Katie: Describe Bellevue, describe what that neighborhood is like.
Bridget: It is one square mile, in Kentucky, on the river.
Katie: Is that it?
Bridget: Yeah, one square mile.
Katie: Oh wow.
Bridget: You didn’t know we were that little? So it’s pretty small, what else would you say about Bellevue. It’s overall a working class neighborhood.
Katie: How many people in the one square mile?
Bridget: I don’t know.
Katie: It’s pretty concentrated, like there are a lot of houses.
Bridget: Yeah, I mean it’s urban. You know houses are very close together there’s not a lot of yards.
Katie: There’s a big.. There's a great little main strip there with coffee shops and...
Bridget: Yeah like your typical main street.
Katie: Kind of on the river.
Bridget: Close to it, yeah.
Katie: Ok, so when you’re thinking back to that time and you’re just learning these new concepts around community building and you’re looking in you’re neighborhood and you’re like ok there’s.. We don’t have any connections here.. Did you have any revelations at that time or what started to shift and how did you start building community?
Bridget: Tim was a little more, I know he had been to Peter Block and John McKnight and they had been talking about neighborhood interviews. Truly going and finding people and interviewing them and Tim did that. He was like, “Alright the challenge is I’ve got to meet five different people, I’m going to interview them on their gifts and talents,” and then he was like, “you should too.” And I said maybe in a more informal way.
Katie: What was your hesitation around that?
Bridget: Yeah, well it’s weird right, like this is an awkward beginning of like ‘hey stranger’ or someone that I’ve just seen in passing, ‘Could we sit down and I’ll interview you?’ I think anyone would say once they’ve done it it’s not weird at all it’s just the hurdle of asking. Because I think I did talk to a few people but I didn’t… I would just kind of talk to them instead of like scheduling it. I would just kind of be in a conversation and kind of work my way through what the interview probably would be.
Katie: So like what are your talents, interests, passions, skills?
Bridget: Yeah what do you like to do?
Katie: So you kind of start with the low hanging fruit, I already know them..
Bridget: I started with the easy-peasy, ‘Hey friend that I already know’ and then we started talking about doing a starting a community garden in Bellevue, I wanted to do it, one of the people we like already knew was interested in doing it and then that kind of grew out of there. Like ok throw it out to the masses, who would want to start a community garden?
Katie: So once you started talking to neighbors you start to kind of plot ideas? I feel like that’s kind of a natural thing that happens just with people, is once you get to talking you start talking about what would be great in our neighborhood? And that conversations just kind of naturally evolves right like, probably pretty informally like the way that your conversations evolved.
Bridget: Yeah I think so, like what would you want to do? Oh do we have this here?
Katie: So did you find that there are people who are really driven/motivated to get something created off the ground like ‘ok we’ll do all the plans for the garden’ and then there are the people who step in once it’s there and say ‘yeah we’re going to establish this and make it set’?
Bridget: I don’t know, there were some people who were interested in the beginning but they had some pretty… They were randomly enough when I went to community garden training there were two other people that I never met from Bellevue.
Katie: Is that how you got started was just to go and learn how to do it?
Bridget: That was one of my commitments, is I said I'm going to well I thought that I would get one I would interested helpful practice probably. And all the like powers that be were very supportive like the neighborhood association the people that were there at the time, had talked about it but they’ve never done it and I’m like I’m really going to do it, I’ve already signed up for the class. And they were like sure, go for it, you know we’ll support it and you can do it under the neighborhood association umbrella.
Katie: Had you gardened before?
Bridget: Just in the backyard a little bit, I mean I still would say I’m not an expert gardener. Whatever, you plant seeds that grow, maybe they don’t, and that’s ok you just. You just keep going and that’s what’s great about it because the weather is unpredictable, the season is unpredictable. There’s no guarantee that just because you did it well last year you could do the exact... You could think you’re doing the exact same thing and it’s not.
Katie: I like that approach, I really like that because I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that for people who want to do something that they don’t know how to do and maybe think they’ll never know how to do or be experts at, and for something like gardening that can be really intimidating. And what you’re saying is that’s ok even if it fails. The whole point isn’t necessarily...
