Elizabeth’s COLAGE Road Trip!
There is nothing quite like being met at the airport by someone with whom you can pick up where you left off, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them. I landed in San Francisco on Monday afternoon and was met at baggage claim by Sarah Van Houten. Sarah was a COLAGE summer intern in 2009, which means she worked in the office for the summer and also participated in Provincetown Family Week as a staff member, which is where we met. When I got to San Francisco it felt like I was coming home in some ways, and Sarah and I took off on a little adventure into the city to catch up, talk about the Bay Area chapter and how she can get involved with COLAGE locally. Later that day I had dinner with Monica Canfield Lenfest. Monica and I ran the Boston chapter together for several years, and I always love bouncing ideas off her about what made our chapter work, and ways in which we could have been more successful – it’s helpful to look at that while I’m trying to help other chapters thrive.
Tuesday and Wednesday
On Tuesday I was able to travel half way to Sacramento to meet one of our Sacramento Chapter leaders for coffee. While we stay in touch via email and sometimes phone, there is nothing quite as useful as a face-to-face meeting to really wrap my head around what our chapters are up to and how they’re working. After a lot of great conversation and brainstorming, I took a VERY long train and bus ride back to the COLAGE office! By the time I got there the work day was almost over, but it felt good to land at a desk near my colleagues and see them in person for the first time after months of phone calls and skype meetings. On Wednesday and Thursday I spent the days in the COLAGE office as well, meeting with staff and our board chair, Aaron Sachs, and also with local adult COLAGErs like Ruby Cymrot-Wu, Jamie Evans, and Alisha Tomita. I love spending time with my peers as an adult COLAGEr and over the years it has been amazing to see that this group of friends has found so many ways to thrive as a community even outside of our connections to one another through COLAGE, but as allies and peers for one another.
I had another meeting about our new Sacramento chapter with Alisha Tomita, the adult COLAGEr who facilitates the meetings. Alisha and I had spoken on the phone and exchanged countless emails, but meeting in person was really different, and really powerful. I got to hear about Alisha’s personal story in much more depth than I had heard it over the phone, and really got a better sense of the amazing experience and strength she is bringing to COLAGE as a facilitator and leader. What stood out to me the most is how much Alisha cares about creating COLAGE space and community for our youth. To have a facilitator who never had COLAGE for themselves as a young person be so invested in offering it to youth and creating it for them is such an incredible resource, the commitment and passion Alisha brings to the youth in the Sacramento chapter is something they will probably never get anywhere else, and she will undoubtedly change lives. It is so inspiring to see my peers bring that love and passion to this work.
On Thursday night I flew from San Francisco to Seattle where we have a large and growing community of adult COLAGErs. I was very lucky to meet with Michael Beebe when I got here; Michael was involved in COLAGE as a board member very early on in COLAGE’s existence. He also founded and ran a COLAGE chapter in Seattle, and the more I heard about it, the more it sounds like the direction we are hoping to go with our chapters in the future. It’s always neat to realize that someone was about 15 years ahead of their time! The chapter Michael ran in Seattle gathered youth to train them on public speaking, and most of the work they did was going out to schools and service providers to train them on how to create inclusive, safe space for COLAGErs. Michael has remained active in the youth activist and grass-roots organizing community in Seattle and was able to give me a wealth of ideas and resources that I can share with our new Seattle chapter leaders to help give them a solid start in the area. I’m always grateful to be standing on the shoulders of COLAGErs and organizers who’ve laid strong roots in their communities – we are building from a strong legacy of thoughtful and passionate organizing, and tapping into that history is invaluable for our chapters.
Seattle is also where four adult COLAGErs have moved over the last year or so, and they are coming together to start a chapter. I met with one of them, Lydia Katz, as well as a local parent who is invested in helping the chapter for brunch. Again, the passion and excitement that adult COLAGErs bring to this work is nothing short of inspiring to me. It seems that for many of us, not having had COLAGE community until our adulthood is something we regret, and that lack is something we want to ensure youth don’t have to endure. So many adult COLAGErs tell me that they can’t express enough to the youth in their chapters how lucky they are to have something like COLAGE in their lives, and how different they think their lives would have been if they’d had this during their childhood and adolescence. This certainly came across in my conversation with Lydia, and that motivation is going to be what drives this chapter and makes me certain it will be a success!