The two days spent in Stevens Point were lovely – I was able to spend time touring the downtown area, which included a stop at Q Artists Cooperative, a successful gallery space that has been in operation for several years, as well as bike through the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, where I paid special attention the School of Natural Resources, as a long of students are interested in renewable energy or conservation work that is well suited to be done through cooperative business. My host in town, Margaret Bau – a veteran cooperative development who works for USDA Rural Development in their Wisconsin state office, informed me that Stevens Point is home to the largest Polish diaspora outside of Chicago, which explained all the many businesses and churches with names ending in -ski.
The tour would not be complete without a trip to the Stevens Point Area Cooperative which, though relatively small, boasted a lot of great features – the health and wellness section of the store comprised roughly a third of the available shelfspace. Later, Margaret explained later that this was likely due to the influence of the National Wellness Institute, which has its headquarters in town. The entryway to the cooperative is a great little alcove with a number of postings for events and by community members. The Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute poster was front and center, with a florescent arrow pointing to it indicating it was happening “This Week!”
A highlight of my time touring the town was a stop at a lemonade stand run by two children down the street from the college campus. They reported they were only charging twenty-five cents or a cup, but were finding that most folks were choosing to pay a full dollar. When I asked what they intended to do with their earnings, I was informed by the older of the sibling duo that he would be buying super-all-star-battle (or something like that) figurines – in other words, it didn't sound like there would be any profit sharing happening, if it ended up being up to him!
I also spent several hours while in Stevens Point hanging out and working on my computer in Emy J's, a coffee shop with ice cream! While working on the patio, I overheard a group of young people talking and joking about being the “youth of the world,” like in an old song, but that being the “youth of the world” was no longer as romantic or great as it was suggested in the song – being a youth in the world today means having debt, little economic opportunity, and a number of other challenges not of our own making. Though I was a bit nervous to do so, I approached them after hearing their conversation and told them about the Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute and, more generally, about the cooperative movement. They were very receptive and thanked me for having the nerve to approach them - while I didn't see them at the training that night, I do think and hope that they will come the next time I am in town or follow-up with some research on their own. A lot of the work of the Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute so far as just been making individual connections and starting conversation that are to be continued sometime in the future.
The training was attended by two folks, so we had the chance to delve deep into the interests and questions of participants. Paul, who lives in Stevens Point and works at a local credit union that has on campus locations in area high schools, was interested in exploring how his and other credit unions can branch out into other services - much like mutual aid societies in Latin American countries.
On the way out of town, I was able to stop at the Stevens Point sculpture garden, where I met a city worker who was there to check on the piece of art he had contributed to the garden! There were also some "Peace" flags hanging in trees that were created by elementary students - they were a mix of "Peace = Hockey," patriotism, and some quite thoughtful comments on what peace looked like in both the day to day (e.g. friendship) and more broadly (e.g. no war).
To see a photo album with more details about my timing and the training in Stevens Point, go here.