Last Friday, Kim Evans and I facilitated our Independence Group visiting the Lake Claire Community Land Trust. Our Independence Group meets on Mondays for planning and on Fridays to “go and do.” This particular idea came from one of our participants who used to live in the neighborhood and had always liked visiting the Land Trust in the past. He also wanted to introduce Big Lou the Emu to the group.
It had rained a lot earlier in the week, but Friday was cool and cloudy and the ground was relatively dry. We had explored whether we could take the bus or train to the Land Trust, but the schedules didn’t allow us enough time, so we decided to take a car. The group continues to need at least a little support figuring out who is going to sit where in the car. I never take this part of the trip for granted; some people get very particular about where they will sit, and this negotiation calls on everyone’s social regulation skills.
The Land Trust is a community area that covers 4-5 acres along Dekalb Avenue near Candler Park. The Land Trust has communal gardens, a small pond, several buildings and outdoor meeting areas, and, of course, the emu! It’s open to the public and has a relaxed and welcoming vibe (plus, there’s a drum circle on Saturday nights, if you’re into that sort of thing).
The relaxed vibe immediately rubbed off on the participants, as we explored the area with a remarkable sense of collegiality and playfulness. Everyone loved Big Lou, the emu, and we were surprised to see the group working together to entice and feed the large bird. From there, the group spread out and explored other parts of the Land Trust.
Near the pond, the ground actually wasn’t so dry, and one of the guys slipped in the mud and took a hard fall. Initially shocked and upset, he jumped up and did a damage assessment, cursing and seeming quite upset. With a little soothing and some paper towels, he (somewhat surprisingly) re-regulated quickly, determined that there was no lasting damage, and continued on with his exploration. To me, this is one of those little moments that suggests huge growth on the part of this participant. Not letting small setbacks derail your whole day is life-changing!
We spent a few minutes sitting on the high stools overlooking Dekalb Avenue, offering a view of downtown Atlanta. The group engaged in casual conversation, and they all seemed relaxed and enjoying each other’s company. Pretty cool.
When the group had had enough of the Land Trust, we decided to walk a half-mile down the road to the Candler Park Market. CPM is a funky neighborhood market with everything from a soda fountain to vegan energy bars to craft beers (as a group: interested, not interested, not allowed on this trip). It was challenging for some of the guys to figure out how to follow TCS’s “no caffeine” rule. One figured out how to get the soda he wanted without caffeine; the other, after a soda fountain glitch that left a non-caffeine option unavailable, chose to ignore the rule and simply get a caffeinated soda.
We work a lot on helping our participants understand the basics of good nutrition, and how what they put into their bodies has a lot to do with their mood and behavior. These are hard-learned lessons for many of us, and for lots of our participants are even more important to learn because of their tendency towards mood variability. In this case, the enticement of the soda outweighed the concern of the consequences. Later, we would debrief on this incident with the group, getting the group’s input on how the rule violation should be handled, and including the offending participant in the conversation. It’s an ongoing process, but we see positive results by focusing more on accountability to the group, and on the participant’s own desire to do the right thing—which may not always be obvious, but is almost always in there somewhere.
We had a great time at a great hidden gem of Atlanta!
– Dave Nelson