Transition Asheville Celebrates 5 Years with a Skill Share Fair

By Dylan Ryals-Hamilton, Transition Asheville

On August 20th 2016 Transition Asheville, NC celebrated its 5th anniversary as an officially recognized Transition Initiative (entering as the 88th initiative in the U.S. in 2011).  To celebrate, a Transition Asheville Skill Share Fair was held at a local charter school, the Francine Delany New School for Children.  A total of fifteen generous teachers shared their skills in conflict resolution, home energy efficiency, making herbal medicine, humanure composting, cob and natural building, naalbinding (an ancient Viking technique predating knitting and crochet), backyard chickens, and leatherworking, to name a few.  Most of the teachers attended classes offered by others in turn, and everybody learned a thing or two about how community can truly thrive when we are willing to give of ourselves freely on occasion.

An opening circle helped orient the participants to the workings of the day.  One or two event organizers and volunteers were present at all times to welcome newcomers.  Special attention was made to thank the teachers with applause as a first order of business.  Classes broke out with a bang and the energy was high.  Thanks to the generosity of the Francine Delany School and its director, Buffy Fowler, the event was held on a small but beautiful campus featuring lovely gardens and a nature trail that was perfect for plant walks.  There was ample indoor as well as outdoor covered space so that even a heavy afternoon rain didn’t spoil the fun.  The rain let up again 30 minutes before the final session ended, leaving just enough time for a cob-making demo and a quick “medicinal weeds-walk”.  At the closing circle, instructors were thanked and applauded again.  Insights and inspirations from the day were shared.  One participant remarked that he felt excited to be able to teach his granddaughter how to make a fire with a bow and drill.  Community announcements were made, including one couple’s invitation seeking co-creators for a new ecovillage.  One young man thanked the organizers for making the event “so affordable” (aka free) and passed his hat around to reimburse us for our few minor material expenses.  To finish, a simple but effective closing energizer was shared, and spirits were still high.  Many people seemed reluctant to leave, staying to chat and making cleanup a breeze!

Sharing and learning skills for resilience is wonderful, and it feels great to participate in both giving and receiving one’s time and attention.  What felt even more powerful to me as an organizer and facilitator however, were all the new relationships being made, as well as old ones being reignited or maintained.  The conversations between classes, at lunch, and afterwards were warm and rich.  People exchanged contact information and began the makings of plans for new endeavors.  Teachers who were professionals by varying degrees gained new followers and expanded their networks.  Two young women and one older man had their first experience teaching in a safe and welcoming space.  Many of the participants had not ever been to a Transition Asheville event before.  The most important lesson that I learned was simply being reminded once again of the power of human connection.  When we open ourselves up and make ourselves vulnerable and available to others, even to strangers, a special kind of magic occurs which cannot be measured in numbers of classes taught or participants reached.  It couldn’t possibly be measured by dollars raised.  It can only be felt, deep inside our heart and soul.

Organizer’s Notes:

(What we’re glad we did, and what could have been done better)

This event was achieved through the actions of four or five central organizers, over the course of a few months.  An “action group” of four was formed and brainstormed the overall framework of the day as well as an initial list of potential skills and possible teachers.  One person was tasked with finding the perfect location.  The perfect location would have ample indoor classroom-style space as well as outdoor space to maximize the variety of skills that could be shared.  Several teachers needed a slide projector and screen or whiteboard.  Small whiteboards on an easel could work in a pinch, or flip-charts if necessary.  Access to a kitchen was highly desirable for fermentation and canning/cooking classes.  The perfect location would also be otherwise closed on a Saturday and of course, would cost as little as possible.   Once the location was confirmed we wrote a press release.  Another person volunteered to send out the press release to local magazines and newspapers.  Nonprofit or locally-owned radio stations could be another option.

One person (myself) took on the task of reaching out to and coordinating with all the teachers.  I used online social networking (Facebook) to simultaneously spread excitement and to gather more ideas for topics desired and willing teachers.  Then I sent an email to all the teachers who were willing to commit, giving them the schedule info and asking for their preferred time slot as well as their preferred title for the class.  This email also requested that they inform us of any logistical or material needs as early as possible to avoid any last-minute snafu.  In addition to a slide projector (which we had to schedule around, as we only had one) and whiteboards, instructor needs also included space to make a muddy mess outdoors (we used tarps on top of the dirt soccer field) for cob-making, water, internet access, an assistant, popup tent or pavilion for outdoor classes, and the ability to move a class from indoors to outdoors after an initial prep-talk.  Along with communicating with instructors and setting the schedule, it was my role to help facilitate on the day of the event, working with instructors and participants to help everything run smoothly and on time.  It is ideal to have this role filled by the same person who has an established relationship with instructors and already knows their logistical needs.  A volunteer helped me make a simple table chart for the schedule, with class names written on cards that could be taped onto the chart and easily moved around in case of last-minute changes.

Somebody had to be appointed (or self-appointed) to bring and set up signs welcoming people in, our e-newsletter signup sheet, as well as brochures and Transition literature for newcomers to learn more about us.  We made sure there was always someone ready to welcome new arrivals and help them find a class or activity.  We had a special designated table for instructors to place their fliers and brochures to help promote their livelihood.  We arrived on-site an hour early to set up.  Thanks to the help of two volunteers (identified ahead of time), we almost had everything set up on time.  Breakdown was easy as there were many hands willing to help immediately after the event. 

Next time we’ll start at 10:00 rather than 9:00 in the morning, both to allow more time for set up and (more importantly) because 9:00 AM is a little too early for some people on a Saturday.  Having coffee and/or tea and other refreshments would have been nice, especially for the instructors and volunteers.  The photographs we took will help with promoting the next one, and we plan to get promotions out a bit earlier (4-6 weeks ahead of time seems to be ideal) to maximize attendance as well as to pull in more volunteer instructors.  It was difficult to find instructors for certain popular topics, as many potential teachers were already scheduled to teach other classes.  Another issue was that some teachers feel that offering their services at no cost devalues their other classes.  There is talk of collaborating with the Asheville Time Bank to compensate instructors for their time without significantly increasing the cost of running the event. 

Overall, the event probably took a combined total of 40-50 hours divided between the organizers, not counting the day of the event.  Most of those hours went into promotions as well as communications with all potential and confirmed instructors.  Despite this, even more time could have been spent on promotions.  In part this is due to the fact that our community hosts many popular events on any given Saturday, and many of these events are attractive to very similar crowds.  Still, we had a great turnout, and the positive impact will continue to ripple out into our community as time goes on.

Newsletter Signup