Report on a Town Hall Meeting

At Sweet 16, Wil Fisher, our Executive Director, and John Stasio, our Founding Director, led a Town Hall Meeting. Using an innovative approach, Wil began the Town Hall by getting conversations flowing between attendees of the meeting, sharing ideas one on one with different partners on each of eight questions in four minute sets, two minutes for each person to share and the partner to listen; followed by a group discussion in which what came out of the individual discussions as well as further ideas were shared and discussed. The questions were as follows:

  1. What are your favorite parts of Easton Mountain?
  2. How do you describe Easton to people who have never been here? What would you need to tell them to convince them to give Easton a try? Think about how you can talk about Easton in a way that someone may come here and give it a shot.
  3. What new retreats or workshops would you like to see here at Easton?
  4. What are your thoughts on diversity here at Easton? Gender, racial diversity, etc.
  5. How can we share the work at Easton with more people? How can we bring the work of Easton Mountain to more people?
  6. In what ways can we better our mission?
  7. What are some of your dreams for the future of Easton Mountain?
  8. In what ways do you want to contribute to the future vision of Easton Mountain? In what ways do you want to be a part of the future of Easton Mountain?

After this engaging discussion time, there was time for a group discussion as follows:

R – What I noticed this weekend, and the last time I was here (just over a month ago), I got here a bundle of nerves, I was exhausted, I was very caught up in the stresses of my work, some money stuff, home stuff, family stuff. I found a sense of release in meeting with old and new friends. There is programming very conducive to opening my mind and my heart. I am curious if there can be new programming to address that previous experience – we all have family problems, stress with our work. There is the idea of we bringing ourselves out into the world; but maybe also cultivating tools that when we go back into the world that don’t bog us down in the first place.

M – an idea that has floated in my mind and in conversations that I haven’t heard a lot about but would love to see happen – somewhere on this planet we need another Easton Mountain. Somewhere, there should be a community event to come together, to take our mission, to make that again – maybe a retreat offering business. But wherever, I think we need another, and maybe another. I would be really excited to think about how many lives of people who feel the call to be part of that, to leave their jobs, pack everything they own, and go somewhere with the crazy dream and will do it. I think it will be magic when that happens. I would not be surprised if people in this circle think it is so scary and also the biggest adventure in one’s life.

F – Something that came up in my conversations that we've talked about in the past – the idea in the piece of the mission about changing the world, being more nurtured and finding more ways to bring this mission out more. One of my conversations talked about Easton Mountain presents, to bring some of this programming out to the people more, like I've done with BYS myself. Using that model to do a day of programming to bring Easton out to other people, which might lead to what Mike is talking about – creating a presence in the world that brings our mission out.

S – We have the Singles retreat, which I love and I am part of. What occurs to me that I want to bring and create a retreat around is relationships. I want to bring to the Easton Community retreats and workshops about how to create relationships, how to identify the person who is for you, and how to navigate a successful relationship. I went on a mission to find out this information – and he wants to bring it to people to help them have what they want.

A – Bringing this fiber optic line in – is there a concept around – there are 100 cable channels out there, if there is an Internet channel for Easton Mountain that – a way for Easton, through the better connection with the world, which this hopefully will pan out to be, is an ability to broadcast out picturing Wil giving a weekly address of what you should be doing. The idea that our facilitators could find Easton as an industry expert on the ability to find different channels of learning and expression, the entire artistic presentations of Easton.

D – Building off an idea Freddy mentioned – bringing Easton on the road. Living Soulfully is our outreach program – and it is not being used effectively. We do a great job telling about future workshops, but not so much about the past. Maybe have each workshop facilitator give a two-minute video on their workshop for future people to see what happened in the past. I love the hot tub talks. More outreach, use the social media that people are using – this would help to reach new populations. It would help to build on our current Living Soulfully and website and go further. The staff knows where we live, let's build from there.

J – The conversations around diversity in our community have been really eye-opening. I am excited to see more diverse folks up here at our events. Diversity can be many ways – accessibility to limited mobility, age, approachable for young people. There is also the other side of that, for some of us, this was a place to come to be around gay men, and to be in that kind of safe environment in which we could be ourselves. There may need to be men's retreats, and then diverse retreats, or some sort of way that you can choose both – either or both. Where do women fit into this place? This is a big question sitting in a room with mostly male-identified people. I think this is something that hasn't been fully fleshed out. If I come here and assume it's something, and it's not, that can create some challenges.

A2 – The idea of specificity. So much of programming is kind of general – the spirit camps, and what have you. But at the same time, there is something really special about getting really specific, because you get the people who get the most individual experience out of it – such as Bear Your Soul which speaks to me – the ability to be around a whole group of people for whom that is a real part of their life, we get to have a special and personal experience. The good thing about the programming here is that you can be as specific as you want – Eros, Knitting, Elder, - things for people who are looking for something very specific. It is also wonderful to have the camps which are all-inclusive – gender, age, etc. where we all can come together. But beyond that, also that idea of specificity can give people a more individualized experience, and there can still be diversity within that – age, racial, trans – all working within that specific scope to make it still personal.

R – When there are specific gatherings, like GMAD, or Nehirim, or Knitting, when it is that specific, people may come here that never came here before. This can seed the diversity of the broad-based diversity. Because if everything has a general feeling, people can feel like that those are not ‘my type’ – the specificity helps introduce people to be here for the first time.

