Let’s state the obvious: It’s August. As students prepare to flood our residence halls, student centers, recreation facilities, classrooms, and (let’s face it) every other space on campus, there are two words on my mind: community building.
It’s a phrase that gets tossed around like a hot potato. We build community in physical and virtual spaces. From Facebook to floor meetings, we see ourselves as the facilitators of endless conversations that lead to life-long friendships and satisfied alumni. Whether we are actually planning the programs or just creating the atmosphere, community building is a top priority for student affairs professionals.
Until today, I never thought about looking outside of student affairs for true community building and collaboration. It was the Involvement Fair, the student organization training, the community service day, and all other activities that I looked to for inspiration. That all changed when I visited A Better World Cafe, a community cafe just a few minutes from campus.
A Better World operates on a “community cafe” model, partnering with a local soup kitchen and a nonprofit organization to provide healthy and accessible food for all its patrons in the area. Food is grown organically and locally on a farm that is harvested by volunteers and provided to the cafe chefs, who base their menu on whatever is in season and what is donated by local residents. Patrons who frequent the cafe pay what they can – meaning, they can donate an hour of their time as a volunteer, or just provide a donation if they cannot afford the full suggested price.
The community cafe model, to me, is community building at its finest. Not only does it involve all its members (volunteers, patrons, staff, local residents, farmers, and more) but it empowers them to build relationships with each other for the greater good of the community. I aspire to create a community among my students where our work is geared toward making change and making an impact, not simply achieving a large turnout at an event or counting the number of retweets we get.
What can we learn from the “community cafe” model that is different from the communities we are currently building at our institutions? Where else can we look for inspiration in community building? Feel free to respond here or follow me on Twitter @kristaknj.
For more about A Better World Cafe and their model, visit their website: http://www.betterworldcafe.org/. Their food is amazing!
The Jersey Alliance