Finding Your (Third) Place at the Co-Op by Jenn Dize

Dear Fellow Cooperator,

I moved to Bethlehem in July of 2007.  I was fresh out of a midwest graduate school and had grown up in Virginia.  I had extended family over by Pittsburgh, but the Lehigh Valley was completely new to me and, man, was there a steep learning curve.  I enjoyed learning about all that Bethlehem has to offer: easy access to mountains and trails and streams, a whole lot of festivals and fairs and fanfare, what December looks like in the Christmas City, and, sadly, how lonely it is to start somewhere new as an adult.  I tried going to some young professional meetups (but I’m a major introvert, so…), joining acquaintances and their friends for dinner (awkward!), and even tried to find a church community (long story, but that didn’t work out either). Eventually I met the woman who would become my wife and joined her social circle, which thankfully was welcoming and today includes some of my own closest friends, and I did cultivate one or two friendships on my own.  Yet, still I never managed to find a community, a sense of identity or purpose outside of work.

In 2015 my wife joined the co-op board and soon thereafter attended a conference.  When she came back she told me about the concept of the third place. For most of us, home is our first place and work is our second place.  The third place can be an athletic team, a church, a gym, any number of places. One of the goals of co-ops like ours, my wife told me, was to be that third place for people.  A light bulb went off -- maybe this co-op, our co-op, could be my third place…

After gradually ramping up my involvement, in 2016 I ran for and was elected to the board.  A few months in I began chairing the Member Outreach committee, then in 2017 I was appointed Vice Chair of the board (which is sort of a chair-elect position).  That means that within the span of three years I will have likely (fingers crossed!) gone from barely-involved to chairing the co-op… and let me tell you, that is not where I thought that was going to go!  Fortunately for me, taking those first steps to get more involved turned out to be a meaningful, enriching, maybe even life-changing opportunity.  I got to meet new people with a pre-packaged topic of conversation built into the interaction! I learned a lot about cooperative enterprise, like how it has its roots in African American communities, how it contributes to empowering underserved communities, and how much it matters in a capitalist economy.  I’ve seen many sides of this city, now my home for more than 10 years, as I’ve attended recruitment events, hosted documentary screenings, met with city officials, and read our market study. I have attended local meetings with other area co-op boards, spoken with local and national experts, completed math equations to develop our timeline (hello again, Algebra!), and have met some of the best people in the area.  It is important to me that you know what a vibrant, thoughtful, determined group of people are steering this ship.

You will hear a lot from us, the board, in the coming weeks, months, and years.  We will ask you to contribute financially, we will ask you to contribute your time and energy, we will ask you to shop in our -- and your-- store!  Amidst all that asking, we may sometimes forget to tell you what you’ll get in return. A co-op isn’t just a grocery store, and it isn’t just a business.  It’s a commitment to our Bethlehem community and it is its own community. Sitting at a table with a fellow member-owner at VegFest or a farmer’s market, stuffing envelopes in a random conference room on a college campus, entering data, meeting at local restaurants for committees, it’s all about connection and it’s right here waiting for you.  The co-op will need your help to open and maybe, like me, you’ll end up needing it right back.

In cooperation and in community,

Jenn Dize

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commented 2018-07-26 20:05:05 -0400 · Flag
A very touching “story”… We’re members and are eager to see what dedicated folks can and are accomplishing.