Saturday, August 31, 2013

S. Arizona Watercolor Guild Art Gallery: A Vibrant Tucson "BrightSpot"

Yesterday, as a free-lance writer/reviewer for the Sonoran Arts Network (, Mark and I visited the Gallery to cover their fourth WOW show.  I have submitted my review (and his photos) to SAN, but here I want to highlight two watercolors that were not part of the WOW show.  They are hung on the back walls of the gallery and feature, first, an artist who has served the Guild as a gallery show juror and workshop teacher.  This painting, entitled, Windmill Inn, is by Frank Frances.  I love its pink color and stand-out image of the hotel's facade.

Second is one I wanted to buy, if I had the income.  Painted by Ellen Fountain , it features two of my favorite subjects these days:  daisies/black-eyed Susans and a black/gray cat.  Had I the talent she does, which I obviously do not, this could be Charlie A. Gray admiring a vase of flowers in our home.
Whether as a writer for SAN or not, I will be visiting this charming gallery more often.  It is staffed by artist-volunteers who were so helpful and willing to talk with us, answer questions and take photos.  The talent displayed in the gallery and the gallery itself earn this week's Community Renaissance "shout out" for another Tucson BrightSpot!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happiness Community Conversation in August

Happiness Community Conversation at TMM Family Services, Inc., 8.22.13

Last week, my husband (the photographer), and I were fortunate to share an evening hour with ten women in a Talk UP^ Tucson… happiness community conversation.   I tried a couple of new prompts for this conversation.  At a nicely arranged table grouping with refreshments provided by TMM and a staff person to help occupy some of the women's young children, another staff person joined the group and we talked. .

I handed out large index cards and a colored marker to each participant, letting them know they would be keeping this card for themselves.  First, I asked them to respond to the prompt "Recently I was having a bad day because..." .  I gave them the example of my day starting off badly with my lingering cold and cough.  Their responses, shared verbally by choice after taking five minutes to write varied from "my car door handle fell off" to "my best friend passed away."  Several of the responses drew a supportive "God Bless You", or “I am sorry", and I shared, when appropriate, my feelings for their unhappy experiences.

Next, I asked them (on the same card), to write a response to this prompt "But I managed to find a few happy moments in it anyway, like..." .  I shared that, in spite of my cold, I was able to laugh at a funny YouTube video with two dogs dancing.  Responses to the second prompt, again shared verbally by choice, included:  "my boys hug me" or "to pray" or "the paramedics who helped me were cute."  Again, we talked a bit more deeply about their responses and the possibility that even a very bad day can have a few happy moments.  All of their verbal responses to both prompts I wrote down on a large paper pad framed on an easel.

Because the program director had shared with me that the concept of "community" might be new to some of the participants, for the third prompt, I showed on my large paper pad the equation:
             Community = 1 + 1 + 1

 I talked about how a community is made of up of me and at least two others--family members, friends, work colleagues or church companions.  I also shared the quote that “a wise person knows ‘enough’ is abundance."  (I could not recall the source).

 Then, I passed out colored medium-sized post-its and asked them to describe an experience where being in a community was "enough."  I gave them my example of recently being with a group of other writers.

This time I collected their responses (if they were willing to share, and all did) and read them aloud before sticking them to the large paper pad.  Responses included: "Faith Singing", "looking at the beautiful children being cared for by TMM...", and "I enjoy my job."

As we wrapped up the hour, I asked them, if they were willing, to share one thing they were taking away with them from the conversation.  The staff person said she now has the idea of starting a program newsletter; a participant offered to host a Bible study group "now that I see I am not alone", and another said she actually was taking away "four new things" and listed them in sequence.

I am always amazed at what I take away from these community conversations:  new ideas, hope, strength, and yes, more happiness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reflections on Tucson's Neighborhood Summer Sessions

Reflections the Neighborhood Infill Coalition (NIC) Hosted Neighborhood Sessions, a.fonte, 8.22.13

Earlier in the week, I thought I would be writing a detailed summary of the last of three NIC hosted Neighborhood Sessions held at Ward II this summer and posting it via my AnitaWrites blog.  But, as the days have passed, and I have had time to consider what role, as a neighborhood resident and as a professional in community development, I would be willing to take on as a result of these sessions, much of the “wind has gone out of my sail.”   

Maybe it’s the announcement this week of the “strategic pause” of Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT), yet another planning organization that did not meet community expectations for positive change.  I had devoted many hours as a volunteer and later as a consultant to IGT.  I co-facilitated the 2010-2011 Community Conversations and the subsequent policy analysis process that generated the IGT list of community values.  But, two years before IGT put itself on “pause”, I left the organization due to what I viewed as a significant (and non-community-based) decision to focus on transportation planning.  And I have experienced other efforts in the past years that, although begun with the intent to be inclusive and community-based, turned out to be top-down driven and, because of that, produced community plans with no community supported actions. 