Bridget: Well, and that would be my perspective on it and what I bring to the community garden. I think I was talking about how there were two people at that training who wanted to grow their own food. They had plans to make a community garden, they wanted to sustain their living, they wanted to plant enough food to last their... They wanted to eat off their land. But it wasn’t going to be their land it was going to be some neighbor’s property that as an empty lot. And we kind of parted ways because they were very serious about, like we will be producing enough food for ourselves and the difference between the lot they already thought they could use and some of the lots like empty some vacant property that we were looking at they were like “oh there’s not enough room, not enough room” and I was like “not enough room for what?” But like my idea was not going out to produce enough food to support all of Bellevue.
It was always going to be a community garden, a place to meet, a place to garden, a place to enjoy each other. And hopefully get some vegetables out of it.
So meeting those people at first was exciting and then it was like this is a struggle, they were not interested in the community aspect of it.
Katie: The community aspect of it is what.. And that’s what you went to people with.. It wasn’t do you want to grow vegetables it was do you want to be part of a community that is growing vegetables?
Bridget: Right. Yeah like bring your kids, it won’t matter, we won’t care. No hard core rules no you know some of the strict regulations.
Katie: That’s the key. So then how did the potluck evolve?
Bridget: There was ourselves and another family, the Salzmans, who I guess we just decided we should try it. There wasn’t a whole lot of planning involved other than like we all do it once a month, we’ll have it at the city building and that’s it. And we don’t know what will happen, I think it was just mainly them and just saying like well it might just be the four of us - and kids who show up and we’ll just see what happens from there.
Katie: And so during this time, you guys are starting to shake a little bit of your patterns about how you live in your neighborhood, can you talk about some of those smaller micro-things that you’ve done to build community and ways that you’ve also met neighbors. Because you know it helps to have that form of communication where it’s not just a flier going out. What were the ways you got to kind of know more neighbors so you could make those invites?
Bridget: I think a lot of it was, one the coffee shop became much more of a hub. So there were people coming and going and just running into people and saying hello. There were programs that our kids did, like there was a basketball program with young kids and we walked around, I think we went around to a few different people and talked to them about, ‘hey would you come? You’d be welcome.” There was a neighborhood group started on Facebook too.
Katie: And I love that you guys do stuff in your front yard too.
Bridget: Yeah we usually have our fire pit out there, so we’ll sit out there. Halloween we sit out there with a fire and hot dogs or just anytime and there’s quite a few kids in our neighborhood especially at this point, that just kind of wander around, hang out looking for stuff to do. So if we’re doing that they can come and hang out and sometimes their parents come with them. Sometimes it’s a formal ‘hey we’re having a fire pit who wants to come?’
Katie: And the same spirit happens at the garden. Right where people just kind of walk by and they see it so that’s an invitation?
Bridget: Yeah and I have gone to the school and done, like with the after school program, pretty much since the beginning brought a group weekly or however often works in their schedule. So there were a lot of kids then that I got to know who I would meet their parents somewhere in the grocery or wherever and be like ‘oh hi I know you’ and then they’d have to explain who is this lady? And then there is stuff like when people walk by, still like ten years later like ‘What is this? We have a community garden?’ And the community garden was communal, that was the other thing that we did, it’s not as if you pay a membership due and get so much property or square foot bed, it’s just everybody gardening together, so that if somebody is to come once, they don’t have to wait until next year to get their bed or whatever. They come and they can do whatever we’re doing, like everybody works on it together, same thing with kids and everything.
Katie: So I mean taking it back to when you guys were first looking at Bellevue and saying this is not a place where we can build community to today it just seems like...
Bridget: I don’t think we thought that we couldn’t build it but we just hadn’t.
Katie: Yeah or I guess..
Bridget: We just didn’t know what community was, like to sit back and be like ‘oh yeah when we grew up we could talk to all these neighbors and we did run.. Like I did run around with my neighbor friends, there were five or six kids I was allowed to go around the block... I just think we as adults had not even attempted. Like we were just the people coming in and out our front door, parking, getting out and going out to work, coming home and staying home or going out somewhere else. And we just had that shift of well what is going on here in Bellevue?
We should be a part of this. If this is where we are going to live, let’s live here.
