On the 4th of July this year, this blog pronounced that there were “Vacancies in Paradise*”. This was our poetic way of saying that after seven years of having a long waiting list, there were actually some spaces at Twin Oaks community. The article went into some length about how Twin Oaks is not paradise or utopia (despite both the media and academics trying to label us that way) and that this is just an internet ploy to get you to read the article based on the catchy headline.
Paradise is in your mind. Community is a real place.
A quick 6 months later, this is no longer true and Twin Oaks has a waiting list again. It might become a long one.
The population limit of the commune is determined by the number of adult bedrooms. We have about 107 bedrooms total and around 16 of them are for our kids. This leaves 91 adult member rooms. By the time i wrote the Vacancies blog post, we had dropped to 82 members. By last August we were at 77 members and people were really starting to worry.
Kaweah is the most recent residence
The community does not function well at 15 people less than capacity. There are 88 tofu shifts, 49 dish washing shifts, 55 garden shifts and hundreds more of smaller tasks every week to keep this hyper village going. If we are down 20% of our membership, a bunch of that work moves over to those who are still here and because some have limited work capacity, other members are even more heavily impacted. And some work just does not happen at low population, which can either drop our income or our quality of life or both.
We want to be at our population limit
Fortunately, population at Twin Oaks has bounced back in a big way. We are already at 91 labor sheets this week. The second to last visitor group was quite unusual in that it had 10 visitors and every single one applied for membership (this has not happened in the last 19 years). A couple actually said they say the Vacancies in Paradise article and it spurred them to apply.
While we did not accept everyone one of them probably and some are interested in joining in the spring, just the threat of a waiting list has filled us faster than normal. Plus there were 3 really good visitors in the November group and did accept all of them.
Don’t despair. If you really want to live in community there are still many which have openings, even here in Louisa county, even ones which are income sharing. And if your heart is set on Twin Oaks, then just apply to do a visit. About 20 members a year move on, you won’t have to wait too long before there is a place for you.
Perhaps this is the right place for you?
For a hot minute, there was no waiting list at Twin Oaks. And it looked for a while like it might persist. In the visitor group before the last one, 75% of the people who applied were not accepted and it seemed like the community had moved into a place of being structurally more picky. When we are at our population capacity (oft called “pop cap” for short) we do tend to become more selective in our membership process.
But the last visitor of 2013 was nearly a perfect storm as far as the growth is concerned. The group was large for a winter group at 9 people. All of them were interested in membership and applied, most of them wanted to come back immediately or very soon. AND we accepted 8 of the 9. Bang! The waiting list is on again in a big way. The three empty slots we had are filled, several people are waiting to join, but most important from a waiting list growth perspective, there are only two people who are known or rumored to be leaving in the next few months. This means more visitor groups will come, more people will apply, more will be accepted and there will continue to be no space for them and a growing waiting list.
So what happens when we are at our population capacity? Well, there are fewer empty rooms to place guests in. It is somewhat easier to get all the work shifts covered. And when we go recruiting at college campuses or sustainability events, we shift our focus from Twin Oaks and Acorn to the communities movement as a whole. Even though we don’t need to be recruiting for ourselves, as some of the better off and better known communities, we have an obligation (i believe) to the communities movement in general to continue to spread the word and try to encourage people to look at other places which are not yet full.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Many boosters and cheerleaders hate critics. “There are so many good things we are doing, why do you have to focus on the negative?” Personally, i find this thinking, especially in the context of recruiting for community, stunningly weak.
I have a long list of things i would like to change about Twin Oaks. This includes big things like our general resistance to change, our labyrinth decision making model, our failure to get off the grid (or at least to become net zero energy) and our relatively homogeneous class and racial makeup. There are small problems as well – the 5 MPH bike speed limit, our failure to connect with our neighbors more and the lack of covered bike racks.
Somewhere in the middle of this range is our “Age Cap” policy as stated on our website below:
Age Policy for Joining Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks has members of all ages – people in their 20s to those in their 80s. People of all ages participate in the Visitor Program. However, in order to keep a balance of members in all age ranges, the community has decided to adopt a limit on the number of “pensioners” (members who are over a certain age and therefore work fewer hours than younger members, according to our labor policies) that we accept for membership and this means that we have put a “hold” on accepting for membership anyone over the age of 54*, until our average age drops. The average member age changes with arrivals and departures; thus the age limit hold will be removed whenever the average age again drops below 55.
We are still welcoming people of all ages to visit, to learn more about us and to experience life here for three weeks, but people who are age 55 or older would not be eligible to apply for membership to live here. However, it is also possible for visitors who are age 55 or older to apply for an exception to this policy. We cannot guarantee that every exception will be granted, but this possibility remains available. You would need to talk with our Membership Team about the possibility of an exception.
Creating this policy was a difficult decision, and controversial in the community itself. Our challenge was finding a balance between maintaining a non-ageist policy, and on the other hand being able to address concerns such as health care costs for our already sizable population of older people, a culture that remains a blend of youth and elders (and doesn’t become a “retirement community”), and enough strong backs to fulfill the substantial amounts of physical work needed by the community.
*For starters, there is an error in this text, which will get corrected shortly. The average age in the community is around 43, not 55. But more importantly, despite the careful wording and the legitimate formulation of the concern, i don’t think this policy serves us.
In part because we are at our population cap and have a long waiting list, we already have a fairly selective membership process. If we are not inspired by someone, we are quite likely to suggest they visit again, or even reject them out right. And were i over 54 (which i am) and reading this, i would not bother with Twin Oaks, depriving us of a number of potentially awesome members, who we would likely accept if they were just not afraid of our ageist rhetoric.
And to my meta-critics (the critics of my criticism) i am fairly confident that i have spent more time promoting Twin Oaks, more hours of giving tours, more hours hosting media when they wanted to report on us, more hours speaking mostly favorably at colleges, more hours recruiting desirable prospective members, written more positive pieces about the community than anyone who is still a member.
I do love this community, and part of that love is not hiding her faults.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]