If you have never stepped inside Gemeinschaft Home—you really should plan a visit. The old farmhouse embodies a spirit that is apparent from the moment you walk through the door.
While there is a lot of anxiety associated with leaving prison to re-enter society, former inmates who arrive at Gemeinschaft Home’s front porch bring with them a sense of hope—if only for a fleeting moment—about taking the next step in their lives.
The transition in itself is a jarring experience, and residents are challenged constantly to overcome a range of concerns, from adjusting to a new living space and daily schedule, to finding a job and reconnecting with estranged family members. Yet with every new resident, there is a regeneration of hope that stirs the air and lingers long after individual residents have come and gone.
The cumulative effect is pleasant and calm on most days, not withstanding the occasional misunderstandings, disputes, and other dramatic forms that emerge when forty men from all walks of life converge in one house and must find a way to live together in a positive and supportive way.
There is never a dull moment, and, of course, there are times when some residents have more bad days than good ones. But, overall for those residents who are ready “to walk the journey,” as executive director, Sharon Ringgold would say, Gemeinschaft Home exudes a warm energy for anyone choosing to embrace it.
At certain times of the day, the house is quieter, when the majority of residents are at work, but generally there is a flutter of activity and chatter throughout the hallways and rooms of Gemeinschaft Home. Residents share bedrooms, prepare meals and eat together, and maintain a list of chores that includes cleaning the bathrooms and all communal spaces.
The landscape surrounding the house contributes significantly to the gentle environment of Gemeinschaft Home; the spacious wraparound porch offers stunning vistas of the mountains and nearby farmland. Residents are generally cordial and welcome conversations with visitors.
Summer is the perfect time to take a tour of the house and to get to know some of its residents—even if you want to just enjoy a view of the mountain scenery.
A Path to Growth for Gemeinschaft Home
Consultants work in a variety of contexts, helping organizations like Gemeinschaft Home with strategic planning and development.
The idea of strategic planning, perhaps even the phrase itself, evokes a sense of anxiety for many people, particularly those who are in charge of such work, but no organization can survive without it. Strategic planning creates an opportunity for people running an organization to ask: Who are we? What do we do? and Where do we want to go? The procedure usually takes between six and nine months to complete and concludes with the organization gaining greater clarity in and fuller articulation of its priorities and steps for taking action. Strategic planning involves every facet of the organization, and relies heavily on the participation of board members and employees.
Fortunately, the actual process of strategic planning is less formidable, when under the guidance of seasoned consultants. David Brubaker, Jane Ellen Reid, and Barbara Robbins of Cooperative by Design help organizations to make the experience both productive and rewarding. Last year, Gemeinschaft Home enlisted their help, when the board of directors launched the organization’s ongoing strategic planning initiative.
While in charge of the overall direction of the project, the consultants themselves bring no specific agenda to the table, according to Jane Ellen Reid who says, “We bring in the process, we are the process holders, even if there are disagreements, but we want to know where differing opinions may butt against each other.” Listening to the perspectives of various stakeholders in the organization—board members and employees at all levels—is what Reid calls, “going in 360” (observing the organization from all possible angles).
Such was the case with Gemeinschaft Home, during the initial phase. “First, we listen and get a list of questions—people have buy-in from the beginning—our goal to get to know each other, figure out who we need to talk to,” Reid explains. She characterizes the approach as a type of “appreciative inquiry” and asks questions like: “What do you do well? What are your ideas for change?”
In addition to their general interactions with people in the organization, Reid and Robbins also worked closely with a “reference team,” made up of two board members (Liz Buchanan and Doris Pye) and two staff members (Sharon Ringgold and Jumar Peterson) to hammer out the finer details involved with the project.
“We start very broadly,” says Reid, and focus on several concepts: Mission, “Why do you exist?” Vision, “Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?” and Values, “What values do you want to hold in 3-5 years?”
Next the team focused on more specific recommendations for updates to bylaws, policy handbooks, and other forms of documentation that specify standards, role expectations, and time commitments for individuals working in the organization.
Reid is enthusiastic about the progress Gemeinschaft Home has made throughout the strategic planning process, sharing that “the board has been wonderful,” and the “people who are on the reference team have worked REALLY hard. They met with us every other week. It’s A LOT of work.”
Pulling together a coherent vision of the future among a diverse group of people, who are equally passionate about the organization, is no small feat. The success of such work is a testament to the tremendous dedication of the Gemeinschaft Home community and their willingness to grow.