Monday, March 29, 2010

A Neighborkid Hunt for Electric Transformer Boxes

Today a few of the neighborkids (Dalisha, Dareeona and Da'Sean) and I followed up on our commitment to 6-year-old Hydaren and to our neighborhood as a whole.  Block-by-block, we explored our neighborhood to identify anything that looks like it might be an electric transformer box, so that we can check with Florida Power & Light to make sure all the boxes are safe, so that no other kids (or adults) get shocked when they are playing or exploring.  This is especially important since Scavenger Hunting Season (which begins as soon as school lets out) is less than three months away, and we want to make sure that our opportunities to explore  (which is how we discover, invent, and otherwise learn) are not limited by safety issues in the neighborhood.

Today's scavenger hunters:  
Dalisha, Da'Sean and Dareeona (& Gus!)

First we drove to the Orange Avenue apartment complex to take a look at the transformer box where Hydaren got hurt, so we would have a clearer sense of what the transformer boxes look like, so that we'd be able to spot other ones in the neighborhood.  We remembered what the box looked like in the picture we saw in the newspaper article, and here's the picture that Dareeona took of what we are pretty sure is the same box today:

Then as we drove around the neighborhood, Dalisha and Da'Sean looked along the right side of the street, while Dareeona looked along the left side.  Anytime one of the kids spotted a box that looked like it might be an electric transformer, they took a picture with my cell phone.  Here are the boxes everybody spotted:



Our next step will be to share these pictures with the electric company and ask for their help in figuring out which of these are actually electric boxes, so we can make sure all are up-to-date with being tested and cleared for safety.  

Stay tuned...

Lemonesque connector makes exubertea

Today I sent the following quick note to John McKnight, who has come to Sarasota many times over the past few years to share ideas with us and think together about asset-oriented approaches to community.  The ABCD approach that he has developed over the past three decades (ABCD stands for "Asset-Based Community Development") often describes a community focus on assets, rather than problems, as a "glass is half-full" approach.   


Thought you might like this picture. When I saw this glass of iced tea, prepared by the neighborkids, on the kitchen table, I thought to myself:  we've been asking ourselves "half-full or half-empty" while the kids are seeing instead an opportunity to flourish the glass with a lemon wedge, and take it upon themselves to pick one off the tree in the backyard to add a special touch, which in turn makes the iced tea enticing to EVERY child present...

(:  allison

Sent on the Now Network™ from my Sprint® BlackBerry

...and here is John's response:

Lemonesque connector makes exubertea.

"Exubertea" is a reference to the proposal (or "contest entry," as the kids described it) that we, the C-C Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters, submitted to the Knight Foundation News Challenge back in December.  We titled our proposal:  ExuberNews:  Changing Our Community for the Better through Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters."  We explained that if we won the contest, we would use the prize money to go on weekly scavenger hunts "on the lookout for exuberance and 'good stuff' happening," and after each adventure, kids would partner with adults to write stories about our neighborhood, as seen through children's eyes. 

Here is a quote from our proposal, to give you a little taste of what it was all about:

"ExuberNews is oriented around exuberance, which as social science now confirms, both attracts and is contagious.  When information is attached to good news, it is more likely to spread and we are more receptive to hear it.  ExuberNews is also oriented around kids, who are naturally inclined to demonstrate curiosity and exuberance and so can attract and model this engagement for adults." 
It turns out we didn't win the contest this year, but hopefully soon we'll connect with some folks who want to co-invest in our ideas and efforts and inventions -- together with the neighborkids, who are most certainly our first investors!  

Visit from County Commissioner Carolyn Mason

Today Commissioner Mason, or "Miss Carolyn" as kids call her here on the block, stopped by.  She had called a meeting in Newtown a few months back for everyone to come together and talk about how Sarasota can respond to violence occurring in this community, and so I shared with her a little bit about the many positive contributions of our neighborkids,  which are making our neighborhood a homey, friendly place.  She stopped by today to meet some of our neighborhood scavenger hunters and maybe catch a glimpse of the magic.

The kids helped me tidy up and then prepared some tea and pretzels for her visit.  When she arrived, we all chatted for a bit about what life was like for Commissioner Carolyn as a kid, when she was growing up about 10 blocks down Central Avenue.  She also told us about what it was like living next to the railroad tracks, a few blocks up the road from us, when she lived here in Central-Cocoanut several years back.  She shared some helpful hints about how we might get our garden to grow this summer as well.

Since the JAQS Dinner for James, Amorie, Quan and Semaj was this past weekend, we showed her the slideshow made in their honor which was premiered at their dinner.  This hopefully gave her a sense of all the great things neighborkids are up to in Central-Cocoanut these days.

