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The Caravan, Year 2 - Part 1: Grand Launch & The Midwest


Here we are in Year 2 of this wild, heart-lead adventure across the U.S. I am writing now from a coffee shop as I am driving away from the Midwest toward the South, and I wanted to take a moment to recap everything that's happened so far on this miraculous sequel to our work from last year.


There's been so many moments of love, joy, play, tears, depth, care, growth and learning. Here's some highlights from our three weeks on the road so far...


(WANT TO SUPPORT THE JOURNEY? If you'd like to donate toward our cause, we are accepting donations via Paypal and Venmo here.)

 

Launch Week- Joshua Tree/Grand Canyon/Rocky Mountains National Park



The first week began with a trifecta of national parks, shared with friends new and old, as we made our way from California toward our first community partnership in Iowa. I love that this is how The Caravan begins, because there's something activating and rejuvenating about connecting with loved ones in nature. I am always grateful to share the awe and wonder of our natural spaces with people I love. It's such a gift. It always reminds me how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country and how wise our predecessors were to preserve these natural spaces for generations to come. (Thank you to all of my friends who came out to give The Caravan this loving launch, including my old friend Richie, who joined me in the Rocky Mountains- see pics above!)

 

St. Ansgar, IA- Cedar Summerstock Theater Camp -


This first week of service and community-building was deeply rewarding for me, because we were not only in my home town of St. Ansgar, Iowa, but I also got to share my passion for the performing arts alongside some of my best friends, in service to local youth.


We were proud to partner with the hardworking team at Cedar Summerstock Theater Company (CST), a local summerstock theater company founded by a fellow alum from my high school, Nancy Lee. CST brings the performing arts and performing arts education to rural North Iowa every Summer, and we were honored to be invited to help teach the annual theater camp for K-8th graders.


Our team of theater professionals (Hank, Adele, Ruby, Adam and Mel, pictured above) flew in from Minneapolis, and spent the week lodged and fed generously by my parents, George & Michelle Caron. My parents drove us around, played games with us and told stories and laughed with us. I can’t thank them enough for how they continue to support me in everything I do, and how they modeled what service and love looks like in action this past week. (Love you Mom and Dad!)


Collectively we taught acting, dance, singing, career strategy and so much more. There was something deeply fulfilling to get to share the skills and experiences we’ve cultivated over our careers with kids who came from the same schools and community I came from. I am so glad these youth have access to this opportunity. And I'm grateful for how we all learned as teachers, while we remembered ourselves as creatives, through the youths' innate wisdom.


We were also welcomed by so many community members while in town, including Kurt Meyer and Paula R. Meyer who invited us to their beautiful home for a rollicking night of laughter and stories and affirmation. We were shown the power of vision, entrepreneurship, legacy and hard work by Lindsey Falk of LR Falk Construction, and the joy of public art at the Art Farm Iowa with Steve M Hanson and Merle Hanson. And we were hosted for a perfect riverside sunset hang by my friends Bryce Nickerson and Autumn Nickerson-Sayah who gave us an opportunity to drop in with some of my oldest friends (love y’all!)


I got to spend time with my niece (a powerhouse creative force) and my two nephews, my sisters, my grandparents, my aunts and cousins.


Nourishing. It was nourishing for my spirit. It was the perfect service experience to activate this 12-week adventure.

 

Kenosha, WI- Kenosha Shindig/Weekend of Service & Understanding-



One of the great gifts of this project is to return to places we went last year and continue to build our partnerships and relationships with local heroes who are doing incredible work in their communities.


That's the story of our time in Kenosha, WI, where my friends Carrie and David joined me in staying with Cameron & John Swallow at Trinity House at Carthage College in Kenosha. (Thank you Cameron & John for hosting us and being our day and night pals, it was so much fun to share stories and laughs with you both!)


The weekend of events began before we even arrived, with The Uptown Kenosha Community Cleanup. Uptown Kenosha was a historically Black neighborhood that was most deeply affected by the civil unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and the violence enacted by vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse in the Summer of 2020. Uptown has since rebuilt, but healing is still underway in that neighborhood, and community organizer Molly Gray-Moores now organizes quarterly neighborhood cleanups that bring the community together, including many city officials and civil servants. Cameron sent me photos from the event, and I spoke with Molly afterward, who shared that it was a big success!


Our next community event was a Human Library, hosted in partnership with the Kenosha Public Library (thank you Brandi and Michaela for making this possible!) We were fortunate to have not only local Human Books from Kenosha, but also Books from Madison and Chicago join to offer the Kenosha community an opportunity to have courageous conversations with someone who is from a marginalized community or who has experienced stigma, prejudice, othering and hardship.


That evening the Swallows hosted the second annual Kenosha Summer Shindig at their home, with dinner, conversation and live music performances from musicians from diverse musical genres, including a classical string quartet, a rock duo, a bluegrass duo, spoken word/hip-hop artists and singer-songwriters like myself. This event is such a great way to bring the community together over the universal language of the heart: music. And we had a lot of fun, reconnecting with folks we met last year and making new friends in the community.