It shifted from work and people we know from work or old college friends that we’re going to go visit and see to shifting to like well who are our neighbors? You know maybe we thought that the neighborhood itself wasn’t very welcoming like when I look back nobody welcomed us what the heck. But we’ve been here long enough we are the people who have lived here, we should be the “welcomers” so I think we just kind of recognized our own role. If we want our community to look a certain way we’ve got to do it. We can’t wait and think well nobody else did that, so I guess it doesn’t exist.
Katie: That’s just not part of our neighborhood.
Bridget: It’s just not a thing.
Katie: And that’s also something that you almost don’t want to impose on people its like ‘well nobody else is doing that here so maybe that means people don’t want it and if we tried we’d be imposing’ or we’d be asking people too much. But I’m wondering too is there something to the rhythm of the garden and the potluck that has allowed for this to take shape?
Bridget: I don’t know I wanted to make a community garden. I think that as far as where is your energy best, where gives you energy, what makes you happy is a big factor. So if it’s going to make you miserable to garden then you’re probably not going to be the person that starts the community garden. Like you might help with some aspect of it but going to the garden overall is a fun time for me, I enjoy it, it makes me happy. I love when new people come I love when old people show up versus trying to do something just because I think it’s a good thing to do, if that makes sense. There’s definitely been times and roles that I have taken on because ‘oh wouldn’t you, would you be willing to do this for us, you’d be really great at that’ ..Ok, I can do that, you know I’ll commit to that role… and then realizing this is killing me.. Like this just makes me miserable, why would I say I’d do this and now I say I’ve done it so I’ll do it but I’ve got to step out quickly. And I think that’s more like there are plenty of ways to build community and plenty of things that you can do, I think it’s just making sure you’re enjoying them. And then it’s also possible to make sure you’re enjoying them with the right people. You know some of those..
Katie: Keeping an eye out for who is going to be in the same.. Who has the same motivations as you.
Bridget: Versus being like, oh if you’re willing. You know sometimes you agree just to have help, to have anyone on board to do something but if its... You know what you want and you’re going the wrong direction you might be really disappointed.
Katie: You can be discerning when you build community and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good neighbor.
Bridget: Yeah, I think the other things we’ve done like the potluck we were very conscious of doing things that are simple, keeping it simple, don’t make it complicated, don’t promise gourmet meals. We have never said that we are going to... You know the tables will be set up by 5:30 and we will have brought the main dish, anything like that. It's kind of, the more people come the more comfortable they are, like “oh it starts at five o’clock and that means we just get here at five o’clock and we start setting tables up and chairs and arranging the room it doesn’t mean at five o’clock dinner is served and you’ve walked into like a dinner party with tablecloths. It’s very laid back, we make sure there are plates which actually on Sunday we ran out but oh well. People figured it out, they reused some, ate off the cake plates.
Katie: Yeah, that’s the part that stresses me out about potluck, when I hear it and I think of hosting it I think I have to bring the main dish, I have to be the one to set up everything and you figured out a way to make that low key.
Bridget: You just kind of set it up with the expectation of 1) there’s not really a host, like Ryan will put it on the Facebook group and he’ll set the events, it’s every fourth Sunday and that’s kind of done for the year actually. Between a few of us we throw in paper plates and forks every once in a while, so yeah and just kind of knowing we could have put the bar really high from the beginning but I think at that point we were aware enough to know that that would wear us down. We wanted to make sure it would be nothing any of us dreaded going to and that’s not going to keep it going.
Katie: Yeah, and how could you ever go on vacation or have a missed week?
Bridget: Yeah and if we’re not there what do you do? You know luckily there’s not a key, the way Bellevue works is we just call the police and they have a key to the building and they let us in. Now anybody, the early birds know that. So if we’re not the first one there the other first person knows ‘oh I just call this number and they’ll come and let us in and we can get the tables out and start moving things around.’ I mean that all took time you know, but I think just to be cautious or thoughtful about if it’s something that you want to do for a long time, what is it that you enjoy doing and it won’t drain you over the long-haul?
Katie: And how often do you go to the garden? How often are you..
Bridget: In the season I’ll go twice a week.
Katie: Ok, and are you going at a set time when everyone else is coming too?
Bridget: Yes, Wednesdays 6:30, Sunday at 9:30.
Katie: So you have set hours?
Bridget: Those are the established.. They kind of shift from year to year but usually it’s like Wednesday night and Sunday morning.
