Sandpoint Transition Initiative: Learning as We Grow

This February, the Sandpoint Transition Initiative (STI) will be two years old; our official Transition Town status conferred in June 2008. It has been an adventurous collective experience that has offered the full spectrum of emotions, planning, challenges and celebration. This month, TUS is featuring a video we commissioned this past fall by Rob Hopkins. In true Rob fashion, it is inspiring, low key and asks us to rise to the next level of action and belief. It is our pleasure to share this video with you and hope it will inspire your communities to collectively work together and set up supportive partnerships. What follows is our own story

Year One

In February 2008, STI started in a living room filled with kindred spirits midst the beginning of our own national economic climate of instability. This dedicated bunch loved the ideas and their potential that were presented by Richard Khunel, thus casting the transition-themed seeds on fertile soil.  Over the next three months we took the ideas, worked through the process of forming an Initiating group and by May, filed for official transition status with the UK.

On June 1, 2008, Sandpoint became the 2nd official Transition Town in the US.  Even within our own excitement, we knew that in order to keep the energy up and directions clear, we needed a goal to work towards and immediately set a date for our Great Unleashing. Up until that point, we had solely concentrated on clarifying our goals and personal directions but now we needed to switch our focus to making plans as to how to bring this event and the overall Transition Town concept to life. We were targeting a whole new audience, and our most important one – our own community.

photoWe began by making lists of all our friends, kindred groups and key players, developed plans for how to reach out and involve them, and then implemented those plans.  We created a brochure, started hosting movie nights, invited ourselves to every possible event, showed up at the Farmer’s Market, gave talks, wrote articles, held 2 Open Space events and enlisted talented spirits to help design and plan the actual Great Unleashing event.  To pull this off, we met every Wednesday night, gave ourselves assignments and weekly, “held each other’s feet to the fire.”  After all, we were working towards a deadline.

photoAt 7 pm on November 14, 2008, we walked out onto the stage of the Panida Theater to a full house of over 500 people!! Michael Brownlee was our keynote speaker and an electrifying and inspirational night ensued. The combination of presenters, entertainers and audience participation inspired 125 folks to show up the following day to begin our greater collective and collaborative journey. That day, we envisioned what our community would look like in 30 years. With our creative juices flowing, eleven initial working groups were formed, all sharing the STI vision of helping to create a sustainable, resilient and vibrant community.

Year Two

By January 2009, the STI Working Groups were meeting regularly and planning for the coming year. It was our general understanding that each group would function autonomously and develop their own working model that included designing a meeting format, writing our own mission statements in conjunction of STI’s collective vision, plus identifying and implementing specific projects based on the group members’ interests.

In order to keep information flowing, we created an STI Core Group (one representative from each working group) and started the really challenging work of learning how to work together, resolve conflict, support each other’s projects and continue with outreach. Because we wanted to create a new working model, we found both core and working groups were charting new territory as to how to proceed: Do working groups need the core group’s ok to proceed? What is the function of the core group? Who has the final say? Are there recommended or STI guidelines to follow? If a project needs funding for publicity, where do the funds come from? Which projects get supported?

Throughout the springtime and scattered the rest of the year, relational challenges surfaced, giving us opportunities to learn how to approach, discuss and resolve these collective issues.  The core group made the commitment to uphold our vision and developed a code of ethics and conduct. Meanwhile, the working groups were dancing  with similar issues and continued finding ways to work with their segment of the community. 

Throughout 2009, there were shining moments of community outreach, education (both internally and externally) and participation. By the time of our 1st anniversary of the Great Unleashing event, STI Working Groups accomplished these community visible projects, plus laid ground work for more:

Building and Design: Organized a seminar for banks, builders, assessors and realtors on the advantages of green building and real estate. Also organized a Green Building Tour that highlighted alternative building, nontraditional and innovative design.  The group is working with the City and Avista to secure a grant to offer energy audits for low income homeowners.

Food: Worked with the City to create a community garden that offered garden plots to over 30 families and a dedicated garden space that produced over 1,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank. STI now has a year round contract with the City and is considering the many ways to expand food production and work cooperatively with the University of Idaho Extension office and other food related groups.

Education: In collaboration with other working groups, co-sponsored monthly movies and discussion groups with our library.  Attendance averaged around 45 people with 70+ people attending film favorites Garbage Warrior (co-hosted by the Waste-Less Group) and The Living Matrix (co-hosted by the Health Group).

Mobility and Energy: Combined their time and talent to organize STI’s presence in Sandpoint’s Fourth of July Parade with electric cars, bio-diesel vehicles, bicycles, walkers and solar generated music. When added together, created the largest single presence in the parade. Mobility members also served on the Mayor’s pedestrian task force, worked collaboratively with local bicycle groups, the Idaho State planning group and developed a pedestrian safety flag program.

Waste-Less: Worked with the City, County, large business and Waste Management to create an expanded re-cycling program. This work is still in progress.  Waste-Less also designed and implemented a “Go Green” recyclable disposal system at the Festival at Sandpoint. The members staffed and managed the huge project with other volunteers.

Health: The Health Working Group (HWG) is prioritizing its efforts toward engaging a wide range of health care providers in the transition process.  To this end, the HWG had a booth at the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce's Community Health and Wellness Fair in September and were successful in raising awareness of STI within the community. Members of the Health and Education  working groups took the lead in developing a new flyer that explains how the efforts of all working groups contribute to health. Members of the HWG are working with other alternative health practitioners, and spiritually oriented and green businesses to create a new Sandpoint Region Holistic Chamber of Commerce.
Heart and Soul: Worked with other local groups to offer support and provide mediation and social outreach. Attended monthly vegetarian potlucks, organized retreats, picnics and home parties.

Folk Arts: Working on the development of a Folk School to support the great re-skilling.  The group’s energy is now joining forces with the community at large to create a “Communiversity.”

The Energy, Economic and Natural Resource Working Groups have served in an advisory capacity to other groups within the larger community and STI.

In November, we had planned a grand celebration for our first anniversary of the “Great Unleashing” where Rob’s commissioned message was to be presented, but due to multiple reasons including the state of our economy and the message we wanted to send, core members decided to re-consider our objectives. We decided to send a cooperative message rather than a competitive message to local groups when other group events were scheduled for the same evening. We collaborated and offered mutual support plus brought Rob’s message to these group events, who were appealing to the same audience.

Year Three

STI is beginning our third year and we are leading with monthly “Potlucks with a Purpose” for all of STI and friends. STI-wide group projects, with individual groups contributing their expertise, will be a major focus at these potlucks. Other goals include engaging and expanding out into the community via asset mapping, plus designing how to build coalitions with other groups, business and industry. 

In November, we were granted an official 501(c)(3) status and we hope to make major headway on providing a funding stream for our work and projects. Project-wise, it is our hope that one year from now, we will be working on our Carbon Neutral Community plan, developing a stronger community infrastructure that addresses food security and including schools, faith-based groups, service clubs and the business community in our collective efforts. Relationship-wise, we have realized the importance of finding ways to collaboratively work together that includes our natural world and are recognizing this is an ongoing growth process.

STI exists and owes its success to the support of the community at large, the City of Sandpoint and the energetic and enthusiastic hours of volunteer participation generated by a shared vision. We have learned a great deal from our shared experiences, both individually and collectively, and look forward to creating more beneficial ways of living that serve and support future generations and life expressions.

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This story was graciously put together by Karen Lanphear with photos from Suzan Fiskin. For more information on Sandpoint Transition Initiave, visit and watch Rob Hopkins' video congratulations and reflections to the group below.

Sandpoint Transition Initiative Anniversary from Transition US on Vimeo.

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