The Town Hall began with John Stasio introducing the concept of the Town Hall, and the purpose of the meeting. He indicated that part of the mission at Easton is to build an extended community to meet Easton’s “lofty goals.” One aspect of the community, according to John, is that everyone’s voice counts. For years, the community of Easton has gathered to hold these Town Meetings, a New England form of democracy and governing where people would come together to make decisions about things, mundane and lofty. In this vein, the Easton Town Hall Meeting is a forum that offers an opportunity to ask questions, for all of us at Easton to share information about what is going on, some of our hopes and aspirations, and to enroll all of the extended community at Easton to whatever extent each individual wants to be enrolled in what is done here at Easton Mountain, and beyond Wil noted that he and John were looking forward to hearing from everyone; not only their questions, concerns, acknowledgements, and observations, but also what people are excited about, their dreams and visions for Easton Mountain and how Easton might be able to support that in a collaborative manner. Wil re-emphasized that Easton is not just a place created by the twelve guys who live here year round, but by all of us who are connected to Easton in all ways. Wil noted that he wants to keep this expansiveness going, and is looking for ways to bring in more people – not only for their volunteer hours but also for their ideas and dreams for Easton.
John then opened the floor for questions to guide the remainder of the Town Hall meeting. Here is the list of issues raised:
- Diversity ethnic background,
- Diversity in Gender Expression,
- Food at Easton,
- Governance at Easton,
- Financial Reports,
- WiFi, Staffing,
- Cultural Diversity
Wil Fisher began the discussion about diversity at Easton. He noted that diversity is something he feels very committed to. Wil shared that, at the talent show on Saturday evening, Ken had spoken about racial tensions happening in our country recently, and that this was enlightening and important to bring the message to the room. Wil noted he has recognized that Easton is predominantly a group of white men, and that this is okay; but that if we, Easton as a whole, are going to make a powerful impact in this world, we can’t just be a representation of white gay men. We need to start expanding beyond that and look at ways that we at Easton can welcome more people to Easton who have different experiences and different voices. Wil acknowledged that this is a tricky task. He shared about last Winter Spirit Camp, which was the most diverse group Wil had ever seen at Easton – that it was varied in age, the color of people’s skin, people’s backgrounds. At the end of Winter Spirit Camp, Wil shared that one of the five African-Americans in attendance told Wil that he still felt very isolated and looked at, and as a result of this discussion there is work being done at Easton for gay men of African-American descent to have a retreat, with the hope that folks can start to feel that this is their home too – that they have the experience of being one of many even in other events. Wil noted that he is hoping for more efforts like this. Wil shared that a member of Easton’s extended community, Michael James, is taking on this initiative as well; that Easton is looking at ways that Easton can market to groups that serve people of color, and that these people know about the scholarship program Easton has so that Easton can welcome folks from these organizations to our organization. Wil emphasized that this is a process he and Easton as a whole are committed to. Wil hopes in the next year to see more people of color throughout the year.
Freddy Freeman shared that a couple of weeks ago he and David Goodman were part of a virtual conversation about race in the Bear community with a gentleman who is producing a Bear event called “Bears of All Color.” Freddy noted that he and David were the only white ones in attendance, and that Freddy had asked, as a person who is not a person of color who produces events, what he can do to help. Freddy shared that the other participants had noted that saying “people of color are welcome” is not enough; that people who are white or places that are predominantly white need to go the extra mile and have photo shoots with people and color and more representation of diversity in photographs used for advertising events. This led Freddy to be more committed this year to work with photographers at this year’s events to show diversity in the retreats to send the message that we at Easton are welcoming and a diverse community.
John Stasio shared that he is mindful of how painful and macro this topic of diversity is, and how “a lot of us struggle in our own lives to be more conscious of our preconditioning.” He requested that we be patient with each other, and that we don’t use these things to polarize against each other. He noted that there are a number of programs where we have active recruitment for diversity.
Wil continued on the topic of diversity, noting that the Qtopia event over Labor Day Weekend this past year had a big emphasis on social justice, and that this past year we had someone give a workshop on white privilege. Wil noted that Easton is working to grow this. Wil also shared about the workshop that it came out that not only do we need to welcome folks we can serve, but we, Easton, needs to consider how we can empower them, such as the Gay Men of African Descent, and other weekends Wil is looking for time when people of color can come into leadership positions. Wil noted that we, at Easton, are not experts in this and we need education as we go into this, so that we can do it as mindfully and heart-centered as possible.