J2 – As a resident, one of the things I've seen in our specific workshops, it is really hard to fill them. It might be a good idea to take those really specific workshops and put them into the bigger workshops to have more diversity in that way.

M – Spring Awakening, this year; half of the people who came and taught came from Montreal, and the perception of everyone was how refreshing it was. If we just ran a workshop for Queer men from Montreal, but by inviting two groups to come together and see what happens when English-speaking guys meet French-speaking guys was really cool.

M2 – Is there a problem with small?

M – There's a business problem – to make it more fiscally possible. We have been working to get the small ones together on the same weekend. Some retreats need a protective container, so we try to make wise decisions to have only twelve people here and not invite another group because of the nature of what they do. We want to support the institution and the mission, so that they work together.

F – To add on to Spring Awakening – that worked because we had an extended community member who was passionate to make it happen. If you are passionate about something, bring it to one of us, and we will probably tell you that we are going to get you involved in making it happen.

D – One thought I had was extending our mission to people with various disabilities and handicaps. There's not the best word to find – not just disabled but also different. Such as PTSD, blind, deaf. I would love to see more engagement with those groups of people. There is a poignant thing happening – it can be very isolating to be gay and one of these groups – it can be healing to come to Easton Mountain.

N– Where Easton is very close to the Canadian border, at the moment it is a good target for attracting more interest from that population. However, the exchange rate is very negative for Canadians to come here. Perhaps a consideration of a small differential – not at the level of exchange but a courtesy differential to attract people by addressing that steep difference right now.

M3 – One thing that I would hope that Easton would continue – some of what I experienced here. It is a place of healing. The diversity here – the young workers who worked so hard for us and were also integrated with us – and their stories. The second thing is being so grateful of what this weekend has been for me. To hear a dream of wanting to focus on relationships – the question of a dream for me is to not only continue with Easton but to also come back with a partner to experience this with someone. I want to understand more of what relationships are and mean and is meaningful. Coming here unsure of coming to a community where clothing was optional – I didn't have a difficulty with that surprisingly – it was really moving for me to be in a community without clothing that didn't have a need for sexual activity – being free to be without clothes – a loving a free and environment.

M4 – I loved John's mass, that was really good. The first time I was here, and a good chunk of this time, it seems like Easton Mountain is very focused on the Eastern philosophies and traditions, and yet I know there are a number of gay men who have been rejected or come out of more Western philosophy and there is a desire to get more connected with that rather than to give it up and connect to something else. Seeing more of that in some way would be great.

Wil prompted the participants to share more about their visions for the future of Easton, and how the mission can be fulfilled more by the expanded community of Easton, asking “some of the things I'm curious about is how we can fulfill on our mission more. And our future – how you see it and your part in it.”

S – In thinking about the future, my first thought was in twenty years what would it be like, and the land, some of these buildings, you want to be the same. The fiber optics would be nice. How to reach out to people – older gay men grew up in a different culture than the younger gay men – how do you reach out to people who are not grouped in the same places – we are not all forced into one place – the challenge here – Easton is coming to its second generation of life, and how do you reach out there and appeal to people who aren't necessarily so ostracized, or separated, or in the closet. I'm out now, but in the 80's I wasn't. You might go through life and not realize you need a space like this until you experience it. You may need a refuge for a world you are embedded in, but not realize you need it until you experience it. 90% of what is going on – is perseverance.

H – I think I am doing a great thing, doing something that is going to change the world. I have an envy for many of you who are out in the world and speak to people about Easton. My role is to sit here and do what we are doing here, to stay by the metaphorical fire and keep it burning. It's the most wonderful, and most difficult thing, I've ever done – to love these people I live with, and they in turn accept me and love me. If we were not doing this, none of you would be here; if we were not doing this and you came here, you would not want to come back because we were not doing the work that is required. We are not ready for a West Coast Easton Mountain until we can do this REALLY well and the people we send can do. What we are doing has failed colossally in so many places so we want to learn how to do this well first before going further. It's so small to say this is what I am going to do for the future of Easton Mountain – for those of you who would want to have an idea of what Easton Mountain looks like – come stay with us for four seasons and see what we really are – see the thing we doing that is unbelievable.

S2 – As we talk about what we can do for the mission statement of Easton Mountain. I actually don't know the mission of Easton Mountain verbatim in my head. The first thing I do for other projects is to learn the mission statement verbatim – and I am going to do this for Easton Mountain so I am present to it – and I wonder if we could pull some key words out of it to have around the place – maybe on business cards and things so it's constantly in our minds – being constantly in the mission statement.

J – I'm seeing the beginnings of the future happening. One of the things I'm pretty excited about, and is key to the future, is really making sure that the physical stuff here is up to the demands of the place. The new well is really key; so you are not worrying about that stuff, and are thinking more mission based will serve the organization well. One of the things on that note, is that as we are aging population, we want to bring in young people; but this place is also tough to get around for those who are not able to get around – think about the facility not have issues for accessibility (i.e., physical).

M4 – one of the other thoughts I had, about how can we get the word out about Easton to others. We all have our sphere of influence, people we know to share about workshops from. I would like to see Easton empowering, or actively requesting that we do that – that we share more about Easton. We all have people in our lives that could benefit from this. Maybe Easton can find the therapists and physicians out there who don't know about this place, to let them know about Easton as a resource for their clients – having some way of getting that word out.

Wil ended the Town Hall by inviting participants to share feedback on the format, or any ideas or thoughts that did not come up, to reach out to him and/or John.