Growing a Garden, Carving Out a Space: A Review of 2016

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We got our start waaaaaaay back in 2008.

But it wasn’t until 2015 that we began offering events and programming at the house.

2016 was our first year to offer open doors and programing all year long! Thanks to funds raised from our second annual Harvest Run, we built a garden, offered numerous skill shares, opened our doors for community conversations and workshops, partnered with other places and organizations to host community conversations around the region, grew our cloth diaper bank, collected seeds to give away, produced a small amount of food that we used both in our events and gave away to neighbors, and so much more.

We know we haven’t been great at posting here regularly. We are a totally volunteer run organization, staffed by caregivers with full time jobs. Things move at a turtle pace. But still they move. And here we are.

It’s February and we’re now starting our 2017 events. Our core goals will be to continue to provide the community with hands on skills and a space for conversations and planning that build up “beloved community.” We hope you will join us. We need one another now more than ever. Support our work here. 

Take a look and see what we did last year.

December 2015

Second Annual Harvest Run

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Marie Williams organizes our run and the 2015 Harvest Run brought in 1,300.00! It was our biggest fundraiser yet. In January we met as a group to allocate this budget and make it last for the entire year. We are so grateful for everyone who took part and helped us raise this money!  The run was held at beautiful Bona Dea Trail and Sanctuary in Russellville, Arkansas. Bryan Moats designed our t-shirt for the run, which featured our plant symbol, the yarrow.Want to know more about why we love yarrow? Read about the backstory here. 

Check out this photo montage below!

2016: Here’s what we did with your support!

January

Open House and Healing Herb Skill Share

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Kristin Simmons shares information on chickens, herbs, and her families famous cold remedies.

We started off the year with a skill share and open house. It was led by Kristin Simmons, RN, BSN and entitled, Plants Heal Too!

Here’s our description of this event:

“An insightful look into easily grown and maintainable herbs with medicinal properties. We will also hold a workshop on how to make an old family herbal recipe to tackle the common cold and fever.” Simmons and her family live in Dover and raise chickens and plants. She brought homemade batches of her families famous healing herbal cough medicine. We now have the recipe on hand and you can come get one!

People left with a recipe for Kristin’s family’s traditional cold medicine and a fresh batch to try at home.

A few photos from the gathering

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February

Reducing Incarceration Rates in Arkansas, a Community Conversation with Seeds of Liberation

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In February we partnered with Omavi Shakur and Seeds of Liberation to host this conversation at the Cavern in Russellville. Seeds of Liberation is “an organization working alongside Arkansas’ marginalized communities to create a just, equitable and empowering means for addressing crime through policy research, community education and amplifying the voices of the formerly incarcerated.”

Arkansas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. Once incarcerated, former felons—urban and rural, men and women—find it hard to gain employment and build back their lives.

Shukur is the author of the recent article, “Prisons, Profit, and Politics: How Arkansas Politicians “Fixed” a System That Wasn’t Broken.” Before founding Seeds, Shukur was a Staff Attorney at the Orleans Public Defender’s Office in New Orleans.

A few photos from the event:

February Skill Share

Home Weatherization with Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light and the United States Green Building Council

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Matt Poe of the United States Green Building Council led the workshop and walked participants through simple, DIY techniques for keeping older homes warm in winter and cooler in the summer. Participants left the workshop with the tools and skills needed to make changes in your own property as well as a free goody bag filled with LED lightbulbs.

In addition to leading the workshop, Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light donated all the materials to weatherize our 1940s building and hosted an interactive skill share for the community. They also hosted all participants for a free lunch at Tarascos in downtown Dardanelle.

This was a beginning step in turning our center into a working example for home owners, renters, and landlords seeking to make similar changes to their own properties.

The Arkansas Affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light is established by individuals and participating congregations who share a concern for the earth’s environment from a unique, nonpartisan, theological perspective. In addition to leading this workshop they are also working with the McElroy House to raise money for our weatherization work, enabling our center to be a working example of affordable and sustainable green retrofitting.

A few photos from the event

March

Garden Work Begins!

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Since we first began in 2008 we have dreamed of—and planned for— a garden. This year we actually began to build it! We got compost from the city and began with a handful of donated plants from volunteers. Terry Sigle of Dardanelle donated cedar wood from his property for the raised beds, and a crew of volunteers helped us build our first beds.Volunteers from Tech came to help us build the beds!

Each year we will grow the garden, adding more raised beds and in ground gardens. We will also add more potted plants in the coming years. We intend for the garden to be a working example of a variety of growing techniques, applicable to all kinds of homes.

Creating ADA Compliant Raised Beds

Our goal is to make our space ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. We are a long way from getting there, but we are making small changes as we are able. After building the beds we realized they were not high enough for wheel chair accessibility and so we raised them.

Below are a few photos examples of how we did that.

We are far from being ADA compliant. If you are willing to help us become more so, please let us know. We need donations and volunteers to reach our goal. If you have experience in writing grants to help with this work, we would greatly appreciate that!