Diversity in Gender Expression
Wil Fisher began the discussion of diversity in gender expression by noting that Qtopia is an example of diversity in gender expression being welcomed here at Easton. He noted that a strong effort at Qtopia was made by Easton to welcome folks who were not gay men – trans, lesbians, bisexuals, etc. He said it was not sure if Qtopia would work or not, and it worked – it was, according to Wil, really a beautiful representation of so many gender expressions and sexualities. Wil also shared that Qtopia wasn’t just about bringing this rainbow together to hang out, but also to talk about these very issues and how they impact us, and how we can bridge the differences. He shared that Qtopia was a very powerful weekend, and that Easton feels very good about that initiative and hopes it will plant a strong seed for more weekends like it, where there is a diverse representation of all genders and all sexualities. That being said, Wil emphasized, not all camps will be like that. Easton has a foundation of being founded by gay men for gay men, and this is not changing – most events at Easton, including signature events such as Gay Spirit Week and Hail the New and many others, will remain for all men only. Easton, he reassured attendees, is still committed to camps for men, and that Easton recognizes the importance of that. Wil also noted that the LGBTQ community is evolving and becoming less segregated. Wil noted that Easton needs to keep up with these changes, but also preserve what we have been historically. He also noted that there are many in the trans community who have found this place (Easton) and that Easton has the capacity to help these folks. Wil re-emphasized that there are still going to be retreats for only gay men here at Easton, but there is also, Wil feels, a need to open the doors to all of the LGBTQ community as well, to be part of the movement that is impacting the world, to bring in more people from the community.
John Stasio noted that this topic is more close to home than the prior discussion of diversity. John shared that we live in a culture where people of differing opinions have a hard time talking with each other. John noted he has received communication from people over the past six months of concern about the changing gender demographics at Easton. He shared that many of us still carry subtle means of not feeling included, and that when we create place that is “our space” we feel protective of that “gay only” space, a place to be in the company of other gay men only. Easton is committed to being a place for gay men to be with other gay men only; but will also make a space for other people to share in Easton as well. John reassured attendees that while Easton is committed to the full spectrum, Easton will still offer a place for “boys to be with boys.”
Wil noted during this discussion that there is a retreat being produced for gay elders, and that Easton is looking for ways that Easton can serve other ‘tribes’ as well – to create opportunities for folks of those experiences to come together and share what that experience is like. Wil also noted that another retreat in the works is one for Queer families, whether the parents and/or children are LGBTQ; and one for gay blind men. He also shared there are the young adult programs; and that Easton is looking for ways to make all of these program initiatives sustainable and keep them going financially. It was noted that Spring Awakening in 2016 is going to focus on integrating the French-speaking gay men from Quebec into Easton. Wil asked that if folks have ideas for different demographics / tribes that they are a part of to please let Easton know and we can work together to see what we can create.
John Stasio started off the discussion about food at Easton by noting that, as many of you in the room know, we have had a change in Easton’s kitchen. Vanessa, who was here this summer and some of the fall, will be joining Easton this month and taking on more responsibility in the kitchen. John noted that Al, who has been with Easton for many years, has been a very loyal and faithful caterer, has a long list of gifts and liabilities, and that Easton will be using him less frequently – he may not be Easton’s exclusive caterer, he may be at Easton to fill in, or he may not be at Easton at all; Easton does not know what the future will be for that. John noted that Easton wants to continue to provide healthy, tasty meals on a budget, given Easton’s style and facilities. John also noted that food is near and dear to most of our hearts and bellies, and that Easton will do the best possible to make the food here healthy, tasty, and meet the needs of people who come with food allergies, non-animal protein, dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc. John acknowledged there are a lot of challenges on food issues, and some people who learned to cook a long time ago are out of their league in these things due to lack of information. John noted that what Easton can expect to see is an increase of available options for special needs that will be delivered with love and care. John ended by noting that Easton welcomes everyone’s feedback about the food.
It was noted that it is important to remember that clarity about what is in the food – that ingredient lists, emphasizing allergens, are very important to be provided with each dish.
