Thursday, July 29, 2010

Intentional community

For a long time I have dreamed of making a kind of "intentional community." I have visions of a beautiful property nestled between the beach and mountains of coastal California. It began as a dream of a neighborhood of wonderful people, friends and family, who shared a piece of land together and had a safe place to raise their children to be free and unencumbered by the worry of kidnappers or pedophiles. A property big enough for us to have our individual homes, a central community clubhouse and meeting center, and a cluster of cottages where our parents could live when they retire.

My vision has slowly expanded to include some other ideas I have and is now more of a village than neighborhood. In the current vision there is a central circle of retirement cottages that ring around a community center/dining hall. the rest of the community spreads out from this center, there are private residences of course, a community garden and fruit orchards, playgrounds, and even a lodge/hotel for some extra income. What is most exciting to me, though, are two nonprofit ventures that seem likely to not only give our community a bigger sense of purpose but also improve the lives of people who are in great need.

The first project is based partially upon the practical consideration of exceptional schooling for the children of our community. We would have a community school that allows children to learn at their own pace, modeled after the Montessori method, perhaps, but make it something larger than that. We would open our school to also be a group home for gifted children who are in the foster system. Perhaps some people would object to offering it only for gifted youth but there is currently no system in place to address the specific needs of gifted children who enter the foster care system and the individualized education seems best suited to gifted kids in these situations. Anyway, I think this would be an ideal setting for a group home because it would give them the ability to grow up in a safe place with a strong sense of community. They would have the opportunity to be raised by a village of loving adults (including our retired residents) and have mentors to help them reach their full potential.

The second project I would ideally place in this community is a family reunification center for incarcerated women and their families. This idea is based upon some research I have been doing into the plight of families who are split up when mothers go to jail. The numbers of women in prison is rising dramatically and up to 80% of incarcerated women are also parents of dependent children. more than half of these women are incarcerated for drug related crimes, usually nonviolent, and 50% of their children will also become criminal offenders without intervention. Most of these families are in an intergenerational cycle of poverty, substance abuse, and incarceration; I think a community like this would be an ideal place to have a reunification center to help highly motivated women and their children learn how to break out of this cycle.

This project would begin near the end of incarceration with a pre-release educational program to prepare the women for the reunification project. It would not only begin the process of helping them become ready to succeed (get their GED, parenting, counselling, recovery etc) but also allow us to ensure that applicants are capable of succeeding in our program. Upon release from prison the women would come live in our reunification center. For the first month or so they would be restricted to the center while they settle in and learn some important occupational and life skills. Before and during this time we would also move their children into the reunification building, but they would live in a dormatory setting while they restore their relationship with their mother and receive individual and family counseling.

Once the mother showed that she is capable to independently care for her children she would move with them to individual family housing for up to one year while she prepared to take her family back out into the world. One important part of this program would be an employment requirement that, after month 1, has the woman working full time in our community or outside. She would receive money management training and also be required to pay rent for her accomoddations. 90% of her rent payments would be put into a savings account to be used for housing and transportation needs when she graduates from the program.

I think this program would be ideally suited to an intentional community/village setting because it would provide a safe and stable environment for these families to heal and flourish. The sense of community and opportunity to be a part of a healthy and giving atmosphere would be helpful for them, and the mothers would have great role models within the parents and grandparents of the community.

Perhaps all of this is a dream that cannot come true but I like to think it might be possible. I wonder if other people would enjoy my dream as well.

1 comment:

Cinn Fields said...

I love your vision of a community by the sea ...

Remarkably, in the 70s and 80s the children of our intentional community chose, in fact insisted on going to the public schools rather than being home-schooled. They wanted to meet and socialize with other children. Talking with them today (they are now adults) they do not regret their decision.