grass roots: our community place annual lawn jam.

burgIMG_8510Before meeting Brandy at the (approximately 18th) Annual Our Community Place Lawn Jam, I had lunch at The Little Grill. Sitting on a stool at their three-seat counter, I read an article on my CNN app called “America’s Quietest Town.” Greenbank, West Virginia – home of the Robert C. Byrd Greenbank Telescope, a massive, 485-foot structure weighing 17 million pounds that cranes its ear into the darkest corners of space and lures passionate and accomplished scientists from all over the world. It’s a big deal.

And to live in a town with such incredible, powerful, cutting-edge technology, one must sacrifice one’s own modern conveniences. Because even the tiniest emission from someone’s house can disrupt months of research. Spark plugs have caused problems for the telescope. Electronic doorbells. Even faulty electric blankets. They all create “noise” that can interfere with interstellar communications. And so, of course, bigger items, like microwave ovens, cell phones, and wifi are strictly prohibited. Employees of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory ride around Green Bank, patrolling the town’s 143 citizens for illegal emissions. These technological restrictions have rendered the town of Green Bank forever old-fashioned, if you will. Forever lacking all the bells and whistles of our web-connected, web-constructed reality. Oh, those lucky souls.

From there the article trails into a rant about cell phone dependency. It makes me think of the video going around Facebook of the guy who misses the whale that swims right next to him because he’s on his phone. “Pathetic!” we all scream at him. The irony that I was reading the article on my phone while eating alone at the Grill was not lost on me.

All trends reach an apex and fold in on themselves. A few years ago, a new form of snobbery was in full swing – owning a smart phone. I mean, what kind of loser doesn’t have one? GAH. Now that force has reversed itself and I find myself feeling judged if I pull out my phone anywhere, even just to check the time. I kinda hope the folding in continues, because yes, we have become a rude and detached society. And as the Green Bank resident explains in this video, the lack of technology has allowed people to “discover who you are” in a way that is different from the modern world and its huge, global context.

burgIMG_8569So when Brandy arrived, I chucked my phone into my purse (plus, it was almost dead anyway, haha), knowing I was already with the people I wanted to be connected to. And we walked into the crowd.

burgIMG_8547May I say, Our Community Place has really got their act together. Having officially opened in their current location (E. Johnson Street) in 2008, the idea for OCP was born across the street in The Little Grill. Ron Copeland, who bought the Grill in 1992, wanted to prepare a free meal for “anyone in the world,” where people of all walks of life could sit and dine together once a week. That’s how Soup Kitchen Mondays began at the Grill. In 2008, the meal moved over to the finally-renovated (I mean, years and years of fundraising and renovations!) Our Community Place, where they’re now able to serve five meals per week. According to their web site, Our Community Place is “a Christian organization that seeks to accommodate, foster and provide activities and programs related to personal growth and community well being; be a resource in the community for individuals seeking information or services already provided by other organizations; educate and empower individuals toward self-sufficiency, thus creating social capital for the community at large; and nurture a community that appreciates diversity and sees differences and conflict as opportunities for spiritual growth.” And anyone in the world, anyone and everyone, is welcome. People can get a meal there, do laundry, get Internet access, worship, shower, and enjoy each other’s company with games and sports. There’s also arts and crafts, a theater group, classes like drumming, pottery, and Tai Chi, and movie nights. Finally, they host and sponsor lots of events, such as the Lawn Jam and the Shenandoah Bicycle Fest earlier this month, an annual plant sale, Walk for OCP in October, and the OCP Christmas Concert.