Wil shared that he is excited for people to experience Vanessa, that she comes out before every meal with a big beaming smile to tell you what is in each dish; and that labels are provided, bringing a lot more clarity. He also shared that another reason Easton is excited about Vanessa is her commitment to see how Easton can partner with some local farms and take advantage of being in the country – to do local farm food sourcing and developing Easton’s garden. Wil noted that this is not just a way that we all can start eating healthier but a way that Easton can model a different way of being in this world (a key thing we are doing at Easton – being different in the world) – such as how we interact with Mother Earth. Wil noted that Easton needs to look at better ways to reduce our ecological footprint in the world. Wil also noted that Vanessa is committed to bringing people in, that she thinks about how she can use the resources of the community.
Pathfinder shared that Vanessa makes the kitchen into a community kitchen, that she invites people into the kitchen and it is warming to his heart. He feels that with time this is really going to work out.
Wil continued discussing Vanessa, noting that Vanessa co-founded the Easton Mountain Leadership Academy (EMLA) with Wil, and that the two of them have been welcoming graduates of the programs, young adults who are risk, to come up to help Vanessa in the kitchen – that Easton is making a way for these people to make money and stay a part of the community.
Freddy Freeman asked if someone can talk about the food safety issues here at Easton.
David Goodman noted that since he took over, he took his role very seriously, and that over the year he was here the licensing has been looked at, including the kitchen needing licensing. David noted there are people on site who are licensed by New York City and the state of New York who can raise our level of hygiene in the kitchen.
Governance at Easton
John Stasio began the discussion of governance at Easton by offering a history. Fifteen years ago, when John bought Easton, he cobbled together friends and angels to finance the purchase of the land. He tried to make Easton happen as a business, and it didn’t work. Four years later, Easton became a 501(3)c organization; it has always had residential volunteers, and now some stipended residents and some paid workers – these people have had a say in what happens in EM along with the Board of Directors. There is a residential community, then as the operation has picked up, there is a staff of some paid, some volunteer, who take full-time responsibility for marketing, food service, guest relations, fundraising, programming, etc. – the management team. Then there is the closely connected extended community who come a lot, who have a voice in what is done. There is no clear outline. Some decisions are made quickly because they are critical; some are based on our beliefs; and some have lengthy discussions. This is an organic community-based process that has definite decision-making centers around issues; it depends on the nature of the issue on who has the most influence on the decision. The Board has a set of bylaws, based on a Quaker community – three-year and one-year terms, with no more than two consecutive three-year terms. The bylaws are open – they can be seen by anyone. The membership of the Board is on the website as well.
Andrew Kerivan (Easton Board Treasurer) discussed the financial reports. Andrew has been on the board for about a year; and one of the hopes he has is to add, although it has not been fully decided upon; to have a section on the website to have the 990 document (financials) and audits to be available for all. The budget for 2016 was just passed. He shared that Easton is looking towards this year to doing a 2-3 page annual report that is a very summary-type thing to capture some basic major statistics, and that the budget document created has some of this, which will be the basis of a short annual report. If there are specific questions people have, and want to see, please let Easton know, because that document will be formed soon. He also shared that there is talk of putting together committees such as fundraising, and that Easton is looking to support Sine’s work with grants for targeted programs. The board meets at least twice a year in person, and twice a year on the phone.
It was asked if there has been discussion of endowments and sustainable funding for the future of Easton.
John Stasio responded that Easton is a precarious organization that makes extremely good use of extremely limited resources. Easton is trying to address infrastructure, increase membership, and take better care of its residents. Things are trending in the right direction, and more discussion can happen later.
A participant shared with the community that he’s run volunteer organizations in the past; in organizations that are run by volunteers, it is the volunteers themselves who get involved – if you want to see things happen, you have to make them happen.
It was asked if the 2015 bookings were up considerably, and this was confirmed by Freddy Freeman, who noted that according to his reports the bookings were up significantly in 2015 – about 35% from the prior year.
It was noted that Easton did a great job marketing Qtopia and EM has fixed costs, so the more full weekends the harder it is on the resident staff but the better for the finances. What is the vision for building more programs, more sleeping quarters so you can have more beds to bring in more funds?
Wil responded to this, indicating that the program calendar for 2016 indicates that Easton is packed, and that Easton is really excited about the programs on the calendar.