The intentions and commitment of NIC and the other twenty-five neighborhoods who participated in this summer’s sessions are, I believe, positive and consistent with determined efforts they have demonstrated over the years.  Tucson is, for better or worse, a city-town of neighborhoods and small businesses.  We are not a corporate city, we are not a destination city for new businesses, in spite of economic development incentives and recruitment attempts to make us one.  Neighborhoods and small businesses are pillars of our region’s progress or stagnation.  These summer sessions were framed by NIC neighborhood leadership to be positive and proactive.  For the most part, they have been.  They have also been productive.  Here are several outcomes of this all-volunteer summer effort: 

  • A statement of neighborhood and community principles and goals, entitled “This We Believe”;
  • A quantitative summary of “desired organizational outcomes” for one or more neighborhood city-wide organizational structures;
  • Identification of (three potential and one current) organizational structures to implement the desired outcomes;
  • NIC’s invitation for another follow-up session in six months to access continued actions.
Within my neighborhood, I live in an HOA community.  Within that community, I am active in establishing a little free library to promote community building through reading.  These are focused steps I can do.  I have professional skills that I can and do contribute to the broader community through my business, Community Renaissance .  However, I won’t be taking on any new roles or responsibilities as I might have done a few years ago.  Instead, I deeply value the efforts of others I enjoyed working with this summer at these sessions and I will continue to share the word of their progress and successes.

If you want more specifics on this summer’s sessions, outcomes and next steps, send an email to Collette at .



UA's Peace Corps Fellows Program: Tucson BrightSpot

Over a decade ago, my HUD colleague, Ric Gerakos, asked me to arrange a meeting with UA "powers that be" to brainstorm the idea of bringing the Peace Corps Fellows Program to the UA Grad College.  He had experience with the success of this program in California and, with our Tucson and Phoenix HUD offices working together, he planted the seeds at NAU, ASU and UA.  The seed has flourished at the UA which now houses the 2nd largest Peace Corps Fellows Program in the USA. .  Currently, twenty-seven different UA academic programs support the Fellows' academic careers. Most are seeking master's degree but an increasing number take on the doctoral track. This year there are twenty-six new Fellows and three returning Fellows who have served in over twenty different countries while in the Peace Corps.

At the University of Arizona, the program has been nurtured by Georgia Ehlers (and other staff).  Georgia is in the red dress in the photo below.  Each fall a reception is held for incoming fellows and agencies and programs who attempt to get matched with a Fellow.  Community Renaissance was fortunate, when our PECE program was temporarily housed at the College of Education, to recruit a work-study Fellow, Beau James, who has helped with a wide range of community dialogue and conversation events.  Base grad tuition is waived for 2 years with possible additional scholarships for the students and, if it applies credit internships and/or work-study placements.  In return, students complete projects with their matched agency or program.  It's a Win-Win for everyone. 

I attend each year, reminiscing to myself how this program started and that it is probably my primary HUD legacy.  It's also a joyful time to listen to past Fellows, many who have gained professional employment with Tucson agencies, share their story about how this program has changed their lives.  It has changed our Tucson community, as well--and deserves to have attention as a Tucson BrightSpot!

Monday, August 19, 2013

More Happiness

Talk UP^ Tucson... was just added to this website:

I am looking forward to this week's Community Conversation on Community Happiness and Prosperity at TMM Family Services, Inc. and the fall conversations with UA Graduate College and the Pima County Public Library who is collaborating with SPS and its Downtown Lecture Series on Happiness. 

Here's a photo from July Community Conversation and book House Party, located in a Ward III neighbor-colleague's home.  We had a lot of fun, food and ideaing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Social Capital is the Number One Factor in Economic Mobility

I just saw this segnment on CNN and feel it is so important to share asap:

Based on a collaborative Harvard/Berkley study of the factors that affect economic mobility, and for the USA "The American Dream"--the element a community has or does not have that is #1 factor is Social Capital.  Considering the Arizona Daily Star's recent series, Losing Ground, which explored poverty in the Tucson region, I strongly encourage followers to spread the word that this study and its findings could be the basis of an indepth "Gaining Ground" response.  As a Reading Seed Volunteer for five years (and now a TUSD/classroom reading volunteer), I certainly support the Star and our mayor's call to increase the number of Reading Seed Tutors as one way to create a more positive potential outcome for our community's children.  But we need a deeper conversation about poverty in our midst and I believe the CNN story and research it cites is a good beginning.

Let me know if you are interested in moving forward with this approach by emailing me at .

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Local First Arizona Mixer, Tucson

This week, Mark and I attended our first Local First Arizona Mixer at Creative Juice Art Bar .  Both of our businesses have been Local First Arizona members since last November, but we haven't been to a Mixer before and now we think it will be regular "date" we had so much fun! 

