Community Transformations Summer Intensive Program

Solutions from the Grassroots

Are you ready to make positive, meaningful change in the world?

Community Transformations is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to live a wholesome lifestyle, build community, enact genuine sustainability, develop a powerful social vision, practice vitalizing spirituality, and have fun making the world a better place.

Come to Eugene, Oregon, this summer for a five-week intensive experience participating in an actual community with engaged citizens that are transforming their neighborhood into a more sustainable, resilient, livable place…from the ground up, one seed at a time.

Community Transformations will challenge you to integrate body, mind, heart, and spirit in service to all living beings…and empower you with knowledge, skills, vision, and strategies for generating authentic, solution-oriented change from the grassroots.

because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and the time is now

When: Summer 2015
Where: Eugene, Oregon
Who: PROUT Institute and Dharmalaya
How: Send inquiries to info@proutinstitute.org, with subject line: “Community Transformations Inquiry”

More Information: www.proutinstitute.org/comtransformations.html
[site is in development and updated constantly]

During the program, you will immerse yourself in our neighborhood SEED project and have the opportunity to work with leading practitioners, teachers, and mentors (many of whom live right in the neighborhood) in the following areas:

  • Permaculture and organic gardening
  • Whole foods preparation and preservation
  • Eco-building and green architecture  (strawbale, cob, passive solar and more)
  • Grassroots neighborhood markets and barter exchange
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Assertive communication and meeting facilitation
  • Community service and outreach
  • Online media and e-portfolios
  • Liberation philosophy and social movements
  • Systems thinking and resilient sustainability
  • Spiritual philosophy and dharma
  • Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT)
  • …and more!



A participant’s perspective of the program, summer 2011 version:

Lessons In Building Resilient Neighborhoods:
Reflections on the PROUT Institute Community SEED Program

To the common passer-by, River Road in Eugene Oregon looks like typical 1950’s-1960’s suburban development. Traveling north on the five-lane arterial road, tucked amidst the stately Douglas Fir trees, one encounters many hallmarks of modern-industrial-consumer-culture: heavy motor traffic, convenience stores, a gun shop, a Wells Fargo bank, and an intersection pock-marked with chain eateries such as Arby’s, Wendy’s, and Domino’s Pizza. But if one observes carefully, off the beaten path, only a few blocks west of this thoroughfare, a different type of development is being realized.

Scattered throughout this quiet neighborhood, residents are working together to manifest a vision of a sustainable community inspired by permaculture design principles, localized economics, and respect for all living beings. Their neighborhood resiliency project is focused on developing a network of properties producing basic necessities, particularly food, and fostering an ethic of compassion and resource sharing. In addition to sharing healthy organic food, tools, materials, and know-how, the community also offers social events, education in permaculture and local economic planning, and instruction in yogic practices and philosophy. The established touchstone properties include the beginnings of a food jungle, several small gardens, an evolving village for volunteers and interns, and a spiritual and social center. This network of small suburban farms, none bigger than one acre, demonstrates how small sites and connected people can carve a viable niche in the shadows of an outmoded paradigm.

This past summer, members of this River Road community extended their influence and shared their vision with roughly a dozen interns participating in the Community Sustainable Economics and Ecological Design (SEED) Program, sponsored by the PROUT Institute. A diverse group of young and curious minds from locations spanning the country–Maine, Vermont, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, Montana, California and Oregon—congregated for the program. Living in community at the Dharmalaya Center for Human Development, home of the PROUT Institute, interns studied yogic philosophy while offering 25 hours of labor per week developing neighborhood infrastructure, which, in turn, taught them useful lessons in permaculture, gardening, natural building, and community development.

The interns’ work this summer focused on a dramatic transformation of a single acre back yard from a litter-riddled, blackberry-infested, and largely unproductive lot into the beginnings of a food producing village.  Interns helped clean the property, fell a 20-year-old Douglas Fir tree, raise and plant garden beds, construct a greenhouse, clear and set camping spaces, deconstruct and re-model a garage, erect a straw-bale kitchen/bathhouse, create adobe bricks with local soil, build an adobe wood-fired barrel oven and adobe canning stove, design and construct a composting toilet outhouse, and more. The property will be used to house volunteers and interns in the future, perhaps becoming the center for a neighborhood food cooperative.

I signed up for the internship program with only a vague conception of what I was to learn.  Emerging from four years of teaching English at Midwestern colleges, I was eager to immerse myself in physical work and purge my consciousness of hastily-written essays conveyed through small type face on flattened wood pulp. And being raised in a household where my connection to food production had been obscured, I wanted to experience the magic of growing and consuming local food.  I knew that the material world was more than keyboards, paper, pens, restaurants and markets but I wanted to feel that truth. So, when I discovered the PROUT Institute internship, the ideas–construction, organic gardening, and yoga–were enough to inspire my participation. The experience of living in this community has been far deeper and complex than I anticipated. It has been flavored with challenges, discoveries, and successes.

When I arrived in mid-May, the program was not yet in full swing. I was one of five people in a flock that would eventually spread to twelve. Immediately, I could see that I was entering into something both intentional and flexible, something still very much in process. Indeed, at the first morning check-in meeting, PROUT Institute Executive Director, Ravi Logan, launched into a brief aside about chaos theory.

