Re: community-wide retreats
From: Craig Ragland (
Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2008 17:00:40 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Sally - I'll see you next week at Pleasant Hill Cohousing!

On Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 6:22 PM, Sally Wright <shwright [at]>wrote:

> To Existing Communities:
> If you have held community-wide retreats, we'd like to hear from you!

Songaia (38 people in 15 homes on 11 acres near Seattle) has held annual
Community Retreats starting in about 1994 - 6 years before construction. We
have skipped this retreat just once - the summer of 2001 - after our
end-of-2000 move-in. We also have both Mens and Womens retreats. They have
been quite different in character - at least it is rumored... (grin).

> Some questions:
> - Did you go off-site?  If you didn't go off-site, how did you create an
> environment that feels special?

We've done both... in fact, a couple of weekends ago was just the third time
Songaia retreat that was done without sleeping somewhere else. I've most
enjoyed them when we have traveled elsewhere, but staying home is sure a lot

For on-site retreats, I feel that both (1) going out into the local
community and (2) getting some outside leadership are critical. When we
travel elsewhere, this feels less important. This time, we spent one
afternoon at a park on Lake Washington (with picnic lunch and dinner, games,
water play, etc.) and did a contemplative walk at a local, board-walked
wetlands area. The facilitated portion was done by staff and students in a
Rites of Passage program. It was nature and story-oriented...

For off-site locations, the challenge has been balancing cost and comfort
concerns. We've found that we really need spaces that allow some people to
camp - keeping costs as low as possible, and some to have rooms - with
bathrooms, but this probably interacts with our funding model, which may
warrant re-thinking.

What has worked well for us (given this model) is to use private or public
campgrounds with cabin or trailer rentals - with significant common space
that we can more-or-less take-over. To date, we've not been willing to step
up to the costs of using an actual retreat center - although the Songaia
Women have several times for their annual Women's Retreat.

> - Where did funds come from? Individual contributions? Community funding? A
> combination?

Its usually been a combination. This time, our only expenses were food -
which just came out of our food program (which 13 out of 15 families
participate in). We carpooled to local events, but "chipping in for gas"
would feel silly given the short distances. For past events, individual
families have paid for eating out, travel, lodging expenses... with food and
common programming paid for out of our operating budget, which has budget
for this type of programming for a variety of our events.

> - What specific topics have been most successful? (Note: we have no
> specific
> problems to focus on, but would like to deepen the community experience)

We've done a very wide variety - this time, we had no special theme and just
used the time for fun and sharing with minimal "programming" - I think I've
enjoyed retreats that were more programmed, but this was nice as well.

> - What did you do to attract high attendance?

First issue is scheduling - we have gone to great efforts to set a date that
enables the largest number of participants. Setting that date MONTHS in
advance makes it possible for people to schedule around it if they are so

By keeping at least some of our activities on-site, it was very easy for
some folks to plug-in on a part-time basis. In the past, we've had folks
drive to the site and participate for just a few hours or a full day out of
a long weekend event.

> - Did you use outside facilitators?

Sometimes, but not usually - this time, a non-profit program that uses our
land facilitated an hour-long program on our land.

> Or if you used internal facilitators,
> what are some suggestions?

Most of our Retreat leadership has been delegated to different members. A
small task force puts together a schedule and asks different people to lead
particular segments. Simultaneous activities have generally not worked well
- there are too few of us... only about 20-30 including kids. Some of our
kids have just free ranged during adult-oriented programming, depending on
the environs.

> - How did you incorporate kids in your program?

By scheduling some activities that specifically target their interests, by
ensuring that the food was attractive to them, by involving them in some of
the leadership. For example, on this past Friday night our teen age girls
did most of the Karaoke leadership, selecting songs, running it after
set-up, etc.

> - Do you hold them annually?

Yes - near the end of summer.

> - What hasn't worked?
> Our seven-year-old community has never held an official retreat, although
> we've had spectacular annual camping trips where typically half the members
> attend. To build on these successes, we're considering offering a
> community-wide retreat. We'd love to learn from others' experiences!

FYI: I'm on a task force to organize Songaia's 2010 retreat - 10 years since
move-in. Other members and I are talking about a community exchange - where
we trade use of properties with another cohousing community for simultaneous
retreats. We imagine that some would stay behind as hosts, while most would
move to the other cohousing community and make use of their homes and common
spaces. So far, we've talked about issues and made lists of some other
cohousing communities to consider approaching. We're both clear that this is
going to be a very hard thing to pull off, but on the surface it seems both
a really cool thing - and relatively inexpensive for both groups.

> Sally
> Pleasant Hill Cohousing
> Pleasant Hill, CA

We can talk more about this if we choose next week!

> 925   288   1666
> _________________________________________________________________
> Cohousing-L mailing list -- Unsubscribe, archives and other info at:

Craig Ragland

Coho/US executive director
craig [at]

Please try email first, include your phone number (w/time zone) - or give me
a call: 425-487-3550 (Pacific)... communicate!

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.