Thanks for dropping by, Commissioner Carolyn!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Google Fiber for Communities

Last night, just in the nick of time, the Central-Cocoanut Scavenger Hunters submitted our entry to the Google Fiber for Communities challenge, and we thought you might like to see what we shared.  We hope you'll check it out - As neighborkid Holly says, "It's great, and it's actually funny with the music :) "

Google Fiber for Communities
Contest Entry Form Questions

If you are responding on behalf of an organization or community group, please describe it:
The Central-Cocoanut Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters are neighbors in Central-Cocoanut, a 50-block area in the Newtown community of Sarasota, Florida. We are a neighborhood of about 1700 people and 500 homes, many with kids. As scavenger hunters, we are on a quest to explore all the great things in our own neighborhood, and to discover how we might increase our sense of connection and belonging in this particular patch of Sarasota that we call home. 

Why should Google build a fiber to the home network where you live? 
Google, we hear you when you say you are on a hunt to discover communities across the country where you can build and test ultra-high speed broadband networks, with Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone. 
We hear you when you say:
  • You want to see what “next generation” internet users can do with ultra high-speeds, including uses you can't yet imagine.
  • You want to invent and test new ways to build fiber networks, and then share discoveries with the world.
  • You want to create an "open access" network where users have choices, with a network managed in an open, non-discriminatory, and transparent way.

The Central-Cocoanut Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters truly are the next generation – “Gen Z” and “Gen A” neighborkids who are already proving to be magnificent explorers, discoverers, inventors, connectors, communicators, internet users and leaders.

The C-C Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters are the WHO you are searching for.

So go ahead and check us out…

Monday, March 22, 2010

Keep On, Hydaren

In yesterday's edition of the Herald Tribune, there was a front-page story about a terrible accident that happened just one neighborhood away from us, in the Orange Avenue housing development.  The story explained that while 6-year-old Hydaren was playing outside in the courtyard at his grandmother's apartment complex, he came upon an electrical transformer box that was not properly locked shut by the electric company.  When he explored the box, he got a terrible shock, with even more electricity than a person would receive if they were in the electric chair.

Today when the neighborkids dropped by in the afternoon, Da'Sean picked up the newspaper article and read it out loud to us.  Right away, Dareeona, who was listening said, "Oh my God!  Is he gonna be okay?"  As I've come to expect, the kids were quick to express care and concern, sensing that this boy was not far-removed from all of us - a "fellow neighbor," regardless of whether he lives in Central-Cocoanut.

It turns out this is not the first time a little kid got terribly hurt at the same transformer box -- back in the 1970's, a 4-year-old boy got hurt the same way.  And that boy, it turns out, is not only a fellow neighbor, but also a relative!  When the D's dad Oscar came over and Da'Sean told him about the story in the newspaper, Oscar said that the little boy who got hurt back in the 70's was actually Dareeona's Uncle Tim!  Knowing this made the whole situation feel that much more personally related to all of us.

To let Hydaren know we're thinking of him, the kids decided to make a huge neighborhood card for him.  They thought together some about what message they wanted it to say, and decided to write, "Keep On, Hydaren."  Here are some pictures of the neighborkids making the card.

After they had decorated the card and we all had signed it, the kids took it around the neighborhood and others signed it too.

Mr. Dennis, who dropped by my house just as we were heading out, signed.

Kids playing in the park at the end of our street signed.

Neighbors sitting out in their front yard on 18th Street signed. 

Kids at the Payne Chapel AME Church, practicing for their Easter pageant, signed.

One of Mr. Dennis' fellow residents at Renaissance Manor, known as "The Admiral," signed.  

This is when we found out that our neighbor (who is my next-door neighbor), Keneisha, is actually Hydaren's cousin!  She told us that his nickname is Dro, and that when the kids finish gathering signatures on the banner, she will take it to their next family gathering to deliver to him in person.

It turns out this boy is even closer to us than we first realized.

So this is a tribute to our fellow community member, Hydaren "Dro" Taylor.  We want the very best for you, and we will also do our part to follow up in making sure our neighborhood is safe for you and all the other neighborkid explorers.

Take good care.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Community Self-Organizing Dinner

Here is a brief account of our March dinner gathering around Community Self-Organizing:

We met on Saint Patrick’s Day, so dinner was corned beef and cabbage.  Among us were 4 grown-ups and 5 kids.  Grown-ups included:

  • Hugh, who lives in the Palmer Ranch development and works downtown at the Sarasota County government
  • Tim, who lives in the Alta Vista neighborhood and works in Central-Cocoanut at SCOPE
  • Dennis, who lives in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood, where he leads a resident weather monitoring team
  • Allison, who lives in Central-Cocoanut as a neighbor-psychologist and works in Tampa at the Children’s Board

Here is a picture of the grown-ups in attendance:

Kids included:
  • Amorie and Holly, who live in Central-Cocoanut and work at Gocio Elementary as first-graders
  • Dalisha and Dareeona, who live in Central-Cocoanut and work at Fruitville Elementary as a fourth-grader and first-grader, respectively
  • Chunk Chunk, who lives in Central-Cocoanut and works at home-based childcare in the neighborhood.

Here is a picture of the kids in attendance (eating dinner picnic-style on the front stoop):

When he arrived, Hugh surprised the neighborkids with a gift of…SEED PACKETS from Burpee Farms!  (What he didn’t realize is that Burpee Farms is located in the very same town in Pennsylvania where Allison grew up.) 