burgIMG_8548 burgIMG_8549The purpose of this year’s Lawn Jam was to raise money for their kitchen renovation and new food-based business enterprise. They need to raise $36,700 to complete their projects. To that end, they sold raffle tickets for fifty cents each; prizes included gift certificates from Clementine, Bed Bath & Beyond, Greenberrys, Chanello’s, Court Square Theater, Fox’s Pizza, and Capital Ale House. They also had an AWESOME silent auction with a zillion really great items:
~ a half hour airplane ride with pilot Scott French
~ a beautiful framed mirror
~ assorted rings from Hugo Kohl
~ a one-hour massage from Kathryn Cheeks
~ two tickets to the American Shakespeare Center
~ Old Crow Medicine Show merchandise
~ bicycle panniers
~ a Natural Hair Care Basket
~ a compost roller
~ a day of skilled carpentry
~ a Natural Garden tote bag
~ two watercolor paintings by Shelley Pope
~ a kids’ cycling jersey from SBC
~ New Creation Body Products gift bag
~ JMU football tickets and prize pack
~ Walkabout Outfitters water bottle and t-shirt
~ Lunch with Mayor Jones
~ and a gift certificate from TJ’s Dermographics!

burgIMG_8561 burgIMG_8564On the lawn, people enjoyed two free meals, volleyball, face painting, tie-dyeing, corn hole, basketball, a swing set, each other, and live music all day by Tom Weaver, Eric Olson-Getty, Jeff Gorman, Jake Cochran, Kat and the Travelers, Dr.How and the Reasons to Live, Nic Melas, and members of the Walking Roots Band. You could also put money in a jar to vote either for Mark Doll to wear a Hillary 2016 shirt or for Ron to shave off his beard (!). Not sure if you’ve seen his photo on FB yet, but Ron lost. Big time. Hopefully, though, this year’s Lawn Jam was a big win for him and Our Community Place.

burgIMG_8513 burgIMG_8522 burgIMG_8524 burgIMG_8530 burgIMG_8534 burgIMG_8538 burgIMG_8540burgIMG_8551 burgIMG_8553 burgIMG_8555 burgIMG_8559burgIMG_8566 burgIMG_8572 burgIMG_8579 burgIMG_8582 burgIMG_8587 burgIMG_8590 burgIMG_8593 burgIMG_8596 burgIMG_8598 burgIMG_8607It was truly a beautiful day of beautiful people being simply connected by their common humanity and not disrupting a giant telescope. If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to the Kitchen Renovation, visit their web site, call Ron at 540-236-4314, or email him at ron@ourcommunityplace.org.

burgIMG_8584Copyright © 2012-15 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

it’s christmastime in the city: our community place christmas concert.

burgIMG_6538bwIt was warm that night, all the way around, starting with Melanie Copeland’s smiling face at the door. Warmth circled each dessert table, filled coffee mugs, and cushioned our seats. It danced on everyone’s bright faces, softened every handshake and hug hello, and floated on the air in music both delicate and boisterous.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect at Our Community Place’s 4th Annual Community Christmas Concert. Our Community Place is a non-profit organization that promotes personal growth and community well-being in Harrisonburg, and which specifically seeks to help those who struggle with poverty or difficult life circumstances. It opened in 2008 after seven years of fundraising and renovations to their location on E. Johnson Street, near The Little Grill. The Christmas concert is an annual fundraiser to help support OCP as well as Our Community Works and Our Community Farm. The invitation promised desserts and music, but it was way more than cookies and carols.

OCPconcertfood1 OCPconcerteggnogFirst, the desserts, provided by Dayton Mennonite Church. Cheesecake, pie, cobbler, cupcakes, cookies, breads, and brownies. And I had a Charlie Brown flashback when I saw the giant bowl of popcorn. And again when I saw the two Christmas trees flanking the stage in the sanctuary of Park View Mennonite Church–small and skinny, but alive and growing nonetheless. Anyway, the kids stuffed themselves with dessert while Brandy and I browsed. As part of the fundraiser, OCP was selling handmade boxwood wreaths, cookbooks, and two Christmas CD’s featuring local musicians. We made sure to purchase those.

OCPconcertCDSAnother thing offered that evening, which Ken Wettig explained during intermission, was membership in their Community Supported Agriculture program. In a nutshell, you pay to join the program, and in return you get fresh vegetables and eggs from OCF. I know $400 seems like a big chunk of change–it is for someone like me, too–but for that price, you get a large crate of veggies and eggs once a week for EIGHTEEN weeks (June to September). Some quick math’ll tell you that’s $22 a week, which I already EASILY blow on produce during the summer. Also, you have until April 1 to pay for it, so you don’t have to cough up the $400 all at once. If you’re not a big vegetable fan, consider giving this gift to a veggie-lover you know. Or pay the $400 to provide a local needy family with eighteen weeks of fresh food. Or, heck! Split your membership with a friend!