Katie: Ok. How many people would you say are showing up to these different things, does that even matter? How important is that to you?
Bridget: It’s great when there is a crowd. There’s probably like 30-40 people plus kids, and then some kids at the potluck.
Katie: Starting out it was just you and the Salzmans right?
Bridget: Well a couple more people came and even then obviously in the time that we’ve been doing them, who shows up and who is still showing up has changed. The same thing with the garden, some people who were really helpful and got us you know came and did some hard work at the beginning, you know one couple’s moved out of Bellevue another one is still semi-involved, actually a couple of people have moved out.. You know so some people who were involved are gone. And now it’s a different wave of people almost. And then there’s people that for some of those people that were a part of the community garden they never came to a potluck, that wasn’t their scene. We even though it is kind of close.. Bellevue is pretty small, so you could be conscious of — ‘oh they’ve never shown up once’ but it’s not their thing. So I think to just keep that.. Because when you first.. When things first get started and they’re sort of in that fragile state of beginning, it is sort of fragile right and you think ‘oh how come they aren’t coming to the garden, I thought they’d help and they’ve never shown up.’ And you can take it personally but then again another part of living in a neighborhood for your life is expecting you to live by these same people. So if you want to hold a grudge about the fact they said they’d show up and they didn’t you probably aren’t going to be great neighbors, you know like this is a lifetime of living so let’s not hold a grudge about the time they said they’d show up or why didn’t they and all that kind of stuff. Because that’s not necessarily going to help build community either.
Katie: One of the things that I’m wondering now is if it is a new neighbor and they want to get involved in the garden, do they contact you? If they do want to come to the potluck is there a main person there to kind of coordinate things or..
Bridget: I think the Facebook group is a pretty big communication device for everyone, and that shows the times and then if somebody asks a question then the person tags my name or somebody else in there and say “hey they want to know about this” or you know I think Facebook is a big driver as far as communication that I’ve had and then it might be a personal message or text from somebody whose met, you know maybe they live next door to somebody who had that question and they say ‘oh here’s her phone number or I’ll text her or email her.’
Katie: So you are the main contact for a lot of these questions for the garden?
Bridget: I mean for the garden I am, I don’t know that anybody really reaches out for the potluck as much as they would just show up and be like ‘what is this, who should I talk to?’ And then people would probably point out a few different people to talk to there.
Katie: So when people talk to you I guess they see you as a coordinator of the garden especially, and they come to you and they have a brand new idea for the garden or they want to implement something, being in that role as the main contact how do you deal with that how do you respond?
Bridget: Usually it’s that sounds great, you can do it. Just recently we had a big, one of our neighbors was part of Crossroads and she was leading a go global effort in Bellevue and she wanted to do it at the community garden and she was like, ‘I’ve got some ideas’ and I was like ‘I’d love to hear them’ and they wanted to put in a pergola and a grill. The grill didn’t happen but the pergola is up and it was like that would be amazing, that would be great, and they did it. There have been many suggestions like at the potluck we should use silverware, all this plastic and I was like, ‘I hear ya I bring my own.’ My answer to that is me and my family, we have the dishes we come here with and we take them home.
Katie: So you bring your own set of dishes and silverware?
Bridget: I do.
Katie: Oh that’s smart.
Bridget: But I provide the paper ones as well, but one of the people who comes says we should really.. Or shouldn’t we all.. We should just have silverware here and I’m like, ‘if you want to bring it and take it home and wash it I would love it.’ But I am also making it clear that I’m not volunteering to do that.
Katie: To clean everybody’s dishes.
Bridget: I am taking home these five plates and these five forks because I would really probably resent everyone as I washed their dirty dishes, right?
Katie: Oh my gosh yeah.
Bridget: But I would love it if somebody really was motivated and was like I’m going to do this, this is my thing I’m going to do every month, I would totally support that.
Katie: Yeah I mean, it goes back to do what you want other people to do, sort of be the change by living it. I think people forget what an individual looks like versus what an organization looks like. It’s like an organization who runs a potluck would probably take that and maybe implement a new system of dishwashing because they could but an individual or a family…
Bridget: Or organize like it’s your month. Like could you imagine the rotating..
Bridget: Who knows... Who knows what any organization would do.
