Connecting for the first time
In 2007, Kati Trice was living in Denton, Texas and wanted to get involved in her community but was unclear of how to start. She came across a flyer on the community board at her local natural food store announcing a small group program inspired by the work of Julia Butterfly Hill, known for a famous tree-sit to save the Redwoods in California. People who joined a group would connect with each other, find their sense of larger social change purpose and then take action and build a community project.
Beyond the email list
Throughout her career as an activist and speaker, Julia Butterfly Hill met countless people like Kati who were inspired to create change, but were overwhelmed by how to start or where to focus their energy. Hill did her best to help connect those people to local organizations and to serve as a place for deeper engagement but she thought there was more that could be done.
Hill partnered with The Engage Network to develop a small group process and curriculum that would support people in recognizing their own gifts and power to make change in their local communities. Julia and The Engage Network team also hoped the program training and tools that were developed would be used more broadly to create a deeply connected and organized movement for real environmental transformation.
Building Community, Finding Purpose
For Kati, the small group was initially a way to connect with others in her community who loved Denton as much as she did, and were interested in promoting a sustainable way of life that brought out the best in its people, businesses, and activities.
The first group Kati joined undertook a 7-week self-reflection process where participants learned to listen deeply to one another, and used a variety of tools to clarify and articulate their unique individual gifts and purpose. Throughout this process, group members grew to care deeply about one other, establishing committed and supportive relationships.
In the research The Engage Network has done, most local, grassroots efforts need this kind of relationship building to succeed. The deep connections and social fabric of African-American churches enabled the civil rights movement to grow. Small circles of trust within the Quaker community helped end slavery in the 19th century.
From individual to community
The group had a collective process to identify an action they could undertake in their community that would sustain what they loved most about it. A number of group members, including Kati, expressed their concern about a developer who was attempting to take over a historic street in downtown Denton and erect a strip mall in place of a number of locally-owned businesses.
Together, the group decided to attend a city council meeting reviewing the development. Kati, with the support of her group, spoke out at the meeting. “It was so encouraging to be at the council meeting with so many of my What’s Your Tree group members there supporting me and supporting the cause to save our local businesses and the historic buildings that meant so much to our community.”
Through speaking out, Kati and her group connected with other local leaders at the meeting who shared their concern about what the strip mall would do to Denton. After the meeting, the group then went through a process of visualizing what they did want: a community market that showcased the work and produce of local farmers and artists. The market would be a monthly celebration that would draw people from nearby towns and as far away as Dallas to bolster existing businesses and grow new ones.
Through training calls offered by The Engage Network, Kati developed new skills to build the core local team that could make the Denton Community Market a reality. She was also able to connect with other Engage Network small group participants and leaders around the country to share challenges and solutions they were encountering as they brought their visions to life.
In April 2010, the Denton Community Market, a market showcasing local artists and farmers, was launched, with Kati heading a steering committee of ten other local leaders. The Market runs April through November, and has enjoyed great success and community support.
In November 2010, Kati was profiled in a local newspaper as “a leading Denton activist” – just a little over 3 years since joining her first small group.
Kati has also become a core leader within The Engage Network, and is currently Program Coordinator of the same program where she started out. In her new role, she promotes small groups, trains new leaders, provides feedback on the curriculum, and brings groups and leaders together in a regional, national, and international network that can take on bigger projects. She has participated in other efforts, like the Coffee Party, and sees herself as a core community leader in her region.
Pay it forward
As another small group leader in Denton says, “the beauty of [small groups] is that it doesn’t have to be one little person trying to accomplish something on their own.”
Kati is now looking at forming a network of markets across the region that can learn from each other and share resources. She is also working towards a longer term vision of a shared space where many organizations can find resources and collaboration, an expression of the values of unity and sustainability.