By Carrie Wenninger | CNA Media Team
Alder trees, native to the Northwest, excel at colonizing areas disturbed by floods, windstorms, fires and landslides. In doing so, they create fertile ground for the next generation…
Building on the reputation of the tree species, Alder Commons aims to reduce barriers between youth and adults of diverse backgrounds for generations now and those to come.
The community-based nonprofit sits on the corner of 42nd Avenue and Prescott Street, occupying the 7,000-square-foot building that most recently housed The Ivy School, a public Montessori charter.
The parking lot now hosts outdoor, socially-distanced gatherings, and it is home to Lonchería Los Mayas. That food cart is one of the first tenant-members. And, although plans for indoor programs are on hold during the Stay Home Save Lives order, Alder Commons has plenty of free offerings. (See sidebar.)
Beyond the chapel-like entryway, former classrooms will accommodate bustling pod-like spaces for exploring a variety of hobbies and interests.
Maker spaces and creative businesses will share knowledge and resources, and a quiet library-like sanctuary is waiting to invite reading and reflection.
The intended audience? A mixed-age community of youth and adults of diverse backgrounds with special consideration for school-age children.
The question naturally arises: Is it a school? A community center? A working artists’ space? Yes. Not exactly. Sort of.
Organizing team members Karl Keefer and Rachel Munzig are the driving force behind the organization, dedicated to putting in long hours to realize a new vision of learning.
“We are not a school; however, for some families, we could act as such,” Karl explained.
What Alder Commons does offer is something called self-directed education. That’s a form of liberation for young people. And it seeks to provide an affordable, equitable and culturally responsive alternative to public schools as well as a safe space for learners of all backgrounds.
This education model hopes to encourage and develop young artists, makers, curious youth and lifelong learners in ways that traditional schools often cannot.
“The desire to participate is the best motivator,” Karl pointed out. “And learning is always contextual. This is a place for true hands-on learning.”
Alder Commons’ core values are collective liberation, self-determination and community support. Here, students will find empowerment, practice consent and follow their interests.
“Ask yourself if these values fit with you, if this is a space you can imagine spending time in and, if so, join us,” Rachel said.
“It’s a small movement, but we feel that it’s growing,” she added. “There’s momentum, especially in a place like Portland.”
What’s Up Now? The membership-based Alder Commons has many of its plans on hold during the pandemic, although a drop-off childcare option for youth members is under consideration. If you’re interested, email Hello@AlderCommons.org.
Otherwise, all programs offered by Alder Commons during the Stay Home Save Lives order are virtual, free, open to all ages and voluntary. For instance, Tuesday offerings range between honing your skills at origami to participating in the “Being Wrong Club.”
Wednesdays advance Minecraft Bedrock play and Thursdays find a group sharing and developing strategies to advance justice and criminal justice reform.
One late-summer parking lot event was the Black Lives Matter Pop-Up Bookstore + Sign-Making Workshop. For details on these and the many other current, free, sociallydistanced and virtual programs, visit AlderCommons.org or call 503.893.9366.
Carrie Wenninger lives on 29th Avenue in Concordia. She is a freelance writer, a mom, a world traveler and a small business marketing consultant. Contact her at WurdGurl@gmail.com.