Saturday, March 6, 2010

What We Do Here at Gilbert House....All of our Business on the Table....

We received a letter via email asking about what we do here at Gilbert House, what our expenses are, and that we explain what's going on here. People actually ask these questions all the time. After discussing the query, and looking over our sadly-neglected homepage, we've realised that maybe we're not very clear in our intentions, and decided that maybe this is information that should be put out there for anyone who wants to know. In the interest of full disclosure, for anyone who's interested, here's the gist of it:

Thank you very much for your inquiry. We'd be happy to share with you:

1. "Do you know Mark and Louise Zwick?" Miki has met them a few times over the years--most recently a few years ago at the GK Chesterton Society Conference when Dale invited them to speak. She also calls them every now and again for advice and mentoring. They have, a couple of times, sent cases of their book for us to distribute (which has been a GOD-send), and we receive/read/share their community paper, amongst others, but that's the extent of our contact currently.

On an aside, it might also help you to know that Miki is the vinter for the American Chesterton Society, and a few of their members are friends and supporters of our house; Dale Ahlquist is not only a friend of the Zwicks, he is a dear friend of ours, was Miki's confirmation sponsor, and remains to this day something of a spiritual father to her. It was that tie, specifically, that had us choosing to christen the house after G.K. Chesterton and, when we are able to expand, our second house will be named for G.K.'s wife, Frances. And, yes, it will be used primarily for transient community.

2. "What are your average monthly utilities?" Electric and gas budget plans run about 170.00 a month and water is approximately 85.00 every quarter. We have a friend of the house who pays for our phone/uplink.

3. "What is the monthly mortgage payment?" 536.00, plus 45.00 insurance. Miki took a part-time job as a night auditor at a hotel so that we can make double payments as often as possible. Because this house is very small (three bedrooms, one bath), we want to pay it off quickly so that we can put it in trust, and then purchase the next-door neighbor's house to expand our community.

4. "What is the monthly grocery bill?" This varies considerably, sometimes by two-to-three hundred dollars. During the summer and autumn, it's very low--around 100-150 a month for staples like flour, sugar, coffee, cereals, eggs, etc. It all usually depends on how well the garden does, how often people come to us for emergency food, and how many impromptu community potluck meals we have the opportunity to serve ever month....which we really need to start up again.

As to your questions about our house, it was actually, once upon a time, a farm house. The story goes that about a century ago, it was built by a man from a Sears & Roebuck kit as a wedding gift for his bride on a triple town lot, and that she spent her life turning the whole place into a garden and safe haven for chickens, rabbits and the like. The neighbor's house that we are praying/striving to add to our community sits on the other two lots, now. Slowly but surely, we keep tearing out bits of grass and replacing it with garden plots once again.

Shortly, there will be four who live permanently in our house. We have a couple of sofa-sleepers in the living room, the narrower of which can be dragged into the dining room if we have a family come to stay with us for short periods. What had been just "the library" is now Amanda and another girl's room, as it is the largest in the house. We are working hard to pay off the house so that we can make a contract with our neighbor, because we quite regularly have someone sacked out on at least one sofa. And, we've recently been asked by a couple who travel with the carnivals if they and some of their friends can pitch tents in our backyard and have access to our kitchen and bath this summer for the weeks before, during and after the Wisconsin Renaissance Faire--it won't be the first time we've had tents back there, and it definitely won't be the last, I'm sure.

We also have friends of the house in a couple of neighboring towns--mostly academics--who let us use their guest rooms in a pinch when we need them to make up for the space and resources that we lack. That's actually been helpful when we've had kids and young adults in violent situations (here's a clue to why this is such a deep-seated problem here: we live in a town of 1,200 people and we have *nine* bars within a five-mile area--alcoholism and multi-generational violence are no strangers here) who need to find some safe distance and quiet while we find other arrangements.

Our main charism at Gilbert House started out with just living and teaching sustainable community, but it has kind of shifted in a strange way to advocacy and shelter for young adults. We find ourselves putting alot of effort into shuttling abused or neglected teenagers to and from jobs to help them get their start, or to Red Cedar Medical Center's community behavioural health program so that they have a safe place to work through whatever might be causing their lives turmoil when it's more than can be dealt with here. We also try very hard to engage them with the local community; for instance we have quite a few elderly in our neighborhood and, as much as possible, we take a couple of kids with us here and there, go clean, weed, and tend those neighbor's yards and gardens if they cannot (and shovel and clear snow in the winter), use the refuse in our compost, and try to identify any needs that they might have that we can assist with--this has been a great tool for getting some of our kids interested in the lives and needs of others. When we identify those needs, we try to help meet them as best we can.

We are currently exploring a partnership with our local Newman Center and a couple of parishes in the neighboring diocese to help increase not only our local presence, but also to more strongly establish what we can do as a CW community to be proactive in healing and strengthening our local community. In the future, we hope to establish a sister house with a similar charism in nearby Menomonie. And we are always open to suggestions and new opportunities, just so long as they are in keeping with the Magisterial teachings of the Church (especially as they relate to social justice) and to the Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker Movement.

Thanks very much for your questions! If you'd like to know anything else, please don't hesitate to ask; we're happy to tell you!

Please pray for us.

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