This led to some fun conversation about the possibilities of homegrown food – a topic that is receiving increased attention here in Sarasota and also in communities across the country. Those of us who live in Central-Cocoanut talked about where in the neighborhood we’d like to plant the various vegetable seeds, and which neighbors we’ll approach for help (15th Street neighbors who immediately came to mind were Deacon John, who is a professional gardener at Plymouth Harbor, and also Jack and her roommates, who planted a massive, very productive front-yard vegetable garden last summer.  These are neighbors we’ve met while exploring Central-Cocoanut through scavenger-hunting.)  

Since it was Saint Patrick’s Day, the kids got busy creating a festive atmosphere by rewarding everyone who showed up wearing GREEN – and pinching anybody who was green-less!  Amorie then offered homemade Shamrock tattoos for anyone who hadn’t received one earlier in the day at work or school.  Although the “fun factor” is often overlooked when discussion groups meet, it is such an important dimension to cultivate for the sake of cohesion and creative thinking, so the neighborkids’ contributions were very much appreciated.  


The kids also made another batch of Google Juice to share with everyone – the sweet, lemony elixir they invented as part of their strategy for entering the Google Fiber contest.  Tart and refreshing J

As for the discussion that developed over the course of the evening, here are some of the themes, and how they might relate to concepts of community self-organizing: 


We talked some about the monthly neighborkid dinners that have begun in Central-Cocoanut.  As the invitations state, these are celebrations during which we gather in honor of a particular neighborkid, “To express appreciation for our scavenger hunters, to invest in their potential as individuals, and to come together as a neighborhood.”  The featured neighborkids describe their hopes for themselves and the neighborhood, and we consider these aspirations in light of current realities, as reflected in aggregate data (available through local systems such as the school district, the sheriff’s department, the health department, and social service networks), and as revealed in the “scrapbook of assets” discovered through neighborhood scavenger-hunting.   Our aim is to have some serious fun identifying ways of connecting, and re-constellating efforts as needed, in order to realize the local potential expressed through the wisdom of our neighborkids. 

The most recent February dinner was in honor of 6-year-old Dareeona, and she had invited “Mr. Hugh” to attend, after getting to know him at the January dinner on Community Self-Organizing.   So tonight we took a look at the folder of materials prepared for all members of “Team Darry,” which included this summary of her expressed hopes:

A year from now: 
That I can hold the baby.  [Darry’s 2-month-old sister]

As a teenager: 
I can do anything I want, like cook, and find a job, and work in class.

As a grown-up: 
I will be a teacher and teach reading books.
For the neighborhood: 
The trees would be different – green - and all the houses would be yellow, like Miss Joanna’s house.  [Fellow neighbor Joanna recently repainted her house, and many neighborkids were actively involved as house painters.]

We also took a quick look at the aggregate data about the student experience across elementary schools in Sarasota County -- with an intentional focus on Fruitville Elementary, as this is Darry’s school and is one of the two elementary schools to which Central-Cocoanut kids are bussed.  We briefly examined patterns in publicly accessible data associated with academic achievement (math skill and reading at grade-level), involvement (daily attendance and school-year stability), and characteristics of the student body (ethnic diversity, language talent, and family income).  This is deserving of more time and attention, but at least began to illustrate how aggregate data pattern-tracking, when combined with an awareness of the particularities of lived experience, can be useful in spotting community dynamics and detecting community-wide self-organizing, particularly as this relates to the experience of local children. 

With the renaming of City Island and Mayor Clapp’s recent dive into the shark tank at Mote Marine, we’ve got some great examples of active community engagement in Sarasota these days.  The enthusiastic and notably whimsical efforts of local folks to convince Google to choose this community for super high-speed Internet have been providing fascinating examples of community self-organizing!

Tonight we talked some about how the Internet can make such a difference when it comes to the democratizing of knowledge.  We noted, however, that there is a risk of dramatically reinforcing the digital divide if some folks wind up having Internet capacities 100x faster than current options while others are not yet able to afford Internet access whatsoever.   We talked some about the neighborkid-oriented Google Fiber submission being prepared in Central-Cocoanut, and how it might be synchronized with the applications being prepared by the local city/county government and other citizen groups in Sarasota, in order to optimize the likelihood of increased local dialogue about technology and community.  Tim and Hugh also shared some about their recent efforts -- through SCOPE and the County government, respectively – to explore the possibility of establishing wifi networks for whole neighborhoods. 


As we talked about features of community that optimize potential for learning, we then found ourselves discussing TED talks, with their emphasis on “ideas worth spreading,” and Hugh told us about TEDx, which is described online as “a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods or just groups of friends to organize, design and host their own independent, TED-like events.”  He shared some ideas about ways to bring TEDx to life here in Sarasota, and we considered some ways that this might happen both through formal institutions and through more informal neighbor-led efforts. 

To be continued next month…hope you'll drop by then!