We met some folks we knew and met quite a few that were "new" to us.  The experience at the Creative Juice Art Bar was just enough "art" for me to feel that I was capable of doing it.  Everyone had a complimentary wine glass, with wine served by Gallifant Cellars .  I tasted the pink and red wines and since it only takes a little bit of wine for me to get a buzz, I was willing to try painting the wine glass.  Paints, pallette, brushes and water were displayed on the tables and my finished product now holds the business cards I collected from this Mixer (and future ones).  Appetizers, pizza and a decandant flourless (gluten-free) chocolate caked were served by Renee's Organic Oven .  I went back for three servings of the artichoke cheese bruschetta and Mark had two thin slices of the cake, minus the bites I allowed myself.  There was a DJ and cool, easy music that kept the 70+ local business owners in an energetic and congenial mood--definitely enhanced by the artistic atmosphere and complimentary food.

Local First Arizona Tucson Coordinator, Deanna Cheavas, did a brief "update" of exciting Local First Arizona events and developments including the October launch of their Localism campaign.  I highly recommend you check out their website and sign-up for the newsletter and other ongoing updates from Local First Arizona.  And, of course:  go local! .

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Important Story on Poverty in Tucson: How do we build a more prosperous community for all?

The Arizona Daily Star is doing a terrific job this week, with their in-depth investigation on poverty in Tucson:  .

I hope that, after this series has been completed, Community Renaissance can collaborate with others in taking some "next steps" in answering the question I pose in the title of this post:  How do we building a more prosperous community for all?" 

I don't doubt that the majority of us in the Tucson region want more prosperity for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.  I really do believe that most people want a better life for everyone, not just themselves.  And the stories in the Star are showing how complex issues of poverty are for individuals and families.  So there's no easy answer.  But, like any problem, if the pieces can be taken in small steps, progress can be made.

When I first came to Tucson in 1971, recently graduated from college in the midwest, I felt at home here because I thought "ah, there are a lot of people like me here, struggling to survive."  Tucson has the same, if not worse, reality 42 years later.  Yes, choices were made and are still being made and some of the factors (such as our proximity to Phoenix where large external capital investments are often featured in the news) are beyond our control, but I think each of us can do take one more step to help solve this problem.

I have made several community commitments:  to assist my neighborhood and HOA as an active member, to weekly volunteer in a TUSD location, to volunteer for the public library and, when possible, to offer Community Renaissance's pro bono program, PECE, to assist with forward-leaning community conversations. 

These are my commitments and I am willing to take one step more.  What about you? (This is a picture from and their "commons"--it's the scene of Huck and Tom fixing up their community by painting a weathered fence.")

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bentley's for Lunch: Our "get out of the computer cave" BrightSpot

One of the challenges of working at home is getting out from the "computer cave" (i.e. home office) and reconnecting with the world.  I have found myself slipping into a more solitary mode the past few weeks and, as a result, my mood shifted to match with our partially cloudy skies.

So, today, I purposefully said to my spouse, "We are going out to lunch today.  Where do you want to go?"  A friendly spot, just south Mountain Ave. and east on Speedway, is Bentley's where we know we can get an affordable and tasty lunch and order from a selection of specialty teas.  Lately, we have been adapting to our budget and waistlines and split a meal.  Here's today's special for lunch: turkey (on multigrain from Small Planet Bakery) with provolone, sprouts, lettuce and Roma tomatoes.  We ordered a side salad and, for $1.00, added a second side of fruit.

All elements were fresh and plentiful. The total was $11.00 and it was enough for both of us.  (And, we confess, we also split a fudge brownie/not pictured which was tasty to the last smooth crumb).  The energy in the room elevated our spirits: two toddlers were flitting around like butterflies, conversations were animated and, as always, the parade of patrons is worth an extended time for viewing.  Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea is also a member of Local First Arizona, so make sure you take time for stopping there and supporting one of the first local cafes in Tucson.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Keep Tucson Fringey

In last week's Tucson's Weekly, the cover story was about the push-back from some Tucsonans to how the downtown and urban area of Tucson is changing.  The baseline comment was "Keep Tucson Shitty" (or not), comparing the phrase to "Keep Austin Weird."

In today's (8/1) Arizona Daily Star, Caliente section, there is a story about how the Mother Hubbard Cafe is evolving from a basic eggs, waffle and bacon diner to a niche gluten-free Native American comfort food eatery.  I haven't been there since this change has evolved, but it's on our "go to eat" list now.  What struck me in the article was this quote by a patron, Gary Svenson:

"Tucson is a fringe area.  It's not quite Mexican; it's not quite American...."

So, here's my suggestion to VisitTucson, The Chamber of Commerce, etc. (and I think it fits better than the lame phrase "Free Yourself"):

Keep Tucson Fringey!
Exciting entrepreneurship, exhilarating mountain landscapes, enticing entertainment--all and more happening in the Fringey Tucson area.

What do you think?  Can we start a campaign to Keep Tucson Fringey!  ?

Our Epic Sock Monkey Christmas: A Blog BrightSpot

Here is a blog I really like and just subscribe to; full disclosure, the blogger is my friendly neighbor!

Our Epic Sock Monkey Christmas