Casa Weekly

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Visiting Illinois Rotarians

Over the past two days -- April 25 and 26 -- I was invited to present Catalytic Communities' work in meetings of several Central Illinois Rotary Clubs, including the Clinton, Normal, and Bloomington Sunset Clubs. These meetings provided an opportunity to share our work developing the Casa in Rio, and plans to create a new Casa, with over 100 local Rotarians.

I shared with local Rotarians the fantastic growth in the Casa since the space was founded in February 2003: from 30 leaders in our network back then, to over 900 today, all through word-of-mouth (this not counting the 400-500 other visitors we've received). I described the three spaces that make the Casa work: our workshop room with multi-media capability, that allows us to host workshops up to 25 participants; our computer lab for community leaders, with 7 computers; and our small informal meeting room, that fits some 15 people at a time.

All in all, we've been impressed by the demand for this little 70m2 space (231ft2) space, since we started it as a pilot back in 2003, responding to a subset of community leaders' frustrations at not having access to the meeting spaces and Internet they needed to build networks with each other.

Today, we see that our pilot project has been successful. With all this growth, however, we've reached capacity. Various factors have been identified that show it is time to move forward, to find a more stable, permanent, visible, and spacious location: to make the Casa a permanent CatComm program. The current allotment of space is insufficient to meet the growing demand for the Casa’s services: only a limited number of participants can sign up for any given workshop, and it is not possible to host longer term or permanent capacity-building workshops. Community leaders often wait for access to a limited number of computers. Nor does the current location provide the necessary visibility and infrastructure to allow income generating activities which would help sustain the Casa.

I then shared our plans for a new Casa with local Rotarians. CatComm is looking for a 3-storey building in downtown Rio, a central location for leaders from communities throughout the city and a location that would allow the first floor of the building to be rented out to a compatible business -- like a health restaurant serving the lunchtime rush -- for income that would allow us to maintain the rest of the building. The second floor will be our meeting and short-term workshop space, also available for documentary movie screenings and debates between the broader population and community groups. The third floor will incoporate an improved computer facility, two permanent workshop rooms (community radio and documentary film production), and staff offices. There will also be a terrace on the roof where permanent urban agriculture workshops will be offered, working closely with community agricultural and youth programs to expand knowledge of urban food production jointly with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's Growing Connections program. Vegetables and fruits grown on the rooftop terrace will be sold to the first floor restaurant, which will also feature community art and be available for evening events organized by community leaders.

... This is the model we are working towards, I told Rotarians. I was very pleased with the response I got, and hope that this visit to Central Illinois will produce a long-time partnership between CatComm and Rotary. Given the similarities in philosophy, it seems to me an ideal partnership. Rotarians have a strong belief in international, humanitarian, empowering programs. Rotarians inherently believe in the power of networking across fields -- the underlying basis of Catalytic Communities' network-building philosophy across communities. Rotarians have a global presence and network, something CatComm strives for. We have much to learn from Rotary, and believe we are contributing to Rotary's philosophy and mission, as well.

Keep your eyes peeled for local articles about CatComm's visit to Central Illinois in the Clinton Daily Journal and the Bloomington Pantagraph!