Saturday, September 29, 2012

Skill Sharing Promotes Community Resiliency

Above: Tim Thetford demonstrates the efficiency of his homemade rocket stove at a day of re-skilling workshops in Olympia today.

Skill Sharing Promotes Community Resiliency

By Janine Unsoeld

Many excellent events were scheduled throughout the South Sound today, on what turned into a beautiful sunny day, extending summer into fall. Over 150 people chose to attend a day of interactive activities and hands-on learning held at the Quaker Meeting House in Olympia near Priest Point Park.
About 15 workshops and several on-going demonstrations centered on the idea of “re-skilling” – the learning of basic skills that were often common knowledge to our parents and grandparents.  These skills, needed to survive potentially tougher economic times, climate disruptions, and energy shortages ahead, encourage personal and community self-sufficiency.   

“This is everything I needed to know!” exclaimed Diane Grace, of Olympia, after attending the “How to Build a Rocket Stove” presentation by workshop coordinator Tim Thetford. A retired dietetic technician, Grace is a compost instructor at Sunrise Garden. She was interested in learning how to prepare food in emergencies.

“We need to know how to prepare food in an emergency (without electricity), how to heat water to cook legumes, and have a knowledge of complete nutrition in such a situation…,” said Grace.

Workshops such as learning how to make solar collectors, rocket stoves, and cold frames, beekeeping, candlemaking, cheesemaking, wild harvesting, weaving, animal husbandry in an urban environment, and bio-sand water filter demonstrations kept coordinators and participants busy all day. Several short films on these issues were also featured in a quiet side room.  Regular refreshments allowed many people to stay all day.
Throughout the day, as new people continued to arrive, many workshop coordinators patiently repeated their presentations as people milled around, ducking in and out of activities throughout the grounds. Children also had plenty to do and learn.

Seeing a diversity amongst those in attendance, the power of social media, community groups, and good, old-fashioned word of mouth were attributed as the answer to my question for people I did not recognize, when I asked them how they heard about the event. In order are their responses:


“At a VBC event” (Village Building Convergence)

“Email, through the TESC Crier” (the internal email system for The Evergreen State College)


“FOR” (Fellowship of Reconciliation)

“My friend Joe”

“Lisa Smith” (Smith is coordinator of Enterprise for Equity in Olympia)

“Through my Permaculture Design Certification class” (at Evergreen)

“Joseph Becker”

“Through the Quaker meeting”

“From a flyer at the Lacey library”

“A friend told me”

Above: David Wittenborn demonstrates how to make a pop and/or beer can solar collector.

David Wittenborn of Yelm provided a lesson on creating a pop and beer can solar collector. Wittenborn is new to the area, having arrived from Chicago two and a half years ago.

“I worked on Wall Street, quit that in 1998, and have been self-employed ever since,” said Wittenborn. He is now a dealer for a solar oven company and creates websites.  Later, Wittenborn announced that the solar panel he had made earlier and placed in the sun was now registering a 177 degree air output.  “It shows you what you can make with trash and found materials…there are so many ways you can make this work.  It’s not the Space Shuttle,” he told the crowd. His solar panel cost about $8 to make, he said.
Above: Scott Bishop shows the Jennings-Mapp family, Calder, 4, Athena, 12, and mom Kendra, the fine art of candlemaking.

Nearby, Scott Bishop demonstrated how to recycle the wax from used candles to create new candles. Bishop said he’s been making candles for about 20 years. “Don’t leave it in too long, it’ll melt right back off,” he cautioned Athena Jennings-Mapp, 12.  When asked by a workshop observer, Bishop did not recommend using crayons for adding color to candles. “It makes candles smoke when lit,” he said. Bishop says he gives his homemade candles to his church.

Building a money-free economy through local skill trading builds a stronger community.  Robin Lee and Joanne Lee co-coordinated a workshop featuring alternative currency models. Playing a game with workshop participants, each person described what skills they have, and what they need.  Noting hesitation, the coordinators told stories about how hard it can be for some people to think about what skills they could offer.

“We all have something to give,” said Joanne Lee, a life coach. “For example, I’m a yoga teacher, and I need someone to take pictures,” she offered.  An Evergreen student with a Canon digital camera offered her photography skills, then kept the ball rolling by saying she has about 15 large storage containers full of beautiful fabrics such as bridal silks, satins, and wool.  She said she was a seamstress and could make clothing. A man said he repairs electronics, and needs some mulch, help stripping wallpaper, and access to a lawnmower. The conversation continued, with everyone pretty excited, exchanging business cards and contact information, by the end of the workshop.
“Random exchanges – our needs can be met.  It just takes us to be active,” said Joanna Lee.

Robin Lee agreed. “Networking, meeting your neighbors, weekly street potlucks…We can come and share to be nourished in different ways and attend to individual needs.  When we exchange skills, hours for hours, we’re generating a different kind of wealth.  I feel rich when I come home to a clean house, when I can get that service that I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford.  I have really seen how a community is built.”
Gita Moulton, the tireless and dedicated community organizer who put countless hours into making the event successful, along with co-coordinator Susi O'Bryan, said she wants to do another re-skilling event in February, centering on crafts and cooking local foods.  

“We need to keep this going,” she said, humbly setting out more homemade refreshments and preparing yet another pot of coffee for attendees.
Several local organizations and resources encourage skill sharing and community transition building. Go to for more information.

Above: Gita Moulton made sure workshops presenters and participants had plenty of nourishment through the day today.