Katie: But that’s the slippery slope of it getting really entangled and enmeshed in this sort of process, agenda, structure that ends up killing the spirit of it. Now when you look at your neighborhood, Bellevue, what does community look like? What would be like a key image?
Bridget: There’s a few that come to mind, like one it is the ability for my sons... like Patrick who is old enough and friends live with he just walks around and finds friends. Like that’s a pretty great image for me.
That’s kind of his classic line at this point is “I’m going to go out and find some friends, I’ll be back.” That’s a pretty big deal for your kids to be able to go out and find some friends to play with.
I don’t know there’s a lot of images, you know we just had the memorial day parade and we weren’t in the parade but knew... Waving at all the groups that were walking by, how many people we knew or as people go to sit down or as we go to sit down and talking, knowing so many of the people that are around that’s pretty great.. That's a big day for Bellevue I feel like Memorial day parade but pretty great.
Katie: Do you ever feel the need to go back in time to this hidden life of pulling in from work and going in the house and not talking to any of your neighbors, is there ever a time where you not regret but wish you could be more undercover I guess in your neighborhood?
Bridget: I don’t think so, no, like I said I think there is the things you learn about being in community and being around your neighbors of knowing how far to take what you think is personal feelings right, ‘oh you hurt my feelings.’ And kind of working.. Being aware of who you are and why that hurt your feelings, like don’t hold onto that forever because I could find a way to probably be upset with a lot of people if I wanted to, right? We could find hurts everywhere or slight grievances whether they’re real or not, whole other story, but if I wanted to take that as a personal affront to what they said or not showing up...
Katie: Or even just differences in political opinions.
Bridget: That would be a big one right now. Like stuff like that, Facebook profile what somebody said on Facebook or on the group page you know, like how much do you engage in those conversations that people get started? So no I don’t, but at the same time I think there’s been moments of struggle where you have to sit down and say ‘ok this is what community is about, it is about you can be this person and we can still talk about our kids being friends even though we have this… We are not alike in a lot of ways.
Katie: That part of it is what I think is most magical. Is when you can actually get to a place where you can be common with people who you are so different from and you can feel connected and familiar with them even though you might never have chosen them but they’re your neighbor. It’s kind of like family but in a different way.
Bridget: It is, and it’s not to paint this picture…. there are plenty of people who don’t want to know me. It’s not as if the whole neighborhood is all sharing… You know there are those people who think a community garden is a waste of space, that’s fine. There were people when we first started who thought we were taking away a place for kids to play, we can win them over or just ignore them. You know they’ll either be won over all with time, I mean its not our intent, it’s not as if we’re hiding some intention other than I don’t know if some people are suspicious like, ‘why are you doing this’ ‘what’s your end goal?’ And I think there have been some people who have asked me that and I was like ‘um what do you mean? End goal? We’re going to get to know each other isn’t that enough’” But that’s not enough some people just don’t.. I don’t know people have suspicious nature sometimes, sometimes they don’t understand that you can just be doing it. I don’t know how many times Tim has been asked if he is going to run for mayor. He’s not… Or City Council. Like are you running for something? Some people thought I worked at the school, ‘well you’re a teacher there right?’ ‘no, no I just live in Bellevue.’ But like people’s concepts of why people do things, you know it’s your job to do them versus no this is just what I do for fun. This is my hobby.
Katie: Yeah and it.. I think the intrinsic motivation behind why you’re doing something or if you were trying to get something out of it even if it wasn’t this is my job or I’m trying to run for City Council, if it was something less tangible than that like ‘I want to do this so I am.. So that people like me so I’m a good neighbor.. I’m going to do this so everyone thanks me and loves me for this garden at the end of it I’m going to be well-renowned’ - so even that gets you in trouble because there are people that say, ‘you took away my this this or this’ by doing it, you can’t make everybody happy. Or like you said, you can’t win everybody over so your motivation has to be pretty... I would even think it gets whittled down to being just a pure motivation of the only reason I would do this is because I love it and I want to be with the community. The community doesn’t have to all love it but if some people do and we can enjoy it together then that’s enough. I can see though where that would be really hurtful to be like but wait a minute, especially in the beginning, wait I’m not trying to hurt anyone why is this being misconstrued?
