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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Celebrating Ashland's social inventers

Among the manifestations of Ashland’s vitality are the number of its residents who get a big idea and act on it with enough skill and perseverance to bring it to fruition. I have the good fortune to call many of these folks my friends.

I’ll begin with John Javna, whom I’ve never met but whose Ashland Food Project operated under Peace House’s fiscal sponsorship when I was its chair. His system of neighborhood-organized door-to-door food collection is now operating in 45 cities in 11 states. It has significantly increased donations to local food banks. Interviewed in Grist Magazine’s “A Beacon” last month, John explained his approach: “You take somebody’s impulse to do something on their own and combine it with other people’s impulse to do it on their own, and engineer a system that makes it possible for each of them to play a part in creating a bigger impact.”

I became friends with Jeff Golden shortly after relocating to the Rogue Valley. I’ve admired a number of his civic enterprises, including “Immense Possibilities,” the SOPTV program he created and emceed to showcase local work that has enhanced our shared lives. Here I’ll single out The Abundance Swap, which Jeff created in 2001.

In a letter still posted on the web at

abundanceswap.org/Letter.html, he explained how he came up with the idea. Now held at the Historic Armory early each December, the Swap is an occasion for people to exchange nice things they own but aren’t using for such things others own, and then gift them instead of buying more stuff for the holidays. It’s become an anticipated community event, and it’s spread to at least 25 other cities.

My friends Bill Kauth and Zoe Alowon teach people to build small, supportive communities because, as the title of their handbook says, “We need each other.” When Bill was a social worker in Wisconsin, in 1984, he co-founded The ManKind Project. Now established in more than 21 nations, MKP is a global network of nonprofit organizations focused on male initiation, self-awareness and personal growth. Every week, some 10,000 men participate in peer-facilitated groups (see the article in Wikipedia for a full description). In Ashland, Bill and Zoe have founded mixed-gender groups, which they call tribes. They are reaching beyond Ashland with online courses and speaking tours to incentivize and guide others in forming them.

Inspired by the success of the AIDS Quilt, in 2015 Cathy DeForest founded Vision Quilt, a gun violence-prevention program that uses art and dialogue around the making and displaying of quilt panels to help individuals and communities create their own solutions. Vision Quilt addresses the problem in a nonpolitical way, and gun owners as well as survivors have created panels. Now focused primarily on youngsters living in heavily impacted neighborhoods, Vision Quilt is very active in the schools of Oakland and the East Bay.

I’ll end with Megan Danforth, who created Rogue World Music. Two Sundays ago, the Rogue World Ensemble gave its final performance, but Megan’s commitment to bring music from around the world to our area will continue to be realized through the Choristers program for children in the Phoenix-Talent School District, the annual World Music Festival in Ashland, smaller groups that have spun off from the ensemble, and sponsored visits by performers from many cultures.

Every project I’ve described in this column has made a significant contribution to the common good, but Megan’s has been especially joyful.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.

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