Turning Upswell concepts into well-received reality
// By Jacqueline Brennan
Earlier this year we introduced you to Vera deVera and Carola Secada — two amazing community organizers with strong cross-sector experience and deep ties to the many neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles. Vera and Carola worked with us to ensure that Upswell’s “LA Inside & Out” tours and community dinners showcased innovative social changework that would inspire attendees to envision the change that is possible both in LA and in their own communities.
At that time, we asked both Vera and Carola what they looked forward to most about Upswell. Vera told us, “I look forward to the people-to-people connections that Upswell provides for changemakers. I also hope that Upswell participants will be inspired to think more creatively about their own changemaking work through their experiences here in Los Angeles.”
And Carola? “I look forward to face-to-face connections from a cross-sector audience. I believe this proximity will help us change the narrative about how changemakers can work better together and sustain hope for a better world.”
Now that the inaugural Upswell dust has settled, we touched base with Vera and Carola to see whether Upswell’s reality lived up to their expectations.
“The concept of Upswell – bringing changemakers together, building community – seemed intangible at first,” according to Vera. “But Upswell did a great job of bringing a good mix of people together and supporting making connections, and the schedule enabled people to be fluid in deciding activities they’d participate in.”
“Whether you were an LA local, or visiting for the first time, the community tours enabled attendees to get out into neighborhoods, to hold substantive discussions with community members, and to learn, engage, and dialogue.”
Vera said the hosts of the community tours were pleased, as well. “The local hosts helped make the tours, and they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to showcase where they lived and the great work taking place there.”
“Truthfully, the concept of Upswell was so different, I didn’t know what to expect. Because it was the first Upswell gathering, presenting the community dinner concept to local businesses was initially a challenge because there was nothing I could actually show them or compare it to. I presented the concept as my vision of what the community dinners would be and asked them to have faith.”
“I was careful to select socially conscious and active business owners. I also tried to work in as much LA goodness as I could, and feature community dinners that combined culinary artistry with social consciousness by including community partners for some of the content. In the end, the business owners and community partners were quite happy with the opportunity to connect with leaders from across the country about community concerns over great food.”
And what do Vera and Carola think about Upswell overall, now that the concept is reality?
“I had high hopes,” Vera said, “but Upswell far exceeded my expectations. If Upswell Chicago offers community tours, I’d encourage locals to participate along with first-time visitors, because they’ll see where they live through fresh eyes. The tours are really where you can make connections on the ground, in the community, and talk directly with the people doing the work.”
“You could feel the power to make change happen expanding,” said Carola. “Upswell is like a bridge that brings together established and emerging leaders to achieve results better, together. It’s a place where everyone from all walks and different missions can show up as themselves, be heard, contribute, and be respected.”
Debra Rainey is manager of communications at Independent Sector.