We host visitors regularly in South Atlanta, especially twice a year at our Open Houses. The event serves as a way to welcome others into our world and our work, but we want to do it in a way that benefits our neighbors. Donell and Monica of the Lupton Center offered a sneak peek into how they think about receiving visitors, and the steps they take to make sure that it bolsters the community.
Monica: One of the first things we do is try to be clear about expectations when people come to visit for the open house. We want people to know that they’re not going to leave with a business plan. They’re coming to our neighborhood to hear stories, to see our neighbors in the best light, and to understand the systems that affect our collaborative work here.
Donell: And to highlight that collaborative work, we recognize it’s helpful to highlight the unique attributes and contributions of certain individuals, like homeowners who have paid off their mortgages. But we also need to make sure that we talk about the systemic structures that make that accomplishment even more impressive. At the same time, we need those conversations to be rooted and grounded in real people’s stories, in a real place.
Monica: It’s important to make sure neighbors get to choose if they want to participate. We work hard to protect the privacy of neighbors who don’t. For example, we offer people who come to the Open House a list of local Airbnbs. But that list is a curated list that Katie gives us. It’s all neighbors who want to be included.
Donell: Right. And we try to limit time where visitors are just “roaming,” because that doesn’t benefit our neighbors or really give participants a sense of our work as FCS staff. We’ve been really intentional about “hosting so well” that participants get to feel what it’s like to be a staff member. They feel what it’s like to be in our space.
Some of that means protecting the regular ebb and flow of the neighborhood. Jeff asks us to protect the morning flow of the coffee shop. So we have a team of volunteers for the Open House show up to host people. That team minimizes guest confusion, and gives the guests the opportunity to ask questions in a way that doesn’t disturb the environment. The morning crew at Community Grounds can keep chatting. Customers can come in and out as normal. And this is how guests are immersed in the real day to day. They can see real moments when we host well.
Monica: Exactly, because I think the whole point of the Open House is for people to see what it’s really like to do the work, which helps them imagine it in their context when they go home. On my first tour, which is tightly routed, a neighbor approached us complaining that her neighbors hadn’t cut the grass in a long time. She asked, “what can you all do about my neighbor who hasn’t cut the grass” that was an example of the proximity with folks who live here that came out organically.
Donell: As practitioners, we need to make sure we have the relational capital for those kinds of moments to be normal and authentic relationally.
Monica: That’s the balance of expertise and practice. A lot of conferences want to err on the side of expertise because it makes them look like a well-oiled machine. I want the Open House to be well-oiled, but not if that pulls away from the truth or reality of what it means to be a practitioner. There’s something really beautiful in the details of imperfection.
Donell: Right, and on the practitioner side, we want to be a good example of that. We want to show others in our industry how to walk that line, because you get a lot of people on either end of the spectrum but not too many in the middle. That’s the secret sauce. We want people to take the experience and apply it to their context and create something we can’t imagine or might not work here. It’s working to honor both innovation and legacy, which is really hard.
Monica: And of course, it’s going to look different for everyone who comes. We’re trying to show that through immersion. If we’re going to be on the bullhorn about proximity, we have to be living the bullhorn.