“We are entering a new phase,” he said after tuning into the meeting with a moment of silence.  “New people are arriving, more will be joining. A sort of flow will be developed. You see, large organizations are looking more and more to chaos theory to inform their organizational structure.  They adopt certain minimum specifications—core values—as their guidelines. Instead of enforcing a rigid top-down systems management, they instill a cultural ethic in all members. This allows for a certain flexibility and empowerment for individuals in groups. Keep this in mind as more people arrive. It is perhaps analogous to a flock of birds.  As more members of the flock join the flight, the formation takes shape.”

The tone of ambiguity in this speech set the stage (or skyscape) for the summer program. Paradoxically, this was one of the most difficult yet fulfilling aspects of the program. While there was guidance from staff members, the interns were given the space to figure out logistics of community living (such as the food system and cleaning schedule) on their own. In a group of twelve people, many of them living in community for the first time, having access to varying levels of financial support, and being exposed to a new Sattvic diet (vegetarian, no onions, garlic or mushrooms), this was not always simple. Interns were tested with the demands of figuring out, together, how to make perhaps the most essential and nourishing elements of communal living—food—work for the whole group. Lacking explicit top-down instruction, importantly there was space provided for open communication amongst interns and staff.  Successful systems were eventually developed, unfortunately some not until later in the program, yet it was valuable for interns to feel both the tension and resolution of collective decision making. In fact, the whole exercise was empowering because throughout it all, sincere respect was given to individual voices.

This respect for all voices is one of the minimum specifications, part of the cultural ethic shaping the systems at the PROUT Institute and in the broader River Road community. In the same way that each neighbor contributes to the community according to her or his skills and abilities, and each species contributes to the ecosystems in these permaculture-inspired gardens, each individual person offers a valued perspective and voice. Probably this is why upon my arrival I was struck immediately by the apparent intention in all things ranging from the garden design to the words spoken. Everybody seemed to speak slowly, and with attempted precision; and all others listened through long pauses—patiently.  My mind was accustomed to less thoughtful, knee-jerk phonic projections. For a moment, I considered the communication too sensitive, but quickly I softened into it and appreciated the respect paid to all speech and the sense of empowerment it provided for speakers. Empowerment, not coincidentally, is one of the critical imperatives of the PROUT paradigm of development.

PROUT is an acronym for the Progressive Utilization Theory, a new paradigm of socio-economic development and political organization based on the fundamental assumption that all people have potentiality in the physical, mental and spiritual spheres, and should be given opportunity to develop and express their potentialities. PROUT is a comprehensive approach, with its own foundational values and planning principles, economic and political structures, and social and cultural systems. All of these are designed to work in synergy to meet everyone’s basic needs and to promote the progressive enhancement of people’s potentialities at the individual level, within the collective society, and in balance with the more-than-human world that sustains all life. PROUT offers hope, vision, empowerment, and a solution-oriented approach to people and communities that are seeking a viable, life-affirming alternative to global capitalism and the various contradictions and crises inherent to it (see  HYPERLINK “http://www.proutinstitute.org” http://www.proutinstitute.org for more information).

The summer internship program is a part of a larger effort by the PROUT Institute to create a PROUTist model on a neighborhood level. Indeed, as the internship program ramped up, I began to see in practical terms how the values of PROUT informed the work we were doing. For example, to imagine the idea of “progressive utilization,” consider the manner in which goods and services are exchanged in this community development project. Neighbors know that they are in an exchange, but the exchange isn’t defined, so each person can contribute—money, food, labor, construction materials, expertise, social connections—according to his/her own skills or resources. For example, an artist in the community might paint a mural to enhance the aesthetic beauty of a building in exchange for labor deconstructing a patio. Or a gardener falling behind on weeding might exchange some of his/her harvest for labor. Tools circulate as needed, knowledge is shared, seeds are spread. It is a sort of cooperative economics, more or less informal at this stage but certainly the foundation of different kind of approach that, over time, will become more structured. Individuals don’t depend entirely on this cooperative system, but having it there connected to and supplementing the individual home economies makes life easier.

For me, learning from and observing the more collective mentality of this community was the most profoundly educational aspect of the internship. To see a vital community in action was not only inspiring, but a lesson in information exchange. With every week of participation, I was introduced to new community members, each with vital and intriguing knowledge to share. Interns were sometimes dispatched to other properties in the neighborhood in the spirit of community service, allowing them to learn from a variety of designs and ideas. The information and skills shared through this network in this way–face-to-face, feet-to-earth, hands-to-tool—was exceptionally deep and enriching, especially for one coming from a desk-centered, indoor career path. It was like surfing the internet, but more focused, multi-sensory, and without advertisements. However, I couldn’t have learned all that I did with keyword searches for construction, organic-gardening, and yoga; I did it by helping plant a literal and figurative community SEED and nurture it from the ground-up.

About the Author

Ryan Dubas was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado and raised in Central Nebraska. He studied English and Cultural Studies and taught as an English Instructor at Hastings College and Kansas State University.  He now lives in Eugene, Oregon and is pursuing interests in natural building and energy management.  Contact with questions or comments: ryandubas@yahoo.com

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