What do you do with a former convent without the nuns to fill it? When the Archdiocese of Chicago wanted to rent its former convent at 4637 North Ashland in Chicago, a founding group of a dozen people wanted to live cooperatively. The Stone Soup Ashland Cooperative was has been a going concern ever since, housing hundreds of leaders in Chicago's vibrant social justice movement over its 12-year history. Nineteen members call it home, complete with six guest bedrooms. $485 per month gets you food, utilities, wi-fi Internet, subscriptions to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, laundry facilities and local (not cable) television.
Stone Soup Ashland’s mission of social justice and joy attracts people who are out to leave the world a better place. Current residents include an attorney representing undocumented workers, a teacher at a low-income school, a person working on refugee resettlement, a web designer and a cartographer. Recent college graduates moving to Chicago for internships at small non-profit organizations, or in the social justice arena, are typical applicants. Many have never lived co-operatively before. People often stay for two or three years, although four or five residents have stayed longer.
Meetings and Household Harmony
Weekly meetings keep the household running smoothly. The agenda is posted near the mailroom so anyone can add to it. Meetings are conducted council style, with typically 10 to 15 attendees. To meet council-style means that everyone sits in a circle and speaks when the talking stick comes to them, ensuring that each person has the opportunity to be heard. The goal is to provide a safe space for sharing. Although the consensus process, in which a member can vote in favor, abstain or block, takes longer, it produces durable, often surprising, solutions. Meetings usually take two to three hours. In addition to the weekly meetings, twice-yearly retreats prevent resentments from festering. So far, the budget for training and mediation has been tapped only for training.
Each member is required to contribute four hours per week for assigned chores. The schedule, and the estimated time commitment, posted in the mailroom clearly indicates each member’s assignment. If someone is not holding up their end of the agreement, a designee talks with slackers.
Shopping within a budget and cooking for 25 people in the big industrial kitchen are some of the chores. Dinner is served on Sunday and Monday nights; Tuesday is potluck night with the Stone Soup Leland house a block away. The Thursday potlucks are open to anyone. Each resident cooks their own breakfast and lunch from the larder or communal leftovers. There is also an area designated for residents’ personal food. Often when no dinner is scheduled, someone ends up cooking anyway.
The bedrooms have the spare quality that one would expect of a former convent. About the size of a dorm room, they are not large and the closet isn’t either. Storage this limited is a powerful incentive to pare down to the essentials. A sink in each room alleviates competition for the bathrooms and waiting for a shower is rare.
Children and/or pets
Children have lived at Stone Soup on two separate occasions. One child was five-years old, the other seven-years old. The area near the kitchen has two bedrooms, which worked out well for the parent and their child. Each situation was a pleasant experience, partly because the parent set the tone, did not abdicate responsibility, and reined their child in when they became obnoxious. Stone Soup Ashland does not allow pets.
Intangible, substantial benefits
· Connections: Among the many Stone Soup advantages is living among others committed to social justice. Especially because many of the residents’ employers typically operate on commitment, creativity, and a shoestring, being able to galvanize a community that supports your commitment, amplifies one’s effort beyond measure and adds welcome heft to worthy projects.
· Flexibility: One resident studied in South America for six months and returned to her room when her sublet expired.
Most members leave Stone Soup on good terms. Many alums stay in touch, but prefer more distance. Some leave to live alone and others to live with a partner. Some become weary of discussing so many issues and the inherent demands of living in a community. Although living with this many people is not without its challenges, the rewards are enormous as well. Living among a committed group of people in a community with a mission of social justice and joy works for many.
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