Anyway, all this eatin’ and drinkin’ and browsin’ went on from 6 to 7pm, and then we all packed into the sanctuary for the music. That’s when the goosebumps started.

We sat on the front row, which was good for Brandy and her camera. But then I realized it didn’t make for a discreet exit should one of my kids (okay, I’ll just say it–my SON) get unruly. AND I realized I left his notebook and markers in the car. UGH. So I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for being THAT MOM–you know her… that one who has to escort her noisy monster child out of there. Well, call it a Christmas miracle, but after I found an extra pen and surrendered my notebook to him, he was perfectly content until well past bed time. Shew.

Scott Murray_calThe music began. First up was Scott Murray. He sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and one he wrote called “Joseph and Mary,” inspired by his realization that Mary traveled 25 miles to Bethlehem on a donkey, while she was nine months pregnant. You can add THAT to the many reasons that lady deserves a song.

Chris Howdyshell sang a couple of songs, including “Rudolph,” after apologizing that his songs “aren’t pretty” and predicting that “the a cappella thing’s gonna be gorgeous” and “the Yoders will do somethin’ outrageously fantastic.” He also told us how he recently received a letter from a guy in prison, and then he said something about the Bumble, which I missed because I was writing down all the other stuff he said, lol.

HowdyshellHeather Kropf held us all captive with her sweet voice, accompanied by the piano and Brad Yoder’s clarinet. Brad performed next, first playing a song called “As Easy As Birds” and then leading the audience in “Angels We Have Heard on High” from the hymn book. This sorta surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to stand and sing… but Chris Kniss and Heather helped lead the song vocally, and everyone behind me just suddenly broke out into spontaneous, beautiful harmonies with no instrumental guidance but Brad’s rogue clarinet. The sound filled the room and the kinship of it all made me start to cry a bit… It was really sweet, and it was my favorite moment of the night.

OCPconcerthymnalHeather KropfBrad YoderThe beauty continued with Chris Kniss’ performance of “What Child Is This?” and “The Christmas Song,” followed by my old friend Bob Driver’s guitar-only rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (he and I worked at Clayborne’s, if you remember that far back…) His lovely wife Trudy Cole and John Hall got everyone’s feet tappin’ in a spirited duet before Shekinah blew everyone away with their a cappella performance of “Coventry Carol” and a traditional Spanish song. As my son is always mesmerized by groups of beautiful women with radiant voices, this was his favorite part of the night, and he gushed about the “purple ladies” all the way home.

Chris KnissBob DriverTrudy ColeShekinahWe’d reached intermission and the kids were lookin’ a little limp. We steered them back out to the desserts, and they perked up in no time. The second half simply went too fast. Nick Melas and Nichole Ehlers sang a few numbers… not necessarily Christmas songs, but songs about the Prince of Peace at any rate, including one Nichole wrote from the book of Luke. Their voices together were perfectly stunning. The evening rounded out with Greg Ward, Jessie Trainum, and last, Trent Wagler… and then a full-on singalong that left everyone warm and fuzzy.

Nick MelasGreg WardJessie TrainumTrent WaglerAs Brandy put it, “Singing ‘Silent Night,’ with a hymnal in my hand, in a dim church with some of Harrisonburg’s finest was the coolest thing I’ve done all day.”

Yep.

I am so grateful I was able to attend this event. I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s something that will stay with me a long time. I think it was the warmest and loving-est group of people I’ve ever encountered… people who saw a need in Harrisonburg, who worked extremely hard for several years to make it happen, who compassionately and without hesitation serve members of our community who might otherwise be forgotten, and who do it all for very little in return… THEY are the miracle. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Where would we be without people like you??

Merry Christmas, Harrisonburg, and may you be warm all the way around this holiday season.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.