Skip to content

Looking Back: Updates from the Community Fund Design Group

By Hélène Lesterlin (Steward, Community Fund Circle)

As we enter the final weeks of 2023, we are breathing a deep sigh of gratitude for an incredible year. For the last six months, Aja, Micah and I have been facilitating a community-led design process, with 18 Kingston residents, to create a fund for the benefit of the people of Kingston. 


From the beginning we were committed to this process being just, emergent, open to experimentation, and grounded in collaboration and learning. In some ways, when we started out, it was all a big unknown. Now, looking back, it is hard to overstate how inspired we are by what has unfolded.

There is so much to share – too much to share in one post! We have been documenting this process with a video crew from Northguild, but all that will take some time to organize and craft. We also have plans for sharing this process in other ways, through blog posts, community conversations, and interviews on our radio show. To hear from some of the participants now, you can read about how this process is About Sharing Power in a post by Clay Moodey. In these four episodes from our weekly radio show in the Radio Kingston archive, group members share their perspectives on the project, and the deep questions it brings up for them:

But, here and for now, I want to provide a soaring bird’s eye view of this community fund design project, the people involved, and give you a quick outline of the genuinely transformative journey we have been on together.

At a community forum in the fall of 2022, Micah helps community members sort post-its of topics they most cared about. Housing, transportation, childcare, access to resources, eroding community connections – these were some of the themes that emerged when we asked people what they were concerned about.

First, let’s start with what we articulated back when we launched the community fund design project and started recruiting the participants through community meetings and outreach.

Back then, it was an intention. Now, it is a statement that still rings true:

Good Work Institute is facilitating a six-month journey for 8-20 diverse Kingston residents to collaborate with each other and to engage the larger community in deciding on the structure and mission of a Just Transition-aligned pilot community fund. The fund will be seeded with $150,000 once it is created.

Participants in this project can expect to learn from each other and from the offerings designed by GWI in support of trust, collaboration, democratic-decision making, shared leadership, and hands-on community engagement. We will offer training and encourage shared understanding into different ways to design community funds, with invited guests who have launched funds themselves. We will have time to get to know one another and create a supportive, nourishing environment for this work, as we confront what “money” brings up for each of us. 

The goal is for the group to weave all these skills and experiences together to create a fund design that is grassroots, creative, feasible, and that will directly benefit the residents of Kingston. The implementation of the fund is the following step. This program is just the design. This is a real pilot though, which means we are designing a real life experiment! The fund will be launched in 2024.

In the sunny days of June 2023, the Kingston Community Fund Design project began. We started meeting weekly with the 18 members of the design group – people selected through an application process that capped off months of community conversations that we hosted around Kingston.

The Kingston Community Fund Design Group (in alphabetical order): Amanda Cassiday, Ava Bynum, beetle Bailey, Carol A. Cramer, Clay Moodey, Daniel Woodham, Fiona Otway, Jenny Bates, Joél Mejia, Kai Lord-Farmer, Karen Ruiz Leon, Kathia Kilcrease, Kevin L. Godbey, Alessandra Gonzalez, Lauren Mathis, Manuel D. Blas Sanchez, Robert King, Rosalie Fransen

Over the course of six months since that first uncertain day, when everyone wasn’t yet quite sure what we were going to do, we met weekly, sometimes more (you can see the full schedule here). It was an intense commitment. Our meetings varied in form and content: sometimes we learned about a specific skill or delved into new information; sometimes we met to discuss and process what had been coming up; other times we actually started designing different components of the fund. There were also smaller groups that would peel off and meet outside of our group sessions to work on a project, and then bring their findings back to the group. Throughout, we were weaving together into a tight-knit, diverse group of people, building trust and understanding, forming real bonds of friendship and respect.

The general time commitment was 2-4 hours per week, plus longer days for reflection and recap every month. Participants were able to access stipends to help make possible this level of engagement over such a long period of time. All our sessions were held at the GWI Greenhouse except for a three-day design retreat in November, which we had the huge good fortune of having at The Uplands in Walton, NY. Our last sessions in December had us coming back together to honor and celebrate the journey, and come to a consensus on next steps.

Do we have a completed design yet? Not yet, although we have many of the pieces defined. Do we have a committed, informed, and skilled group of people motivated by care for their city and each other? A resounding YES.

This process is emergent, and we are following the lead of what is actually being created with such attention, with a depth of engagement we have rarely experienced before, any of us. We will continue, for another three months of weekly meetings in the new year, to complete all the details of the fund design. After that, it will be time to move to implementation.

As this journey continues, we will do our best to share the insights gleaned from this work that we undertake together, because there are so many more outcomes than simply a fund design. These steps we are taking lead us towards building a community of care, a network of mutual support, and tangible projects that build the future we want to live in.

After three packed and intense days of collaborative work, we’re still smiling! Before our closing ritual at the Uplands. Photo by Northguild.

If you want to know more about this project:

Rooted Resources posts give us a clearer vision of what “democratizing wealth” means, refracted through the living experience and emerging projects of people making change today. This series grows out of the Rooted Resources Festival (May 12-15, 2022) and the Community Fund design project.

Support GWI

These times call for collective action. Your gift is the solid ground that allows us to support and cultivate Good Work: that is, people and initiatives that are rejecting systems of oppression and extraction, and building regenerative economies and thriving communities.