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Here is a photo of Terry Sigle, who donated the local cedar for the beds. Thank you, Terry! We are so grateful to use local wood!

March Skill Share

Caregiver Expo

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Anola, Samantha and Sarah Aspel of Riverfront Doulas hosted an interactive skill share on cloth diapering, allergies, and doula work. Anola worked hard to build up our cloth diaper bank, and started a facebook page specifically for this growing community resource. Go here to learn more. 

Our cloth diaper bank is open to anyone who can use it. The application process is simple and does not require any special paperwork. If you can use the resources, they are your’s to borrow. No questions asked. If you are interested in helping us get more diapers out to the community, please let us know! Samatha will get you to work!

April

McElroy House Cloth Diaper Bank Visits the Green Day Festival

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We partnered with the Green Corner Store and the Bernice Gardens to host a booth for our diaper bank during their Earth Day events. Anola put together a wonderful display about the importance of choosing cloth and many people from Little Rock came to donate diapers for the bank!  We also got to connect with others interested in this work.

Here are a few photos from the event:

April Skill Share

Butterfly and Bee Gardening for Grief and Healing

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In April we came together to grow our garden into a story space and plant heirloom flowers and native varieties known for attracting pollinators. We asked participants to bring “story” plants to the gathering—the kind passed down among generations and communities and/or any varieties that are especially meaningful to you. The plants could be something in honor of a lost loved one, a past home, or even a plant in honor of an idea. We then listened to one another’s stories and planted these in our growing garden space.

We also planted our native varieties we purchased from Pine Ridge Nursery, a regional business working to preserve native plants.  We were also given donations from New South Nursery, a small nursery working with heirlooms.

Our garden went from one small stretch to a large square and now it’s filled with stories passed down! We will keep adding to it each year until it covers the whole yard.

The Garden Grows

Our tomato plants, donated by Linda from Dardanelle (see photo above), were passed down in her family for over a hundred years. They soon started growing, as did our many wildflowers and walking onions. We tried to take photos of the plants in progress. We also dug up some wildflowers from private land to bring to the center.

May Skill Share

Rain Barrel Workshop with Sergio Picado

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In May we used some of our money to buy recycled rain barrel safe containers and Sergio Picado taught us how to build our own rain barrels!  As time goes on we will continue to build more and have a working water system on hand that can be used as a teaching tool for the community. These rain barrels are connected to our drip hose watering system.

As part of the event we also recorded part of Sergio’s talk and taught people a little bit about documenting stories. As always, our skill share was open to young and old alike.

June

Garden Grows, Diaper Bank and Caregiver Resources Expand, Behind the Scenes Planning, Bees Come to Visit

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Throughout the year we grew our diaper bank.  Samantha took over the bank and began to build on the strong foundation Anola created. Samantha also hosted knitting circles with out yarn stash at her classroom in Danville. All the while, the plants continued to grow and the bees and butterflies started to come to our space. Some days you could hear the wings and the buzz from the front porch.

July Workshop

Building Strong, Diverse, and Beloved Communities, a partnership with Catalyst.

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Catalyst came to Arkansas to work with us and Little Rock Collective Liberation to host workshops on helping us name and fight racism. To learn a little more about this workshop read the write up here:

Hate, discrimination, racism, and fear are pervasive in our world today. It’s not solely up to people in the cities to address this problem. Here in the smaller towns and communities we must take a stand, love our neighbors, and develop locally-grown solutions to the national rise in racism and fear.

A central goal of the McElroy House Organization is to provide spaces where we can can reach across the divides of racial, economic, religious, and various boundaries and stand in solidarity through the inter-relatedness of our lived experience. As an extension of our core values, we are partnering with Catalyst Organization for an interactive community-wide workshop to talk about race and racism and learn about what institutional racism is and how it shows up in our everyday lives and in our communities.

Catalyst Project is an education and movement building organization committed to engaging white people in fighting racism. Aspects of this training will be specifically geared toward helping white people gain a deeper understanding of how racism shows up in white communities and the importance of standing alongside communities of color to make a difference.

This workshop isn’t just about naming the problems. It’s also about digging into our common visions for the world we want to live in and the world we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. We’ll be reflecting on our visions for the future and begin to develop some practical tools for getting there. The training is open to everyone interested in developing local solutions to fighting racism.

Lunch and childcare will be provided. To ensure we have enough volunteers and food, please rsvp before Wednesday July 13th.

Our event was well-attended and we came away from the workshop with a deeper understanding of history and future. We are grateful to Little Rock Collective Liberation for helping us make this happen. After their visit, Catalyst worked to raise money for our organization, bringing in 1,500.00. We still have most of it in the bank for our 2017 funds. We’ll be using it to provide free internet service at the Mc House and we also purchased a screen door to help our place be more welcoming.