Our final day of events consisted of a morning spent volunteering at the Grace Welcome Center, a food pantry that serves hundreds of local families each week who are in need of food assistance. My friend Carrie and I were blown away by the well-oiled machine that coordinator Denise Russell has developed and maintains to serve with food donated from state, federal and private institutions. It was inspiring to watch the Grace Welcome Center team in action, many of whom volunteer multiple times a week. (Thank you Denise and Grace Welcome Center for welcoming us and for the important work you do serving Kenosha all week, every week!)


Our final event was a community circle held at The Kenosha Creative Space (thank you Francisco for hosting us again!) Together, we explored the themes of "unity and hope" through shared stories, songs, poems and theatrical monologues. It was a poignant, connected and powerful evening where everyone present offered vulnerability, honesty and inspiration to one another.

 

Fort Wayne: Weekend of Service & Understanding-



I'm always so impressed by Fort Wayne, Indiana, with its commitment to public art/street art, its beautiful riverside park, its live music scene, and its burgeoning wellness/transformational/spiritual community.


Our time in Fort Wayne began with a street art tour from local artist and community organizer Francisco Reyes, who shared with us the work that Fort Wayne has done, through public and private investments, to invite and encourage street artists from the area and around the world to bring their artistry to the walls and buildings of Fort Wayne. One of my favorite aspects was an initiative to 3-D print the murals so that people who were blind could also enjoy them. It was so inspiring to see the city adorned with murals of different styles and themes. (Thank you Francisco for an informative and evocative afternoon!)


We then gathered at our host home and campus, Silverbirch Studios for an ecstatic dance (thank you Radiance Burns and Steve Tyler for welcoming us back and hosting most of the events!) Co-produced with Tulip Tree Healing Arts Collective, and lead by Julia, Ursula and Alejandro, our evening began with a belly-dancing class and grounding ritual, followed by a cacao ceremony and a vibrant, silly, joyful dance session. The night continued with loving conversation and visioning of a world where compassion and kindness are the baseline of our experience. (Thank you Julia, Ursula and Alejandro for inviting us to join with your community in play!)


The next afternoon we traversed to Fort Wayne's annual Juneteenth celebration to support their Human Library, run by the local chapter of the organization: Human Library, Fort Wayne. The event was really strong, with a plethora of Books offered to the public (thank you Human Library, Fort Wayne, for having us!) The Human Library and Juneteenth events were both very well attended, and I was especially moved to talk to a brand new Book, a 96-year-old Black woman named Martha, who was born in the 1920s and lived through the long and continuing journey of racial justice in the U.S.. I am so glad that locals got to dive into Martha's rich history and experience.


That night we gathered back at Silverbirch for a community meal and conversations. The delicious and healthy meal was conceived and cooked by The Caravan's Carrie Reinagel (thank you Carrie, Joy and Radiance for your work cooking that evening!) After dinner, we gathered to discuss the history of Juneteenth and to talk about the modern-day continuation of slavery that still takes place through international Human Trafficking. Our hosts, Radiance and Steve Burns, recently won an award at Cannes International Film Festival for their short film, The Rescue, that shines a light on human trafficking. The conversation evolved to the ways we each experience freedom in our lives, with a closing acknowledgment that we are all lucky to live in a country where we are free to gather and express ours opinions in public, when so many around the globe live in fear of government or criminal retribution against their free expression.


The next morning Carrie lead our team in putting together Greek salad wraps that we distributed via street outreach to the unhoused community of Fort Wayne. We traveled through Fort Wayne's many beautiful parks and shook hands, exchanged names and gave food and water to roughly 80 people. The entire way we were accompanied by a sweet gentleman named Daryl, who was living out of his van, and felt drawn to travel with us and keep us company throughout the morning. After serving for many hours together, we parted ways with hugs, well wishes, and the gratitude of sharing our time together in the beautiful Fort Wayne weather...

 

Closing of Part 1...


I would be remiss to close this first recap without thanking the many people who donated funds and resources for our meals and events to be possible. I especially want to acknowledge and thank:


Lindsey Falk

Jason Paige

Kama Fletcher

Calvin Legassick

Jesse Amend

Michelle & George Caron

Nancy Lee

Megan Joy Borgerding

Radiance Burns & Steve Tyler

Joy Justice

Carrie Reinagel

David Krich

Adrienne Litchenburg

Lily Hoffman

Adele Thurston, Hank Jacobs, Adam Lendermon, Melanie Keller, Ruby Lewis

Kurt & Paula Meyer

Cameron & John Swallow

Francisco Reyes

Julia Hyndman


THANK YOU all (and anyone I forgot) for the ways you've given to this project so far. I am very much aware that this project is only possible through the donations, time, energy, space and care that we all contribute collectively. I am so proud to lead this team across the country, building coalitions, community and compassion together.


(WANT TO SUPPORT THE JOURNEY? If you'd like to donate toward our cause, we are accepting donations via Paypal and Venmo here.)


Yours in service,


Ben Caron



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