John continued the response to this, discussing an idea that is on the drawing board and hoped to roll out later this year – a plan to develop cabins on the property that would be built by members of the extended community who want to be here for extended times. Dave Miller is working on a green and affordable model for this – on a parcel up near the Concord House that has road, electricity, etc. What that would give Easton, is when the cabin is not being used, Easton could lease the space back from the owner and use it for retreats. This gives long-term sustainability preliminary proposal about this will be coming in 2016.
John Stasio began the discussion about membership by noting that Mike Hands has been working hard on membership. What was not clear for a long time, according to John, was what was being offered as part of membership. Membership at Easton was originally intended as a stewardship, to make members feel like they were invested in Easton. John also noted that sometimes a clear membership program has been hard for Easton – that traditional membership programs have class-based systems where those who give more money have more voice, and that this is not comfortable to Easton where the community is where people are free to move in and out of involvement regardless of their status and financial abilities and everything else – so that creating a membership model with Easton’s mission in mind and the physical things has been hard. Now, Easton is looking to a new goal for the next year to get even more members; John wants people to say what they want to see as a part of membership – to have people give of their gifts, their time, etc. John asked the people in the room to encourage others to become members.
Wil shared that initiatives have been started to bring members together in cities where members reside, and that Easton is looking to do more of these in 2016 – not only to bring together members and appreciate them, but also to look for ways that members can help support the Easton mission in their own communities such as offering workshops and volunteering in local communities, to have a positive impact on the world.
A participant asked about a visual yearbook to show the people involved, and Wil responded that it sounded like a good idea.
Freddy Freeman noted that one thing needed this year by Easton is people to represent Easton in Prides and festivals in other cities.
Mike Hands noted that the numeric good news is that membership income was up 112%. He shared that Easton’s main goal is to clean up messy accounting, and the biggest thing that will help in the next few months is some new software to help people manage membership themselves. Mike mentioned also that Easton might look at tracking not only who is a member, but also what they have done and how they have interacted at Easton; and also to reach out to others who should become members.
David Goodman began the discussion about the WiFi. He noted that it is a complicated situation that Easton finds itself in. Easton is physically located in a rural location where the physical stuff that comes onto the land is old and outdated. David has been working with Cornerstone, who took over from Verizon the lines coming into Easton, and will report to the Board in the next few weeks about his progress. David noted that there is hope this year will be better, but the issue is that the Internet that comes into Easton is sufficient for a 4-6 person suburban home; this is not enough for our business here at Easton let alone also guests. David also noted that the WiFi / Internet issue puts a huge amount of pressure on the residents at Easton, that it is talked about weekly.
John Stasio began the discussion on staffing by noting that Easton is in a time of transition with staffing and long-term resident changes. David Goodman is leaving. A new person arriving is Alan Haney, taking David’s place, in February. Vanessa is coming into the kitchen this month. Sine is still here. Philip Deal has moved on. Rene Arias is going to continue to be here at Easton on a part-time basis as he is starting school and trying to strike a balance between school and Easton. Jeffrey Couglar is moving to be more a part of the permanent community as well. The remainder of the old timers will be around.
Mike Hands suggested that a helpful workshop would be to have people who have lived at Easton tell their story to people in the extended community who might want to join the residents – to hear about how people got to come here and the process of doing so.
Wil Fisher noted that Easton does not function like a typical corporation or non-profit. Easton doesn’t put out job listings; Easton has been trusting Spirit to bring people that Easton needs who also need Easton. Easton is looking for ways to be more proactive to find people to fill gaps, but noted that Easton is also committed to not just being a retreat center but also a sanctuary where people can give back as they become part of the team. Easton is also bringing more structure to the table, such as Wil looking at establishing roles and responsibilities more clearly. He also noted that Easton is looking for more folks to join the team.
David Goodman discussed recycling. He noted that Easton does a lot of recycling – we keep our plastics, our tins, our paper, and our fat for recycling. David also acknowledged that we can probably do more in terms of recycling. David noted that composting has been paused for the winter because of the snow and ice making composting dangerous for those carrying the compost to the compost heap. David reassured everyone that composting would begin again in the spring.
It was suggested that Easton put recycling bins in the rooms. David noted that recyclables left on the counter / dresser would be recycled, but that garbage is not gone through for recycling. He asked if those who had recyclables would bring them to the Lodge for recycling.
It was suggested that we do better labeling and more recycling bins being available, and this is something Easton will work on.
The meeting was concluded.