these ideas coming to life. While formal services are not offered on-site, the mere existence of the village as a place has inspired a number of informal services to surface, and I'd like to recount a recent example of this here.

A couple months ago Bill, a teacher from Marist High School, came to one of the weekly village meetings at Opportunity Village. He pitched the idea of using the community yurt to provide a formal academic experience to those who may not find traditional higher education particularly accessible. After a discussion, the village approved this use of their common space through a majority vote.

Following this, Bill began to piece together a pilot program of six classes over the course of three weeks. The idea being: if it went well it could become an official program through the University of Oregon, and college credit could be offered. He found professors from different departments at the UO—including journalism, business, political science, psychology,  and law. Each professor then led a class focused on the meaning of "justice" from the prospective of their academic field.





The classes averaged about 15 people each, and included village residents as well as others from the surrounding community. In talking with Bill afterwards, he found the program to be an overwhelming success. "The participants were smart, sharp, insightful, and I know every professor had very complimentary things to say... like that they wish their normal classes were as engaged as these sessions were. And that was the whole point—we knew that there were smart people who would want an opportunity to share their voice and learn."

One villager told me how it was a very useful experience, saying "I may not enjoy going to school, but I enjoy learning." She went on to say, "The real value is the thinking about the subject, and the subject was well picked—justice—because living in a place like this you have to think about that, and it felt like a unifying thing for the village itself. We were coming together in unity of purpose, and we were active with it."

Going forward, Bill said he'd like to figure out how to make this kind of learning experience accessible to even more people. And we hope Opportunity Village can continue to provide a place for those kind of things to happen.







2 comments:

  1. My yurt thinks the work your yurt is doing is admirable and important. Can u show me how to bring a similar project to my backyard? You are terrific! K��

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kari! My book by the same name as this blog covers starting villages and programs like this in other areas.

      Delete