Two Community Organizers Find Inspiration at the Lebanon Co-op
by Allan Reetz
Dana Trombitasova and Blazhka Dimitrova are sharing tea in the kitchen of my Plainfield, New Hampshire, home. It is a warm fall evening. These spirited community organizers from Slovakia and Bulgaria have spent the past four weeks in the Upper Valley gaining advanced skills in the challenging craft of community organizing. Tonight, we gathered to discuss the time-tested principles of cooperation and their impressions of their recent tour of the Lebanon Co-op Food Store. This visit to the Co-op proved eye-opening for these spry, twenty-somethings, as well as filling me—their guide—with a hefty dose of hope and inspiration. “The whole idea of cooperation is something that my country, Bulgaria, needs to start doing to help us solve problems in the economy,” commented Blazhka. “You are doing amazing community things in your business.”
Dana recognized the wisdom of the Co-op’s close relationship with farmers and local vendors. “You are big shop [sic] not just selling local products, but also involving local producers. You involve them to cooperate together, and this is very smart.” Trombitasova and Dimitrova were in the Upper Valley through a program of the Great Lakes Consortium (GLC) and hosted locally by the United Valley Interfaith Project (UVIP). Funded by the U.S. Department of State, GLC fellowships pair young Eastern European organizers with their like-minded counterparts in the United States. UVIP is an area nonprofit that builds relationships and grassroots power in New Hampshire and Vermont.Shaped by their university, professional, and life experiences, Blazhka and Dana were ideally suited to benefit from the tutelage of Leah Torrey, executive director of the United Valley Interfaith Project. Blazhka was emphatic when she said, “If I had to describe my four weeks with UVIP, I would use the words, ‘inspiring, knowledge, and idea-generating.’” “Leah is amazing,” added Dana. “She is teaching us so much each day.”
In my capacity as communications director at the Co-op Food Stores, I found these women to be bright, driven, and fueled by altruism and voracious curiosity. Long before they arrived in the United States, they each used their seemingly boundless energy to build track records of transformative, positive change. It is little wonder they earned the fellowships that brought them to our valley. There is also no doubt in my mind that, upon returning home, they will effectively use their new skills to benefit their respective communities.
“In my country, we need to talk about community more. Of course, it is okay to be individuals, but not so individualistic,” said Blazhka. Dana’s view of cooperation was equally as clear. “You’re organizing yourselves because you have a common need that you want to solve, and that is what we in community organizing are trying to do. Like your co-op, in my town, we have to involve people and make strong cooperation [sic]. Community organizers don’t have money power so they have to build people power.”
Equipped with their new awareness of the principles of cooperative businesses like ours and UVIP’s lessons for grassroots organizing, Dana and Blazhka will continue to bring much inspiration and hope to our world. They are, in a word, remarkable.
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