Bridget: Why, why would you mock my garden? What do you think this is? But yeah. So you know that’s one of the learning, take your toys and go home or stick it out and see what happens, see who comes around, all things with time. Sometimes it’s hard at this point to be like ‘wow it’s been ten years’ ten years of growing and what did it look like then, what were the struggles when we started versus what are they now? You know, I think overall the struggles now, there's not really. We kind of went over some of the hurdles and now it’s just like I don’t stress about it a lot. You know if people’s expectations when they come to the potluck are let down because there wasn’t a greeter at the door or there’s not assigned seats, or whatever they had in their mind when they come in the door they may come and be disappointed because it wasn’t organized enough and they really think it should be organized. And they probably don’t come back and that’s too bad I wish they would but at the same time this is maybe not where their energy is fulfilling, like they would be really stressed out by our lack of…
Katie: So loose structure just kind of lends itself to anybody being able to fit in at the same time…
Bridget: There are people who come to the potluck who do not always bring a dish for whatever reason, they don’t cook maybe they can’t afford the meal, nobody is checking at the door. We can all show up differently and bring a different gift. I mean and that ties pretty directly to our work right and all that we have done. Not everybody… The stricter the ways are the more exacting and perfect you have to be. At the community garden, it would be really hard for groups of kids to show up at our community garden if you can’t touch this and you can’t touch that and if you step there... I knew I wasn’t going to organize, I wasn’t going to manage ten plots and ten people’s opinions on how each plot should look. I was like heck no. That’s one of the things a lot of garden managers, community garden managers do.
Katie: Ok so it has a lot of your spirit in it and whatever community effort is built has the person who starts it, has their spirit in it. So let’s take it back to Starfire’s work real quick. Where is this type of community building that you do in your own life where does that show up in your work at Starfire and how is it influencing your work with disabilities one on one, do you think you’d be able to do the same type of job if you weren’t doing this at home?
Bridget: Yeah, I think I could. I can definitely.. I know I believe in the community building work. I’ve seen it I’ve lived it in my own live and seen how if we had not changed or shifted what we were doing around our own neighborhood I don’t know what our kids would be doing. Because of how we’ve shifted and lived I know that there is a lot of good things a lot of potential out here for communities to build up around.
So I think that helps motivate the work but I think I could do it even if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t quite understand all the ins and outs I wouldn’t have had the experiences to understand or think through some of the things but some have probably played off each other too.
Katie: So your work at Starfire has kind of informed your role in your neighborhood and vice versa?
Bridget: I would say it has.
Katie: Yeah, how could it not.
Bridget: I don’t know how it wouldn’t have at this point, but I’m sure they’ve definitely influenced each other.
Katie: That’s the work/life blend I think that was talked about at the beginning of this change at Starfire. It’s not that we have to take our work home and do our work at home it just means that our work is actually is a way of life and we do it everywhere. We do it at our work but we don’t clock out and go home and be sucky neighbors because it kind of just influences the way you live everywhere.
Katie: Why do you think it’s important for you to do this work in people with disabilities lives?
Bridget: Well I think the... What I’ve seen in our own world and I think with some of the people that have started projects as families too is that it kind of spurs on the next thing. So by starting something it kind of opens another door. It’s the ripple effect of all of it. So I think that if somebody starts something in their neighborhood and then you know you don’t necessarily have to do it all, there are people who will be motivated to something else then maybe you just show up to support them or tell them they did a great job later on.
It’s not you for everything, but I definitely think for more people to know each other is good for everyone, for sure.
Katie: So what is your hope for the next ten years? In the next ten years, let’s say ten years from now what is your hope for Bellevue?
Bridget: I think that’s pretty hard because I think Bellevue is pretty great right now it doesn’t need to change anymore, but I’m sure there will be change in ten years and hopefully it will all be good change. My hope is that it is just a welcoming happy community for everyone and continues to be that and in ten years my sons will then be young adults - will want to be there too. That this is a place where they will want to be as well and feel as strongly connected to as they do now.
Katie: And maybe carry through with some of the work that you guys have set?
Bridget: Maybe I can’t imagine… In their own way they’ll be doing something else. I have no doubt they'll be doing something.
Katie: Maybe they’ll run for mayor. One of them will run for mayor.
Bridget: No, well maybe who knows. We’ll see. Which one would that be? No telling.
Katie: Alright well thank you, I appreciate it.
Bridget: Thank you Katie.