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Community Dollars | Organizing for Empowerment Part II

Meeting #2

Two weeks ago, BENC (Buscando Éxito en Nuestras Comunidades) met at The RightWay Foundation to continue the discussion of finalizing a committee to oversee the community yard sales that take place at the Magnolia Place Family Center. “BENC” took 30 minutes to make, literally. Yesenia, one of the committee members, and I came up with the name as we played with acronyms and words that started with “J” in the Magnolia Place lobby. MUJER was an option but after moments of deliberation, it was eliminated. Next Yesenia suggested we try names that weren’t necessarily names themselves but stood for something. I posed the question of what words came to mind when she thought about the committee’s work.

Comunidad. Colaboración. Dinero. Familia

Recalling that our first meeting appropriately started with an entire discussion about the definition of community, we both agreed that the word should anchor the name of the committee. “Éxito” means success. Whether interpreted as putting more money in the vendors’ pockets (financial success) or strengthening community relationships (community building) this group will have the opportunity to achieve both, as well as realize other great things that happen when people organize for a goal.

The elections were swift and democratic. One by one, committee members declared their running for the positions; community liaison, treasurer, facilitator, coordinator. And by unanimous vote, each elected member suddenly took ownership in their committee, their BENC. Fully staffed, BENC was now ready to confront group issues, such as mitigating the cost of buying promotional materials and how to arrange a “clean up” system to address the trash and unsold items that are left behind after nearly every yard sale.

Meeting #3

It’s a Friday evening, 20 minutes have passed and members are still shuffling in. “Let’s start!”, Miriam the committee yard sale Treasurer announces. Members arrange chairs in a large circle while the Community Liaison prepares name tags. She arrived 30 minutes prior to type up an attendance list using the lone computer in the Magnolia lobby. Five minutes later Sandi Romero arrives. As the “Mama” behind Mama’s Hot Tamales, Sandi was invited to share her experiences organizing cooperatives and offer words of wisdom and inspiration for the group of aspiring, majority women entrepreneurs. Some had already been greeted by the aroma of her delicious tamales from her “pop up” stand parked at the Magnolia Place entrance during lunchtime. Now they heard the incredible story first-hand of how Mama transformed a “hot” idea into a “hot” business and community development project. Her presence and her palabras we hope will add another branch of support for the committee who, with less than two weeks before they are on their own for their first yard sale, would bode well with the motherly advice.

We were a large group and I wanted to assure the energy remained positive, focused, and fun. “Everyone stand up!” I commanded. Tonight we were going to do things a little different. Committee charlas past had taught me that everyone needs to feel that they can contribute to the conversation. Enter: Santiago. Santiago is a large, black and yellow spotted frog that was purchased some Valentine’s ago and had lived most of his life in the trunk of my car. That night Santiago was the microphone; anyone who held him had the “turn” to talk. Santiago made his way around the room while items on the agenda were crossed off, one by one.

7:30 PM

BENC came to a closing deciding on who was in charge to research the expense for trash cans, balloons, and other equipment that would be needed. Miriam collected and counted the membership fees, three times, before noting the total in her makeshift ledger. A separate list went around confirming the names and telephone numbers of all who had paid. Position-holders wrote their names, titles, and contact numbers on a whiteboard while others recorded the information on recycled paper.

Gustavo, the Facilitator reminded me to give him the time of the committee’s first training. As a prerequisite and to their benefit, members will attend a small business training workshop this Friday in the evening led by Gerardo Martinez of CFRC. Workshops and regular meetings will be a staple of the committee’s activity.

By next check-in, we should have a recap of the February 18th BENC community yard sale.

And as promised I present you with video from the second meeting. In the words of Chichi Peralta mire a ve…

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