The first Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) meeting of the year carried a sense of new energy with a host of familiar names and faces among the 24 who gathered at Windsor Park Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Our host, Alvyn Walker, has been deeply involved and active in CSLN for years, just as Windsor Park Church is deeply involved in the life of the South Shore community it calls home. To start the meeting, Alvyn gave a tour of the church, explaining both the challenges and opportunities of maintaining such a community anchor.
Fortunately, those opportunities are numerous. Windsor Park is home to a powerful wifi router that beams internet to the surrounding area, a mentoring program called Techgirlz, a community garden and pantry, tai chi classes, and, of course, regular church services.
Activity among the other members gathered was similarly bountiful, as revealed through a communal calendaring exercise. Each participant was given a sheet of paper with prompts to share events and initiatives coming up this year. The finished cards were taped up together in a calendar, and participants took turns explaining what they wrote and how to follow-up and get engaged.
Some connections were sparked immediately. As Alvyn began sharing yet another project of his that aimed to foster back yard gardens, member Thad Smith of West Side Bee Boyz exclaimed that "this is exactly why I come to these meetings!" Later, Thad explained his upcoming project, focused on front yard gardens that support pollinators such as native bees.
Other connections may take more time to crystallize, which is why we've created a digital replica of the 2019 Sustainability Communal Calendar, which lists all the events shared at the meeting and ways to get involved. The calendar is meant to be a living document, meaning that CSLN members can continue to add their events and opportunities for collaboration even past this meeting.
To accelerate collaborations, ICA staff member Samantha Sainsbury asked participants to identify emerging themes, yielding answers such as "tech", "gardens", and "food". Upon deeper reflection, another term surfaced to link these areas of momentum—"convergence".
And convergence is exactly what happened next, as participants were invited to host small group conversations to seed collaboration. The collaborative events planning team started work on a new CSLN collaborative events series that would follow up on last year's Nourish (comm)Unity series. Meanwhile, another group of participants came together to share what is happening in their neighborhoods and exchange ideas and values centered around “design for sustainable communities”.
Those conversations were so rich, it turned out, that the meeting kept going late into the night, nearly an hour later than scheduled! Perhaps it was the Spring energy, or the camaraderie of long-time collaborators reconnecting. Whatever the reason, Alvyn summed it up as "we don't wanna leave tonight!"