It was about two years ago when Nancy and I started planning the first ALF Summer. We needed to find a space that would work for the program, and Mosaic needed a bigger space for the school, as it was outgrowing the double-wide trailer where it all began. Nancy found a great church rental in Plaza Midwood, and so that summer Mosaic split into two locations, allowing the space for Lacy to develop the younger half of the school (Roots).
That first full year was crucial for everyone to have the creative space they needed to develop their ideas, play with them, and then begin to see what unified us as one community under the ALC Mosaic umbrella and the within the context of the ALC model. Since last spring, after having some of those important conversations, we’ve been extra excited about moving both programs to one location and and fulfilling our commitment to being a fully age-mixed community. We’ve called this initiative #OneCampus.
There was some initial movement and energy put into #OneCampus from some parents who were motivated to have all their kids in one spot. I still very-much running ALC-NYC back then, and wasn’t really able to focus on real estate acquisition here in Charlotte. We talked about forming an LLC with a group of families who would all invest and then rent the property back to the school. I think something like that could work, but you would want to make sure you were really, really solid with each of those families and that the intentions for investing were all aligned. We held a meeting for people to share what was important or desirable to them in finding a permanent home for the school, which was an important first start in making visible the ideas, desires, and expectations that we were each holding.
It soon became clear that the multi-family LLC idea was going to be more complicated than it should be, and that our first priority was having #OneCampus. Last summer, a friend who attended ALF Summer mentioned to Nancy and I that they were open to discussing possible investment ideas with their company to support us in getting a property for the school. At this stage the school had virtually no “savings”. We didn’t really allow ourselves to take the suggestion too seriously, but a seed was planted none-the-less.
A few months went buy, and then in the fall, a friend of ours mentioned a property she had been eyeing for a while that would be perfect for a school. I decided to drive by it a day or two later to check it out. I was very intrigued — a 7,000 square foot home with two kitchens and two entrances on 8.5 acres with a private lake in the back. It was as if it had been constructed for a school that had two programs, but wanted to be intermixed at the same time. Nancy, Lacy, and Rick and I all went to see it a couple days later and we all fell in love.
The excitement hit a wall when I discovered in the material provided by the agent that the home was part of a private HOA, comprised of all the properties that surrounded the private lake. The HOA agreement was several pages long and included a clause that prohibited anyone from operating a business out of their home. The agent told me this was an issue for others in the past who had been interested. I did a bunch of googling around and found out who the president of the HOA was and called him. I explained our situation and he pretty bluntly said it wouldn’t work because everyone in the HOA would have to vote to change the rules. I started emailing and calling all the other members, but only heard back from a few. Some were polite and sympathetic, some were a little curt and clear that they didn’t want a school (albeit a small and friendly one) operating in their neighborhood. A week later, the agent told me the house was under contract. Woody Point, the name of the road the property sat on and the affectionate name we gave to it, was dead.
Woody Point inspired us to take this idea a little more seriously. Our imaginations were lit up when we walked around this property, imagining 40, 50, even 80 children of all ages playing, building, and homesteading together. After that we began putting it out to the world that we wanted to find the funding we needed to make #OneCampus a reality — literally, we made some Facebook posts about it and talked with experienced and well-connected friends. It was at this point we were reminded by our friend of his interest in supporting the project, which we took much more seriously this time. We had some conversations to begin to understand how that might work and I started talking to others friend and family members who just maybe would be able to invest or know someone who could.
Long story a little bit shorter, several funding options emerged but none were fully fleshed out. One of them, which has proven to be the most significant in making this possible, is a large donation that has been offered to the school to help us find a permanent home for the whole school. Several other people have offered to invest and support in various ways, as well — all contributing to our renewed feeling that this is actually possible for us. It is a combination of factors; I’m privileged to have access to people with financial resources (significant), we’ve done some really amazing work that has inspired others, and I’ve let go of the thoughts that once held me back from simply asking and inviting others to support this work.
In January, the idea of a multi-family collaboration re-emerged, but this time with talk about forming an intentional community that would exist around and in support of the school. We started having some gatherings and dinners with a small group of families who were all interested in this idea and could potentially contribute financially to it, assuming it would be a more permanent home for them. We found a property that had enough land and was affordable — we looked at it a few times as our discussions increased in seriousness. The project seemed like a massive undertaking, especially because the house and additional garage structure on this property were going to need a lot of renovations in order to used for educational occupancy. That part alone could take 6-9 months — living there seemed like a distant idea. I kept coming back to the highest motivation, which was to find a property that allowed us to have the school all in one place. The next highest priority was for Nancy and I to be able to live there. Next after that was for Lacy and Rick’s family to live there, as well.
