The first and last events of each annual cycle of Community Engagement Fellows are potluck picnics at a local park.
We hold a kick-off picnic in early October, usually on the weekend before the first cohort meetings, and a finale picnic on a weekend in May after the final cohort meeting.
Our picnics create a warm, social opening and closing to the program, and signal that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
We hope and expect that people will develop new genuine friendships through the program, and picnics help.
Our principles and practices for hosting picnics include:
Choose location for all weather.
We hold the picnics in a city park where we reserve a heated building with a kitchenette, tables and chairs as our home-base for the event. Rain or shine, we’re cozy and warm and have all we need for a fun time.
No guilt for missing.
It’s likely that many Fellows won’t be able to make one or both of the picnics. Ensure they know these events are optional, and that no vital program information will be shared.
Make it clear in the invitation that partners and families are welcome at the event, and choose a setting that’s good for all ages.
It’s a picnic, not a meeting.
We avoid formalities of all kinds at the picnics. The organizers welcome and introduce people to each other informally, but don’t stop the eating or fun at any point. No speeches! People should come and go as they please.
Provide a main course.
We have a local Ethiopian restaurant provide several main dish options (including meat, veggie and gluten-free options), and purchase drinks. Fellows are encouraged to bring a side dish, dessert, or additional drinks. Don’t over-complicate the food, so you can focus on the fun.
The first year we decided to barbecue chicken and bratwursts as the main dish for the fall picnic. It took a lot of time and effort to pull this off, and made it so our staff members weren't very available for socializing. Since then we've had the main course catered, and have more fun. We learned to keep it simple.
At one picnic, a Fellow approached Travis and said that he and his family had to leave soon, but didn't want to miss the speeches. Travis replied, "We're not planning any speeches. It's just a fun picnic!" The Fellow, an assistant professor, smiled and said that he'd become accustomed to campus-related gatherings, even those billed as social events, involving long, boring speeches. He assumed we'd have speeches too, and was happy to hear we weren't. We were reminded to keep it fun!