In our April 2021 newsletter, front porch announced that we would be shifting from focusing solely on international resource connection to including US-based projects as well. We saw the inclusion of domestic projects as a natural shift, given our immediate connection to rural communities—“shop local,” if you will. Currently, we are working on a Nepal-based community development project as well as something a bit closer to home.
In the past few months, front porch has aligned its efforts with that of Good Neighbors, a local food pantry based from the Charlemont Federated Church in Massachusetts. Good Neighbors is dedicated to providing much-needed fresh, local food and staples to over 50 families in our community. On the 3rd Tuesday of each month, supported families—due to COVID restrictions—drive through a food collection area where they are able to pick up several bags of pantry items, local produce, and other needed household items. Front porch has been able to contribute to this effort by supplying fresh herbs and produce grown organically on our very own farm.
Good Neighbors opened its doors over 30 years ago, having been established by a local family who recognized a resource gap in the community. An all-volunteer organization, Good Neighbors has been continually operated by congregation members since 1984 when they began distributing food to 90 families in the area. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Neighbors has been able to maintain assistance for 40 community families experiencing food insecurity. Recipients need not be affiliated with the church to receive the monthly groceries.
In this, the church practices its statement of committing to being “…fully engaged in responding to the joys, sorrows, challenges and spiritual and physical needs of our own community and beyond. Recently, the church learned of an endowment left to them by a townsperson. The unexpected funds allowed the church to expand outreach and build into its long-term sustainability plan of having a walk-in refrigerated space where donated food can be stored between distribution times. The community gives, the community gives back.
In this spirit of community connection, our Board Member spotlight features Voting Member Yalda Modabber. Yalda is the founder and Executive Director of the Golestan School, a language immersion program located in the Bay Area of California. The Golestan School celebrates diversity and inclusion by representing the population it serves while offering a thoughtful approach to education. Through the Minou Modabber Scholarship Fund, the school is able to offer tuition assistance for families. Currently, however, the fund has been temporarily diverted to assist families in need during lockdowns surrounding COVID-19, breathing life into their community. Exemplifying resilience and determination, Yalda relates her experiences of guiding a school through the pandemic:
What a year this has been for every single human being on our planet.
I am the founding director of a non-profit in Northern California that uses its small independent school as a model of idyllic progressive education for educators worldwide.
I left our beautiful campus in March of 2020 [for what we thought would be a two-week closure] scattering thousands of wildflower seeds all around our sad quiet garden so that when we all returned, our children would be welcomed back by a sea of beautiful blossoms. Two weeks came and went. As did the poppies—with no one there to enjoy them.
One year ago this past June, after three months of distance learning, we reopened our campus for our preschoolers and summer campers. While most of the poppies had withered away, a sea of sunflowers were standing at attention to welcome the children and my beloved colleagues home. Never in my life have I witnessed so much uninhibited joy. That's when I knew that we owed it to our community, beyond the walls of our school, to help create safe spaces for teachers to be able to confidently return to teach children in person—because that is their passion (not doing handstands in order to engage a screen full of young faces).
We pushed forward, full force, to create safe outdoor classrooms for our faculty and students. Through the Golestan Colab (our pro-bono consulting arm for educators), we started to organize tours and workshops to help inspire others to work through the obstacles for reopening in person, with an emphasis on outdoor classrooms. As a former Molecular Immunologist, I was invited to speak at virtual conferences, staff meetings and schoolwide parent meetings to answer questions about how to safely reopen schools for in-person learning. Apparently, it made a difference.
This work catapulted to an unimaginable scale that, in less than one year, impacted over 16,000 public and private school educators and over 150,000 children and youth nationwide. One day The New York Times was on campus, the next day the BBC.
Meanwhile, we were hosting tours for families that would do anything to avoid distance learning. Our waitlist expanded but our costs grew exponentially because even though we doubled our elementary school student body from the previous year, we had to triple our teaching staff to accommodate the new covid guidelines. Thankfully, our community came together and supported us generously so that we could close the gap and make up our losses.
Then, just to keep us all on our toes, the smoke from the California wildfires hit. Then the rains. Then the historic wind storms. And through most of it, our kids (and teachers) were outside comforted by the fact that they weren't stuck at home in front of a screen.
Fast forward to this past June, when we wrapped up the most inspiring and magical year ever imaginable. The joy. The depth of engagement and learning. The incredible growth of our children and our entire staff. I've honestly never had as much professional and personal development as I have this past year.
Now as we get ready for our second covid school year, we're taking all that we learned in the past year and a half and applying it to continue to provide a nurturing, dynamic, and magical environment for our children. Rather than putting ourselves in a position of reacting in crisis, we're projecting scenarios and planning accordingly so that we will hopefully have a more predictable and stable year ahead.
May you all stay healthy, grounded, and satiated in this unpredictable but never dull world we live in.
We at front porch are so fortunate to have Yalda as part of our board member group. Her vast experience and wise direction have been of monumental help as we’ve navigated the development of strengthening communities through resource connection. Stay tuned as we work towards the start of an exciting new project, which we will be announcing very soon. Be well, and may we all be Good Neighbors where we can.