In February, Jess asked me if I had looked into the property that was just a few blocks away from where she and Lacy live on Monroe Road. I found the place she was talking about — I had seen it before — but noticed the price had just been reduced another $50K. I went and looked at it with Nancy and the architect that we had connected with over the past month or so. We were pleasantly surprised! The main house was charming and over 3K square feet and the second building, which the listing seemed to undervalue, had a huge open space on the ground floor already coded as an assembly space with two bathrooms and multiple exits. Even better, the second floor of the second building had a very nice two-bedroom apartment where Nancy and I could live. Lacy and Rick’s house happened to be a 5 minute walk from here. When I told them about it, the said they’ve fantasized about having the school at this exact property many times (as they pass it often), but knew it was out of our price range (until recently).
This property wasn’t the 10+ acres that we had initially imagined. It was under 2 acres and much closer to the city, but in an area that is developing quickly. It wasn’t going to be the location of a multi-family intentional community, but there were a lot of houses in the neighborhood that surrounded it that were affordable and could be purchased by some of our families over time. It was a place that we could all be together, where we could have some animals (chickens and even a pig), where Nancy and I could live there, and other facilitators would be a short walk away. It was a place that was accessible to a lot of our families and in a prime location. It had great potential as a gathering space for other events and organizations that we’d want to support.
Now it was time to figure out what our financing options really were. Our friend who initially offered to discuss investing in the project was too busy and unable to find someone to take this on. Adding to the complexity is that he, and his company, are not based in the US. After a few weeks of no clear progress, I made some more bold invitations. Serendipitously, another close friend and her partner were interested in investing in real estate together and she happened to be a huge supporter and ALC collaborator.
It took several more weeks to get clear on all the details and to get a real estate agent in on the conversations. A huge variable for us was not knowing how much the renovations necessary for educational occupancy would cost. The property had been on the market for almost three years, but the recent price drop was making it affordable for us to consider. We started with a really low offer. The Seller opted to not provide a counter-offer, saying they had received offers higher than this in the past. We put in another offer significantly higher than the first and the Seller responded with a counter-offer, though it was only a slight decrease from the listing price.
The whole process was driving me mad. I like to have very open, honest, and transparent conversations. I’m not a fan of beating around the bush, or bullshit in general. This person wanted to sell their property for the last three years and we wanted to buy it. Though the real estate agents involved were super nice, I really wish we could have just sat down at a table and had a discussion in order to get on the same page. Instead, it was a lot of guessing, angling, and maneuvering. BLECH.
We were told that another offer was going to come in from a different party, but that we would get a chance to respond if we were outbid. We submitted another offer, inching our way forward to where we thought was a middle ground, not sure how real or serious this story of another Buyer was going to be. Two days passed. Then we heard that the Seller had decided not to sell. What? With two offers on the table, she’s not selling? The listing came offline and the physical signs were actually taken down from the property. Her agent told our agent that she wasn’t communicating much with her but that she was planning to move back into the house. We were dumbfounded. We decided the only next move was to submit one final offer for the price that she originally countered with and hope that would change her mind. It wasn’t easy, as it meant that we’d have to engage our community in a big fundraising campaign to cover the costs of all renovations now that the closing price was rising well above our target.
This was all happening in the past two weeks. Last Thursday we found out that the Seller decided to “go in a different direction” and that another Buyer had “met her terms”. Just like that it was under contract…and not with us.
The disappointment and frustration set in the next day and I’m almost done fully releasing it. I realize this blog post is essentially a long narrative and reads like an adult diary entry. I don’t know if there’s much value that I’m sharing here, or if anyone is going to find this particularly useful to read. That is OK. I’m mostly writing this for myself — to document this journey and share what I’ve been putting a good bit of energy into lately.
I’ve learned a lot through this process.
I’ve learned that there are so many people in my life that love and support the work Nancy and I are doing — the work that so many of my closest friends are doing. I’ve learned that people are generous when they are inspired. Not just with money, but with their time. It takes a lot of different layers of expertise to figure out how to buy a property and have it legally occupied by a school. I’ve taken a lot of bold actions and have been really clear about my intentions and needs with everyone from whom I’ve sought help and they’ve all been incredibly supportive.
I’ve been able to figure out a way for the school, as a non profit, to leverage the donation that’s been promised, to purchase a property itself with funding from a community lending organization. I’ll be moving those pieces forward in the coming weeks so we are more prepared to act swiftly on the next opportunity.
Really, it has been a huge lesson in how to create the life we want for ourselves, while being fully present to and grateful for everything we already have.
For me, it went something like this:
Understand and clarify the source of your inspiration.
Figure out the moving pieces and which ones need attention.
Imagine exactly what you want and need. Imagine it again.
Act boldly. Make explicit and well-defined requests for the help you need.
Assume others want to help you. Recognize when someone may not; that’s OK.
Allow yourself to be captivated by your desire and the imagination you can create around your desires. Let that imagination motivate you to keep acting boldly.
Let go of how it will happen and which form it will take, and stay committed to root of your desire.
So we are marching forward!
Trusting that the “right path” will unfold does not mean sitting back and doing nothing — it means taking bold action to your desired goal while releasing specific expectations at the same time. The real lessons of life are learned through our experiences — they appear and reappear often and are self-evident. I have learned — again — that there is to done, there is no end.