A few photos from that day

Yard Sale

Samantha and Eliza hosted a yard share and sale on the same day! We took donations and gave away things to the community, including bouquets from our garden. Someday soon we hope to give flowers away all the time. We also plan to keep doing yard swaps in 2017!
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August

Community Talks Gathering: Building Safe Spaces for Transgender Communities

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Kat organized this wonderful event featuring panelists from around the state. It was our best attended event, with great conversation and community building. Here is the write up from Kat:

Come visit us at the Train Depot Park in Russelville to listen to leaders, allies, and people who have a lot to share about how to be an ally to the transgender community and learn about important issues. The event will be panel style with breakout sessions to get into more depth about specific issues or learning opportunities.

This event is a safe space and also a space of empowerment. So bring your respect, open your minds, and lets get ready to learn together!

More information will be added as time will go on, but mark your calenders and follow the event to learn more.

August Skill Share

Budget Meals and Bumper Crops

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We came together to share food and talk about using local produce. Ray and Jill came to the event to tell us more about the Diamond Access Pipeline resistance and share ways we can get involved. There were caterpillars in the garden and food on the table. Growth is always.

September

Welcoming Wings

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We didn’t have any public events in September, but things are always happening behind the scenes. The garden kept growing, we added an organ to our living room, we started giving away free tomatoes, hung up an inspiration quote wall to help us learn more about organizing around the nation both past and present, harvested some luffa gourds, and welcomed in more butterflies and bees than we could count.

September

Kat goes to Southern Movement Assembly!

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Thanks to our funding from Catalyst, we were able to send a representative to the Southern Movement Assembly in Chatanooga. Kat was was able to meet with people from other organizations around the south and develop a strategy for work in central Arkansas across rural and urban divides! Look for more updates on this in 2017.

October

SMA Reportback and Art Sharing

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Kat updated us on her trip to SMA and we shared art pieces and creations that are close to our heart. People brought quilts, visual arts, and we had some music. And, as always, great food. Kenny and Ben visited from Little Rock to speak with us about building rural to urban cooperatives.

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Kenny and Ben talk about cooperatives.

November Conversation and Skill Share

Learning about Ella Baker, Grandma Pie Circles, and Work Day!

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In November we came together to to learn more about Ella Baker and her models of community leadership. And, of course, we had pie.

Here’s a little bit about that event from our press release:

We’ll be learning more about Civil Rights leader Ella Baker and her ideas on building up leaderful communities. We’ll focus on the ways in which her ideas are essential to our work today.

We’ll share some seasonal pies and swap ‘grandma in the kitchen’ kind of stories, learning more about where we’ve come from and how to make much out of little. And we’ll get some work done in the garden, work on the rain barrels, put in some bookshelves and grow our space for the coming spring! Everyone is invited to take home some yarrow seeds for their home garden.

These events are open to everyone and we’d love to meet you! Pie and discussion on Ella Baker will take place at 3:30 with work day to follow.

We’ll close out the night with a meeting and our monthly potluck. We’ll be talking about our upcoming run, have a report back on the rural faith and justice gathering, meet with area activists and organizers to find ways to partner and much more.

Everyone is welcome to stay for the meeting!

December

How Did We Get Here? Histories and Elections

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Historians Marie Williams and Eric Totten

After the election people in our community began to wonder where we go from here. We are an organization that loves people and our home. We do not welcome hate.

So we invited two historians to come and talk to us about how we got here and we all brainstormed where we could go from here. From our event invite:

Many people are wondering how to make sense of the election season and the election results. Everyone is welcome to this event, regardless of how you voted or didn’t vote.

Join us and take part in an open discussion with Marie Williams of Dover and Eric Totten of Fayetteville, two American History PhD students, talk about the historical context of this election. We’ll bring this information into the present by talking about how we build more loving communities.

The McElroy House does not affiliate with political parties, but we do have a strong stance on loving our neighbor as ourselves and building up local solutions that bring people together across race and region to stand against poverty and hate.

Bring a potluck dish to share or just bring yourself. Childcare will be provided but please rsvp so we can make sure to have enough. If you have accessibility needs, please let us know and we will do our very best to address them.

The gathering was very well intended. We saw old friends and new faces. We talked about growing our work in bridging cultural divides. And we started making plans for 2017. And we were overflowing with children! Extra special thanks to Little Rock Collective Liberation for providing childcare for us!

Here are a few photos:

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The Loose Ends:

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything could easily be summed up?  Yeah, life is not like that. And running an all volunteer organization on little money is CERTAINLY not like that.

Here are a few other things to know about us that happened this year. Throughout the year our garden grew, we made some signs for our building, and a lot of behind the scenes work took place:

Given our schedules and life, we were not able to do a Harvest Run this year. We were pretty sad about that, but this work is never linear. After Catalyst came to visit this summer, they worked to recruit some of their friends to donate to our cause. Thanks to their fundraising, we raised 1,469.00 which will be going toward our 2017 work.

So far we have used the money to get internet access and a screen door, Two essential organizing tools for our community!

Stay tuned to learn more about our upcoming year of work. Thanks to Alternate ROOTS and Catalyst, Little Rock Collective Liberation, and YOU, we are able to provide this space and put resources into the community’s hands.

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